The people on the 2800 block of North Fairhill Street are typical of the Fairhill area – they work hard, raise their families and play, all while trying to combat problems affecting their neighborhood for years. But through it all, they have stayed together and maintained a sense of community.
Marilyn Rodriguez has lived on the block for more than 26 years, raising her two children in her three-bedroom row home at 2826 N. Fairhill St. Today, she lives in her home with her grandson, daughter and grandmother. She has seen the neighborhood change over the years since she moved onto the block in 1986.
“It’s changed in the sense that it’s very diverse,” she said. “When I first came around here it was more Asian businesses, but now you see more Dominican businesses, you see more Peruvians, and there’s a lot of Puerto Ricans, too, on the Golden Block. There’s a lot of older people that like to look out for each other, that’s what’s good about it.”
Although the community is tight-knit, it is not without its problems. Rodriguez said drugs and alcoholism are rampant in the area, and her family has not been untouched by the issue.
“My husband got into drugs and alcohol,” she said. “He’s out there on the street, doing his thing. Unfortunately, he’s in his fifties and not learning anything better. I’ve also seen kids selling drugs out in front of my house.”
Rodriguez is trying to do something about it. As an artist and teacher, she tries to teach kids in the area about the dangers of drugs and alcohol through her work.
“When I teach, I try to show the kids about alcoholism and what it does to them,” she said. “Most of the kids I encounter know someone who does drugs, or is an alcoholic, so I make my drawings kind of scary in a sense so they can be more realistic, so I can kind of bring them to reality.”
Rodriguez’s neighbor, Jose Zayas Jr., has been on the block for as long as she has. He works as both a notary public in the neighborhood and serves as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Since 1986, he has raised 11 children in his apartment – five biological children, five stepchildren and one foster son. And like Rodriguez, his family has had to deal with the pervasive drug problem in the area.
“I tried to keep my kids off the streets, make sure they picked the right friends,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges I faced while living in the area. At one time, it was drug-infested. They didn’t call it the Badlands for nothing. There was a dealer at every corner. If you leave them alone, they won’t care about you; they’ll let you alone. But if you step on their toes, that’s a different story.”
Drugs aren’t the only problem on North Fairhill Street. Trash and other debris blemish the block, especially around vacant lots and street corners. Several residents are fed up with the constant littering which plagues their street.
One of them is Edwin Dumont, a North Fairhill Street resident who takes care of his mother on the block.
“We try to keep the block as clean as possible,” he said. “We got people around here with dogs who don’t clean up after them. That brings flies and rats to the neighborhood. I’m tired of seeing that. I live in a community; I try to keep it clean. And we need more help from the community to keep it clean.”
Dumont said he believes help needs to come from the city and state as well, not only for the trash and litter, but also for the community at large.
“We need more funds,” he said. “We need playgrounds, we need more stuff for the kids to do. We don’t have that here. We need empty buildings knocked down. We need new buildings put up on vacant lots. I just want the community to look nice.”
There is one thing on the block which brings green vitality and residents together – the community garden. The garden takes the place of what was once a bland, vacant lot. Today, it’s filled with vegetables like green peppers, green peas and lima beans . It is maintained through the hard work and green thumbs of residents Carmelo Roman and Miguel Irizarry.
“This lot used to be filled with lots and lots of trash,” said Irizarry. “There was a lot of illegal things going on – people staying over night, even building cardboard houses. The community was pretty mad about it, and so were we. So we decided to pick up all of the trash, which took weeks and weeks, and we decided to make it beautiful and to make it helpful for the community.”
Block residents and people from around the neighborhood enjoy the fresh vegetables plucked straight from the garden’s plants. And the garden not only provides them with organic produce, but it also gives the street a place to gather, socialize and enjoy good food. On Sundays, Ramon and Irizarry cook chicken on a wood stove, garnishing the food with vegetables from the garden.
The garden proves the 2800 block of North Fairhill Street, despite prevalent issues in the neighborhood, will continue to remain a community above all else.
“The best thing I like about living here is the community,” said Zayas. “It’s always been close; it’s always been neighbor for neighbor.”