After years of urban decline, the community of the South Bronx gets a boost from native Hedy Fox, who brings the skills she learned in college to the challenges of after school programs for children and neighborhood crime.
South Bronx Resident Hedy Fox Restores Her Neighborhood
JANE PAULEY, anchor:
Bob Dotson’s series, IN PURSUIT OF THE AMERICAN DREAM, takes us this morning to a place where dreams usually die. New York City’s South Bronx.
BOB DOTSON reporting:
New York is the most crowded city in the country. But here in New York’s South Bronx, there is space. Twenty square miles of space.
KATHY PIERCE: The grounds is filled with gardens. Everywhere you go, they tear the buildings down, you got nothing but gardens. How going to eat if you ain’t got nowhere to cook it?
DOTSON: A hundred thousand people left, in the last decade.
Unidentified Man #1: Everything’s going down, down, down, down, down.
DOTSON: Hedy Fox did not leave. She came back to Lyman Place.
Unidentified Man #1: She is a lifesaver for this block. Lifesaver.
DOTSON: Hedy was a west coast college professor, when she returned home one summer to work on an energy proposal. While she was taking notes, the neighborhood was disappearing.
HEDY FOX: You didn’t children’s voices playing anymore.
DOTSON: Hedy stayed, and convinced her parents to do the same.
GEORGE FOX: I was encouraged by all my friends to sell and get out. “Now’s the time, or you’ll be stuck.” But I listened to her, I said, “Now, uh, what is the plan?” She said that, uh, it has some meaning.
DOTSON: Her mother wasn’t so sure.
Mrs. FOX: I couldn’t say anything to her. She was very stubborn about it. She has an idea of, um, lifting up and sometime some people don’t care about lifting up.
DOTSON: Hedy took to patrolling the street overnight, asking pushers and prostitutes what business they had on her block. Inevitably, she was mugged, slugged twice in the face. But Hedy hung on to her purse, went home, slipped into her sneakers, and chased the man away.
Hedy moved into abandoned buildings on her block to keep vandals from gutting them. Then started after school programs for children.
H. FOX: Let’s try to say the Zulu all by itself.
DOTSON: She taught them to count in eight foreign languages, gave them a sense of history, and a place. They learned to help themselves.
H. FOX: If you make a bracelet, you can sell it if you like. And if you get seven dollars, you can buy your own bag of beads. You have the possibility of making a couple a hundred dollars.
DOTSON: The children told their parents. The word spread.
Many who left had lived on the block for 30 years. Hedy’s work convinced Kathy Pierce to move back, and Kathy’s daughter Patricia, and another daughter, Shauna. It was a big victory. The Pierce family alone could repopulate Lyman Place.
PIERCE: I had my 68th grandchild Friday. Twenty great-grandkids looking for my-- Twenty-one, twenty-two-- Mimsy and Bob. Twenty-two, by June.
DOTSON: Can you remember all their names?
K. PIERCE: Nope. No, no.
PATRICIA PIERCE: I was robbed. They, they climbed the scaled windows, the whole block, the kids and everybody, was helping me chase the people to get my stuff back.
K. PIERCE: That’s right, Lyman Place is Lyman Place. Ain’t but one. Only one Lyman Place.
DOTSON: There have been nine babies born in the past year. There are 32 new families.
H. FOX: You know I didn’t know I couldn’t do this, so therefore, I did this. Many people have come by and told me over the last fifteen years, “You’re only one person.” And, uh, I said, “Well if you join me, there’ll be two.”
DOTSON: On Lyman Place, there is now a sense of hopefulness that keeps the world from going home. For TODAY, Bob Dotson, NBC News, in the South Bronx, of New York.