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Storytellers, community to gather for historic Riverside event

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In the African tradition, storytelling has been the medium through which much of our communal history has been preserved. In times when there was no physical documentation — due to lack of resource, in some cases, or intellectual oppression, in others — the spoken word was how we knew what happened before.

Next Saturday, Nov. 5, Riverside residents and others will gather at Ebenezer Baptist Church for “Riverside Speaks! Past, Present and Future.” The event, a part of the 2016 Spirit and Place Festival, will feature live dance performances, spoken word, a virtual tour of a recently rehabbed home (courtesy of Insight Development Corporation) and storytelling by people associated with the neighborhood’s past and present. Some of the presenters will include members of Ebenezer Baptist Church; David Williams, author of Indianapolis Jazz: The Masters, Legends and Legacy of Indiana Avenue; Kisha Tandy, associate curator with the Indiana State Museum; and Thomas Ridley, lead docent of the Madame Walker Theatre Center.

Yvonne Hayes, a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church and longtime Riverside community member, has fond memories of the place she calls home. Her family moved to the area in 1959, when she was 9 years old, and lived at Herschell Avenue, right down the street from the then-segregated Riverside Park. When the park did finally open its doors to African-Americans, Hayes recalls it being a hangout spot for teens. “When I had little boyfriends, when I was 18 or 19, we would meet over there and ride the little rickety roller coasters and Ferris wheel,” she said. “I just remember everybody knowing everybody. People kept up their property and had a lot of pride.”

One driving force behind that pride, according to Hayes, was a Mrs. Helen Clay, who spearheaded a neighborhood cleanup initiative. “She was no-nonsense, but she was a sweetheart. She led the ‘Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix Up’ parade. We would clean the neighborhood and alleyways and each year a queen of the parade would be crowned. I think one year I was the queen,” said Hayes.

“We would ride all around the neighborhood. It was fun … we had teamwork, and it was just a bunch of us. It was a neighborhood thing. It was just nice.” When Hayes wasn’t performing her royal duties, she would play kickball with friends in the alley and visit Freije’s Pharmacy, where her grandfather worked for a nickel soda and chips. Hayes’ first job, at Charm’s Cleaners, was right across the street. 

In the early 1980s, Hayes left Indianapolis for nearly three decades with her job at AT&T. She moved back home afterwards to take care of her mother. The two still live in Riverside, though things have drastically changed. 

“That’s the main thing … pride. I don’t know

what it is, but our pride has gone. My parents used to go outside and sweep the sidewalk; we didn’t have any grass, but we took pride in it,” she said.

“Every week I’m on Riverside with my little poke stick, and I’m picking up trash over by the park and I get frustrated. People ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and I say, ‘Well this is my neighborhood.’ I don’t want to turn the corner and there’s trash on the curb. I keep going back, because if I don’t do it, who will? I just pray that we’ll do better.”

Despite the blight, Hayes is hopeful that a change is on the horizon. She’s optimistic that events like Riverside Speaks will encourage pride in others, as well. 

“I do see some changes. I see a school (Herron High School) coming up,” she said. “There’s a difference, but I see where they are trying to make progress.” 

Wilma Moore, a current Riverside resident and senior archivist with Indiana Historical Society (an event partner), will be on hand to share her Riverside story also. Moore, her parents and seven siblings moved to the Riverside area in the early 1960s, when she was in middle school She describes the time as a very transitional period due to the fact that, for most of her life, her family lived at 14th and Missouri, near where Methodist Hospital is currently located.

“I had a lot of expectations moving from there to 18th and Riverside. We were ‘moving on up’ to a better neighborhood,” she said. Moore and a few of her siblings attended school 44, and despite her penchant for embracing new people, she received a less-welcoming reception from her new classmates. “I got quickly disappointed, but in retrospect, I realize that junior high was an interesting time for everyone.” It was also during her time at 44 that she learned of King’s assassination — a memory that, although overwhelmingly heartbreaking, caused her to recall a happier time just five years prior. “In August of 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, I remember sitting in the living room and watching it. I saw my dad’s reaction to it, how happy he was and how heartfelt it all was.”

Moore mentioned more light-hearted recollections from the spring of 1968: Walking to school, helping her brother on his paper route and getting to know the lay of the land, the latter of which required a bit of trial and error. 

“One day, my older sister and I decided to walk to Ayr-Way, which is Target now, and it was in the Eagledale area. We walked down 18th Street thinking we would eventually get to it, without realizing the river would be there,” she laughed. “We eventually got to 30th Street by the grace of God. I just remember thinking about how cold it was and how we were lost and never going to be found. I was 12 years old. I just knew we were lost forever.”

Moore stated that events like the one coming up on Nov. 5 are necessary to the future of that community. “Folks so often now don’t know their neighbors. If you think about your neighborhood now, you probably don’t see your neighbors very often. I think when you know them and talk to them, you have a better sense of community,” she said. “Events like this help to build that.”

Riverside Speaks! Past, Present and Future will be held on Nov. 5 from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. at 1901 N. Harding St. For more information on Ebenezer Baptist Church and Riverside Speaks, visit ebenezerchurchindy.org or contact event coordinator Connie Barry at cb212be@gmail.com or (317) 631-5946.

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