Going South

Civics and spirituality. Politics and prayer. In the ongoing battle against inertia, Goulds bares the conflicts at its core.

"Knowing as I do the political scheme of things," Johns says, "you know you have to deal with not only the branches but the roots. People like Lana Floyd are all branches of the Larry Hawkins tree." Floyd, Johns asserts, is a friend of Hawkins. (Floyd says she's never met the former commissioner.)

As Johns has gotten older, he has become slightly less visible in community affairs. He has glaucoma and no longer drives; a former secretary, with whom he keeps in walkie-talkie contact throughout the day, takes him around. He has retired from his insurance and bail-bond businesses. Now he runs Odell's Investment Corporation, which handles stocks, bonds, and real estate. In August several community organizations honored him at an Odell Johns Appreciation Dinner, where he was cited for "risking your life for the children of South Dade."

"Thirty years ago, Odell Johns was one of the first people willing to come out and say what was on his mind," says Lana Floyd. "It was refreshing at the time, but things are different now."

"I'm a part of the new generation," interjects William Beaty, a prelaw student at the University of Miami and a second-generation Goulds resident. "There's a small circle of people who've been doing everything for years, and I don't think they should dictate how things should be."

Beaty and Floyd are among the twenty or so members of the Homeowners Association of Goulds who have gathered to meet in a recreation center at Goulds Park, in a room filled with small tables, tiny blue plastic chairs, and children's arts and crafts. This month the members' voices must compete with the shouts from 300 kids practicing football and cheerleading outside.

"I'm part of the old generation," says Lillie Coleman with a laugh, "and it's heartbreaking to be born in a place and see it deteriorating the way it is." The talk touches on, as it does regularly in Goulds, the plight of Pastor Coney; most at the meeting think Coney is being unfairly ostracized by the powers that be. "These people will pounce on him, but the man -- all he says is he received a call," remarks the fiftyish Coleman, also a second-generation Gouldsian. "At least he's trying to help people with their problems, but what have they done? Nothing. They got all this money, but unfortunately people like Odell Johns brought in housing projects -- and that's what's causing all this crime."

"I wake up almost every night to the sound of gunfire," Beaty puts in, and urges his colleagues to drum up support for the crime-watch meetings that have commenced at Metro-Dade's new police storefront ministation in the Goulds Shopping Plaza.

Floyd, the association's president and writer of its uncommonly substantive newsletter, announces that a representative of the Liberty City-based nonprofit Tacolcy Economic Development Corporation has failed to put in a scheduled appearance; the guest had been slated to answer questions about a nearly completed Tacolcy apartment complex on SW 114th Avenue. The apartments and grounds look picturesque, but Floyd wants the developer's assurance that low-income tenants will be carefully selected and the property will remain well-kept. (The Tacolcy rep arrived after the meeting broke up; Floyd received the assurances she sought.)

When Floyd asks if anyone present supports the two CHI homeless facilities, few know what she's talking about. "It's for people on drugs or alcohol and who might have AIDS," she explains.

"We don't need that," someone says.
(Though Floyd and her colleagues had not yet been made aware, owing to a CHI staffer's error, the agency missed the Homeless Trust's September 13 deadline for funding renewal, so the homeless facilities will be closed by the end of December. Next year the money will go to three other South Dade homeless projects, one of which is in Goulds.)

J.L. Demps, president of the fledgling Goulds Optimist Club and treasurer of the Goulds Community Development Corporation, steps up. Wearing red shorts and a red Mays Rams T-shirt, a whistle strung around his neck, Demps proclaims that the football teams the club is sponsoring this year are a great success but says he has $50,000 worth of equipment he hasn't yet paid for. Also, he wants fellow association members to be aware, the Optimists aren't involved only in sports -- the owner of the Christian bookstore in Goulds Shopping Plaza teaches an "abstinence class" at a local church. Later he adds, "We got some people who want to come out and sit around and drink and smoke marijuana. We want to make sure we constantly have a police force out here, and that hasn't been happening."

Goulds was settled at the turn of the century while the Florida East Coast Railway was being built, as a community of railroad and agricultural workers. The town, never incorporated, was named after Lyman Goulds, a white railroad worker from Indiana. The population of Goulds, however, has always been mostly black. The majority of residents were railroad employees or sharecroppers who worked for white landowners, though a class of business owners and professionals began developing in the Forties. A post-Andrew study of the Goulds and Florida City areas commissioned by the Metro-Dade Office of Community Development found that more than half of all Goulds households have annual incomes below $15,000; the rest earn no more than $25,000. Much of the area still lacks sewers. More than half of the working-age population in Goulds is unemployed, the study's authors determined. "This statistic indicates an eventual 'meltdown' of the community if the employment problem is not solved," they wrote. Still, many of its residents maintain second- or third-generation ties to the community. The shared sense of history is nurtured by Goulds's twenty churches, most of of which are tiny neighborhood chapels; all but a few practice some strain of Pentecostalism.

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