Going South

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

One of those chapels, the Church of the Rock "Jesus Christ," Inc., was founded by Pastor Barbara Broussard. A few months ago, the pastor was crossing the railroad tracks in west Goulds, heading toward U.S. 1 in her black Hyundai, when she spotted a woman loitering on a corner. "I don't usually pick up people like that, but there was something about her that made me think she shouldn't be on the street," recalls Broussard, a tall, slender woman who talks and moves quickly, as if powered by a motor that's always revving. "When I came out of my car, she started crying. I said, 'What in the world are you doing out here?' She said, 'My children are hungry.' I asked her: 'Don't you get a [welfare] check?' And she said, 'Yes, but by three weeks the money's all gone.' I took her home, and there wasn't a stick of furniture in that apartment. She and her kids had been sleeping on the floor."

Six months ago April (a pseudonym) moved with her five children north from Naranja into the Mays Villas housing project. Stick-skinny, her hair up in a baseball cap, she was out near SW 220th Street and U.S. 1 that night because she could think of no other way to get money to feed her kids and her crack habit. "I was praying to God that someone would come and take me off this corner," she says, staring straight ahead with round, makeupless eyes. "Then I seen a car coming and I walked towards it. It was her -- she got out and stood there. I was glad, too, damn glad, excuse my language."

Broussard got on the phone straight away and rounded up donations of clothes and furniture. Now a worn brown sectional sofa and four chairs sit on the shiny linoleum floor of April's apartment; a kitchen table should arrive any day. April says she hasn't smoked crack since the night God answered her prayer. She and her two youngest boys have begun attending church with Broussard.

The pastor, who worked as a registered nurse for ten years until the Lord called her to the ministry a decade ago, suffers from her own habitation woes: The white, tangerine-trim house her church bought as its permanent site is locked up and vacant, its front yard overgrown. The neighbors, who live a football field away on either side of the church in this more rural southern section of Goulds, had complained about the church meetings. The fact that the neighbors are white and the church members are black may or may not have been a factor, but Broussard admits she's going to have to get a zoning variance for the property before the church can operate legally. Until the variance is awarded, meetings are held in a member's home.

Broussard is not disheartened; she points to a vacant lot across the street from the white house and says she hopes to buy that land, too, and build housing for the homeless. While she sympathizes with Pastor Bonny Coney and his zoning problems on the other side of U.S. 1, she feels it's important to abide by the county's rules. "I think he means well, but the Bible does say we are to obey the laws of the land. I'm going to trust God to work it out," she says, then adds, "Seem like when He tells me to do something, it's the hard way. This is something big we're fixing to do."

In Goulds, as in other South Dade neighborhoods, the months and years following Hurricane Andrew saw an increase in the number of citizens' groups organizing to compete for the rebuilding funds that were flowing in.

There aren't as many leaders as there are groups, however. The Goulds Community Development Corporation, for instance, was one of several community development corporations (CDCs) mandated by the county's post-Andrew recovery plan. The Goulds CDC, whose goal is to attract business to the area and help finance residential and commercial development, is part of an umbrella group, the Goulds Coalition of Organizations for Community Development, Inc. Both bodies are headed by Joseph L. James. A former realtor, James also sits on the boards of CHI and the South Dade Alliance for Neighborhood Development, a communitywide network that serves as the umbrella for the various neighborhood councils, clubs, and CDCs. James is director of public relations for the eleven-year-old Coalition of Ministers and Lay Persons, as well.

According to James, since its inception two years ago, the Goulds CDC has been working with other South Dade CDCs to fund construction of single-family homes and revitalize existing businesses. The group also has collaborated with developers who sought to build three federally subsidized apartment complexes, including the nearly completed Tacolcy project. Members of the Homeowners Association of Goulds have made it clear they will vigorously oppose the construction of any additional apartments, and James concedes that the three current projects will probably be the last, at least for the foreseeable future.

While they acknowledge that a relatively small cadre controls most of the money coming into Goulds, James and others say that's not such a bad thing: They have the planning and development expertise, the savvy required to negotiate with bureaucracies, all of which was crucial during the hurricane recovery period. Now that things have stabilized, James says, he intends to relinquish one of the directorships he holds.

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