CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
We want to end our program today remembering our dear friend and colleague Teshima Walker Izrael. Teshima was the executive producer of this program, and she came to the end of a long battle with cancer on Friday, at the young age of 44.
Tributes are coming in from all over the country. You can go to NPR.org/tellmemore to read them or add your own. But we thought it would be fitting to hear her voice on our air again, sharing one of the many stories she brought to us over the years. Back in 2005, Teshima and producer Nicole Childers went to Montgomery, Ala. On Rosa Parks Avenue, they toured the Cleveland Court Apartments where Rosa Parks and her husband lived.
And here's an excerpt from that story, as reported by Teshima Walker.
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TESHIMA WALKER, BYLINE: We decided to drive down to Rosa Parks Avenue, the long stretch of road that some of the older residents still remember as the once-bustling Cleveland Avenue. We came here in search of the former home of the civil rights icon the street was named after.
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WALKER: Along Rosa Parks Avenue, there is an apartment complex with the name Cleveland Court displayed prominently in white writing. This is the housing project that Rosa Parks called home. As we walked towards Rosa Parks' apartment, No. 634, there's a crew of two men working outside of the apartment.
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WALKER: One of the men is blocking our view as he stands on top of a van, hammering a pole into the ground. A woman from the city of Montgomery approaches us as we watch the men at work. We ask her what they're doing. Assistant Director of Riverfront Facilities Lainey Jenkins:
LAINEY JENKINS: We're here to put a marker up, to mark Ms. Rosa Parks' home. Most people probably don't get to see this site because it's not marked. People don't know this site actually exists and this is where she lived.
WALKER: Once the marker is posted, they drive away and onto their next location, leaving us our first full view of the apartment. The screen door to the small, two-story apartment has a tiny black wreath, nothing fancy. In fact, it looks dusty. A tall woman, with gray hair pulled back into a ponytail, peers out at us from the screen door of her apartment next door. We learn that her name is Bonnie Knight, and that she has lived in the Cleveland Court Apartments for three years. Ms. Knight only recently learned why the vacant apartment next to her was receiving so much attention.
BONNIE KNIGHT: I didn't know. There's a lot of us didn't know that was her first apartment. And my daughter called me one day at 12 o'clock and says some folks came and had a lot of flowers, you know, was putting it on the porch and all like that. She said, Mama, you know what? Next door - those folks put a lot of flowers and stuff on next door. I said, why Christine? And they said that was Rosa Parks' first apartment.
WALKER: As we approached the locked door of Mrs. Parks' now vacant apartment, we try to imagine how she lived back then. What kind of furniture was inside? Did she have wallpaper? What kind of curtains did she hang up on the windows? There's no facility manager on site to let us into the vacant apartment. "They don't work on the weekends no more," one man tells us.
We leave to see who else can tell us about this historic avenue. We stopped at one tenement building we thought was vacant. The windows were boarded up, and stray cats were wandering around. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were shocked to discover that there were actually tenants living in this dilapidated apartment. That people are living in these conditions comes as no surprise to those in the neighborhood.
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WALKER: At a local barbershop, longtime resident Danny Lewis remembers how Rosa Parks Avenue used to be.
DANNY LEWIS: Well, the best thing I liked about it is that, you know, there - were a time where you could come down here and, you know, you had all your local stores here. You had most of your politicians that live here, your doctors that lived on this street, you know. But then as time grew, you know, people started moving out.
WALKER: As Mr. Lewis nestles his 1-year-old namesake in his arms, he explains to us why he thinks the neighborhood has been in decline.
LEWIS: Well, it's a migration of a lot of people moving into the place with Section 8 homes, you know; and people getting into the area that didn't really care about the area, and then a lot of crime and gang violence and so forth.
WALKER: On another corner, Charles Thomas, the pastor of New Life Baptist Church, is hopeful, and has dedicated himself to rebuilding the neighborhood. He works with members of his congregation to refurbish a building that will be a community center for young people.
REVEREND CHARLES THOMAS: When we got ready to build, the loan officer that I was dealing with tried to get me to go east because we had already built one church here, and to build a $2 million church here was not feasible to her. She thought it would be better that we go east.
But I was emphatic that I wanted to stay on Rosa Parks and build something beautiful on Rosa Parks, with the palm trees and with all of the beautiful amenities that we have. And then - first of all, you build a community, you build a church; and then you build the people. And that's what we try to do.
WALKER: The center will provide computer and job training he hopes will change lives. Rev. Thomas has made rebuilding on Rosa Parks Avenue a part of his church's ministry.
For NPR News, I'm Teshima Walker.
HEADLEE: That's the voice of our executive producer, our friend, our mentor and our role model, Teshima Walker Izrael. Teshima passed away this past Friday, after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 44 years old. We will all miss you, Teshima.
To add your tributes to those already coming in on Twitter, you can use #TeamTeshima, or send your e-mail to tellmemore@NPR.org. I'm Celeste Headlee. You've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. And we'll talk more tomorrow.
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