When Rebekah Morris was teaching English and Journalism to ninth-graders at Cross Keys High School, she challenged her students to take an active part in their community through a school project called Unify BuHi.
The students wrote out proposals and solutions to address their concerns and presented their ideas dur-ing an exhibit at Plaza Fiesta. They attended community meetings and events and took part in beautification projects along the Buford Highway Corridor. “We would talk about why are we the only people who live in apartments at these community meetings. “ Said Morris, who has since left teaching to work full time as a community organizer.
From those conversations Morris came up with the initial idea for Los Vecinos De Buford Highway (The Neighbors of Buford Highway.)
”From my experience living in working class neighborhoods with a lot of low income people, a lot of immigrants, I saw the disconnect between those communities and schools trying to get news out by social media, Eblasts or newspapers about a meeting or grade reports or volunteer opportunities, a lot of the community are not checking those avenues.”
Morris’ goal for Los Vecinos is not only to find a way to disseminate information to the residents of apartment complexes along the Buford Highway corridor in Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville, but also get those residents actively involved the cities, schools and the political and civic life around them by creating a face to face social network.
“ I threw it out on Facebook and said hey, I’m thinking about this idea like a neighborhood association for people in apartment complexes.” Said Morris. The first planning meeting was held August 2016, followed by a small dinner at Morris’ house in September. We had 2 student representatives from Cross Keys High School, representatives from to 2 different non profits and representatives from the Latin American Association.”
In January 2017 Los Vecinos held it’s first dinner at one of the Buford Highway apartment complexes. “ We had like 40 people you could barely fit in the room. “ Said Morris “There certainly is a desire for this kind of community organization. Really what we want to do is provide opportunities for leadership in the apartment complexes by finding people who are already natural leaders or want to lead. We also want to make sure people understand how to advocate for things whenever there is a concern that arises in the community and to be able to provide education as to how to actually go about solving those issues.”
One person who has come on board with Los Vecinos is Dalia Alvarez, who works as a property man-ager at a Doraville apartment complex. A Cross Keys High graduate who grew up in Brookhaven, Alvarez who also resides on the Buford Highway corridor said “ So far we’ve had monthly meetings at three dif-ferent apartment complexes. My main interest is to provide educational resources to the residents. We’re not there to fix problems for anyone. We are here to cultivate, promote and amplify the resident’s voices. There are educational resources we can provide so these resident’s can fight their own battles. I don’t think we have any one in the community that promotes residents to participate in their town hall meetings, which we think is super valuable. One of the things we want to do is connect all the residents so they are receiv-ing information in the language that serves them, attending town hall meetings, and going out and voting and doing what they need to do to address their specific needs.”
Find out more about Los Vecinos De Buford Highway at: comunidadbuford.org.
–Story by Dean Hesse