Ted Parrish points to a big rock in the corner of the Pine Knolls Community Center, walks over and picks it up.
Someone threw the rock through a window and broke nine others at the center on Johnson Street a few weeks ago. A crew from Rice’s Glass Company recently replaced the shattered glass.
Parrish thinks he knows who did it, or at least why.
He reported the damage July 1, according to a Chapel Hill police report. It came after the neighborhood leader had asked some girls on the swings to pick up trash on the playground. Parrish says he picks up trash outside the building every day.
“I went to the little ladies and said, ‘Ladies, I’m afraid the trash beneath you gives a bad image of us here, and I’d like you to get down and pick it up and take it five steps to the trash can I’ve put there for your convenience,” he said.
“They now say, I’m just a mean old, ugly man.”
Parrish, 82, a retired professor of public health at N.C. Central University, has been renovating the center since his board took the building back from the Boys & Girls Clubs a couple of months ago.
He didn’t want to talk about the club. In 2012 it announced plans to build a facility on two town lots next door and renovate the community center building that Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church had moved to Johnson Street in the 1970s.
Those plans didn’t happen.
Costs doubled once the process got underway and an inspection found the center needed repairs, said Sarah Marion, chief professional officer for the Boys and & Girls Clubs of Eastern Piedmont.
Then, when space opened up in the new Northside Elementary School, the club started a program with 17 children in 2015, she said. This fall they hope to serve between 70 and 80 children in three classrooms at the school, she said.
“We still have hopes/plans to build (in Pine Knolls) as the town is still leasing to us the two lots beside the Pine Knolls building,” Marion said by email.
But Parrish, despite a fall while disentangling electrical wire from a tree six years ago, is not waiting.
He has begun renovating the community center and hopes to serve meals to neighborhood children and welcome churches to use the space when it reopens.
As he sat with friend Kenneth Mustafa, a prospective board member who is helping to pay the $785 glass bill, Parrish said he even has plans for a museum out back.
The “heritage center” would display images of African-American leaders and help tell the story of the civil rights struggle. He hopes to partner with UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History and even has a tentative name: The Home of Stepping Stones.
The heritage center, to be housed in a 500-square foot addition, would be like the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, he said. That center in a former F.W. Woolworth store marks the site where four N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University students sat at a “whites only” lunch counter in 1960 to challenged the laws of segregation.
Pine Knolls, along with the larger Northside, has been a historically black community.
There are about 400 housing units in the neighborhood off Merritt Mill Road. Parrish hopes residents will help improve the community, as he has done over the years moving and renovating houses there.
“I’m getting too old to do it myself,” he said.
But it’s going to happen, he says.
“(Civil rights leader) Floyd McKissick said some of us are short-distance runners and some of us are long-distance runners,” Parrish said. “I am one hell of a long-distance runner, man.”
“I’ve been doing this stuff for 60 years, and I’m 82 years old,” he said. “It’s going to happen before I die.”
What the town has contributed
The town of Chapel Hill has worked with both the Pine Knolls Community Center and the Boys & Girls Clubs to serve youth living in the Pine Knolls neighborhood, town officials say.
In 1992, the town paid $30,000 for two lots for a future park or facility on Johnson Street beside the Pine Knolls Community Center, according to emailed information from Bill Webster, Parks and Recreation planning and development manager, and Loryn Clark, Housing and Community executive director.
In 2006, the town contracted with the Pine Knolls Community Center and built a modern play area on the center property, which was upgraded with a new spongy surface this year.
In 2010, the Town Council allocated $10,000 in federal block grant money to renovate and expand the Pine Knolls Community Center and in 2011 agreed to lease the two lots next door for a future Boys & Girls Clubs facility.
In 2012, the town pledged $36,488 toward the facility. But the plan changed in 2014 and the money was not disbursed when the Boys & Girls Clubs said it would not be able to use the funds in a timely manner.
“It is our understanding that the Boys and Girls Club has temporarily suspended fund raising and plans for construction,” according to the town email. “They indicated to us that they may resume efforts in the future, but at this time they are providing services in facilities provided by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.”