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Black, Cooley drive neighborhood holds reunion, forum
A man walks along Black Drive on the south side of Gainesville. A community forum and reunion for residents of the Black Drive and Cooley Drive neighborhood is set for 3 p.m. today. - photo by Tom Reed

A Community Forum and Neighborhood Reunion for residents of Black and Cooley drives is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at the Community Outreach Center.

The event was set up so people who either live or have lived on Black and Cooley drives can come and talk about the efforts that are being made to revive the area.

The revitalization of the community has hit home with many residents.

"A lot of our parents are still living there," said Johnny Varner Jr., who retired from the Army in 2006 and decided to stay in the area to help. "I felt I would be a better resource to come back and make a difference in this community."

Varner, a former resident of the Black and Cooley drives community, is part of the team helping to make today’s event possible.

With the help of different people in the community, progress has been made in revitalizing the area. "Some houses have been completed, and one will have an open house Saturday," said Angel Randolph, the executive director of the North Georgia AIDS Alliance, who helped pass out flyers to remind people of today’s event.

Randolph said that it is important for people who have lived on Black and Cooley drives to attend the reunion because they should be invested in what happens in their neighborhood.

"It’s your community," said Randolph. "You should be the one most invested in improving it because you’re going to benefit from it. You should care what happens in your community — your backyard, your front door."

The reunion will provide an opportunity for people to get inquires from the residents of Black and Cooley drives regarding their concerns with the community.

Names of residents who would like to apply for different grants will be taken at the reunion. Other issues that will be addressed include the need for sidewalks and how new lighting can be installed. The community would also like to have land donated to create a park.

Updates will also be given on the progress of planning and zoning in the area.

"We’re here every day, and we’re here every night," Randolph said. "As a community, we need to take the lead on what is happening."

Many efforts to revitalize the community are currently in progress. One of the first efforts taken was to list what community members wanted, such as duplexes or trailers. When starting the project, those who were helping to revitalize the community wanted to make sure that when people came to do construction work, the result would look the way how residents wanted.

Varner said that they hope to start creating footprints to improve the quality of life in the Morningside Heights area. Other issues, such as public safety, still need to be addressed.

"We want to make sure that the follow-up meeting to this one will have public officials and people in law enforcement there to address public safety," Varner said.

Randolph also is thinking about the future of the community.

"I’d like to see some green space, whether it be at the top or the bottom of the hill," she said. "I’d like to see a restart of the neighborhood watch, and I’d like to see some of the homes get renovated and revitalized."