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We need to tell our story: Residents say goodbye to Atlanta Street
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Willie Mitchell, left, and Emory Turner take a walk through Green Hunter Homes Friday afternoon reminiscing about the people and families that once occupied the apartment community as part of a project. The 131-unit public housing complex built in the 1950s is being prepared for demolition and redevelopment.

Share your memories

What: Residents are invited to share memories of Atlanta Street community

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 15

Where: Fair Street School community room, 695 Fair St. in Gainesville

More information: email Willie Mitchell at willie.mitchell@gcssk12.net.

Willie Mitchell has made educating children his life’s mission, but he laments failings that he believes contributed to the breakdown of social bonds at the public housing complex on Atlanta Street in Gainesville.

“What I felt happened at Atlanta Street is something that has happened all over America,” Mitchell said.

But it’s important to remember the good times, too.

Mitchell is a part of group of civic leaders in Gainesville’s African-American community who are inviting residents to share their memories of life along Atlanta Street on Saturday at the Fair Street school.

Pictures and narratives will be woven into a commemorative booklet to be presented at a later public celebration of the homes.

“There’s a lot of stories that have come out of Atlanta Street,” Mitchell said.

Built in the early 1950s, the complex’s 131 units are now scheduled for demolition in November, and only a couple families still live at the property. Residents have either been transferred to other public housing units in the city or received vouchers for subsidized housing elsewhere. All are likely to be relocated before the year ends.

The Gainesville Housing Authority has partnered with Walton Communities LLC to redevelop the property with the help of $10 million received through a tax credit program.

Construction of 252 new public, affordable and market-rate units will occur over three phases, with move-in dates likely to come in 2018.

The decline of the Atlanta Street neighborhood, where transient families, violent crime and drug dealing became some its well-known problems in recent years, began with a lack of educational opportunities, Mitchell said.

A member of the Gainesville school board for some 25 years, Mitchell regrets decisions that were made to exclude Atlanta Street from the growth and economic vitality that came to the city.

“For a lot of people on Atlanta Street, it was a delusion,” Mitchell said of progress.

As the decades passed, old families moved out and social bonds began to uproot.

Mitchell spent his formative years along Atlanta Street, beginning with nursery school, then playing in the streets and often staying with his older sister.

They are his old stomping grounds. And so understanding where this community started and where it ended up is critical to moving forward.

Mitchell witnessed successful families emerge from those hard streets, including a first generation of college graduates who became doctors, lawyers, educators and civic leaders. He said hopes to hear similar stories from former residents.

Celebrating this history is a way to help move forward and to “include those that have not been included.”

It’s also a way to rebuild a once thriving community.

“We need to tell our story,” Mitchell said.

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