Humans of Grove Park: Darryl Levette, "One Man's Story"
Updated: May 10, 2022
“My family came to Grove Park in 1963 when I was 15 years old. When we first moved over here, we thought we was in hog heaven. It was so beautiful because the white people had been keeping it up. I used to get off the school bus and walk up through the neighborhood. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would live on the streets I used to admire as a little boy.
Since I’ve lived here for most of my life, I know a lot about this side of town. Right across the street there used to be this "Carol’s Hamburger Place." They sold real good hamburgers. And right down the road there used to be a place called the Milk Jug. That’s what we called it at least. They sold juices, eggs, sausage - things of that nature. After church, we’d leave Sunday school at Paradise Baptist and come down to the Milk Jug to buy a gallon of juice. Then, me and my brothers, we’d go down to the park with our friends and play football in our church clothes.
We even had a theater here. You’d take your date and eat some popcorn and cracker jacks, maybe get a coca-cola and a hotdog. We had a KFC, a Nations Bank, a grocery store, a K-Mart… there was a lot going on down here at that time. Of course, it was an all white neighborhood when I first arrived, but, as more blacks began to move to this side of town, things began to change.
As I look back now, it seems really crazy. We move on the street, and rather than accepting us as your neighbor, you throw your house up for sale and move to a different part of the city because we’re black. It’s as if we were being penalized for being in the neighborhood because so many resources left Grove Park with the white families during White Flight. It really put the community at a disadvantage.
Today, we have no banks on this side of town - no drugstore or grocery stores. It’s a food desert. But now, with Microsoft coming to the neighborhood, it’s starting to change since people want to live here again. You look at the things being built around town… it’s just ridiculous! Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought there would be some half a million dollar condo on Bankhead highway. With prices like that, you’re just pricing the people who live in Grove Park out of the neighborhood. And once they leave, where do they go? Especially if you’re my age? As a senior citizen, you want to stay in your home til you die - that’s my desire at least - but if you can’t afford to stay where do you go?
On one hand, this all makes me realize how some things are getting better and we’re progressing, but on the other hand, we’re still not there. There is still a divide between the “haves'' and the “have nots,” and we have got to start communicating honestly so that we can change this mindset. We all bleed. We all want the same things. We want to be respected, to love one another, and to advance. We all want the finer things in life, and no one should be deprived of a chance to have that because of how they look, what they wear, or how they think. But that’s still not how the majority of our society functions.
I remember when they were building I-20 and I-75. The main roads back then were state roads 78, 41, and 29. You used to have to drive through all the little towns, because there was no expressways. It divided neighborhoods when they built them. And now, you can come through Atlanta, but you don’t actually see Atlanta - all you see are the big buildings and skyscrapers. But in order to really see this city, you’ve got to get off the expressway to see the streets and the people who walk them.
You would be surprised about some of the nice homes that are in the neighborhood off of Bankhead. But if you go up and down Donald Lee Hollowell and see something old and run down, you assume the rest of it is the same. Your first impression 9 times out of 10 is going to speak to what you think about everything else. A lot of times we use our eyes but we don’t actually see. There can be goodness in a place, but we can choose not to see the goodness. We just see what we want to see.
This is how Grove Park has gotten overlooked. There's so much potential in the neighborhood and our people, and we’ve got to harness that potential and direct it in a way that it's allowed to blossom so that everybody sees it. Once that happens, people will want to become a part of what we already have here, with or without Microsoft to bring them over to this side of town. Our love for one another will finally speak for itself.
When Grove Park Renewal came into the neighborhood to try and help this process along, people were leery because they had been done so wrong for so long until they couldn’t trust anyone no more. In their mind, everybody was the same. No one could be trusted, and you certainly can’t get mad at people for thinking that way. They had been mistreated. But, I see GPR as a catalyst for change now. They’re buying up these properties to keep them affordable and keeping us informed of the changes that are coming into the neighborhood. Without GPR, I don’t think what has happened would have happened because the powers that be still wouldn’t be listening to our neighbors. We would continue to be overlooked. Just like these old buildings on the streets, we’d be overlooked and abandoned.
I’ve seen a lot of changes; there’s even older people who have seen more than me in my lifetime, so I’ve chosen to be a positive person. I've decided to have hope that my kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids will be able to live in a world where they are profitable, able to progress, and not being mistreated. It’s what my mama wanted for me. What my daddy wanted too.
I also want to stay here in Grove Park so that I can keep being a good neighbor. I want to be here so you can come to me and ask me anything you want and I can educate you about everything in the neighborhood. I want to be the old wise man - you’ve got a wise man in every neighborhood after all - and that’s where I see myself. I’ll be the old wiseman sitting on my front porch, watching the cars going by, giving people good advice, and keeping the kids out of trouble.
At the end of the day, I know we’re gonna be fine - everything is gonna be fine... all in due time. After all, everybody has a story to tell. This is just one man’s story. In the meantime, there’s development coming. That’s good! We just have to ask ourselves: at what cost? It’s going to cost somebody something, so how will we decide who has to pay?"