Some would call it the projects. But for the people who grew up in the area known as Vickie Lynn Community, it was home.
The story of Vickie Lynn is a story of surviving and thriving -- a group of people that didn’t have a lot materially but had a whole lot of love and commitment.
Saturday and Sunday, those who lived in Vickie Lynn in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s will be returning for a reunion. The houses are gone but the memories are still strong. The Vickie Lynn community included about 100 families who lived on Vickie Lynn Drive, Vicky Drive, Chris Drive, Chuck Circle and Varee Drive.
“It was a housing project that did what it was supposed to do,” said Russell Cooks, one of the organizers of the reunion.
Cooks, lived in “Jodytown” until family circumstances forced him and his siblings to move with his grandparents in 1967 to the Vickie Lynn Community, which at the time were better accommodations.
“We were basically left on my grandmother’s doorstep but it was people like my grandmother, Ruth Cooks, who made the difference in Vickie Lynn. I had a hot meal before she left for work every morning and a hot dinner. She was very hardworking, very disciplined and that is what she expected out of us,” said Cooks, whose grandmother worked two jobs while raising her grandchildren.
Cooks, who graduated from Southern University, is the president and CEO for Greener Global Solutions LLC, a strategic partner with the Crowley Company and has exclusive distribution rights for the Southeast, the Southwest, the Caribbean and Africa.
Cooks remembered one time during his college years when he was having a problem with a scholarship and he called home to talk to his grandmother.
“ ‘I am sure you will find a way,’ she told me because failure or quitting was not an option,” Cooks said.
Sarah Braswell works for the Pentagon where recently she was a division chief on the staff of the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. She grew up in a three-bedroom house in Vickie Lynn, sharing a bedroom with her five sisters.
“Our mom was a cook, a cashier at a convenience store and had other odd and end jobs. There were eight children, we had four bunk beds in our room with six girls and the boys had bunk beds in their room,” Braswell said.
“We supported one another, we enjoyed one another and were encouraged by one another, particularly those that were older and had moved on to do other things,” Braswell said.
Braswell recalled an older girl down the street, who after high school went to Georgia Southern.
“I remember thinking, if she can do it, I can, too,” Braswell said.
AN EXTENDED FAMILY
With parents who worked several jobs and jobs that lasted until the evening, the children of Vickie Lynn could have been the original latchkey kids.
Instead, the neighborhood banded together as an extended family.
“I knew that I had the support of the community,” Braswell said. “They were always so proud of me. That encouraged me and inspired me to do other things. Everyone was your parent. If you needed a ride to a sporting event, someone would provide it. If your mom was working during your game and couldn’t attend your game, another parent would come and support you. Whatever they had, you had. There was always help. We had meager resources but we shared.”
While the entire neighborhood served as a cheering section for each other, Braswell says that discipline was handed out in the same manner.
“You could not do something wrong and get away with it,” Braswell said.
“Knowing all your neighbors gave you a sense of responsibility as a child,” said Benjamin Tuggle, who holds a doctorate in zoology and is the Southwest district director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. “It was a little different, because you had to think about your responsibility to yourself and to the other children. The fact that all we needed was a chance, that permeated everybody’s thinking. You carried it with you. You didn’t want to embarrass yourself, your family or your community. ”
The older ones who went off to college came back to talk and mentor the younger children.
“Those are some great memories, the sessions with the kids in the neighborhood. The older ones tried to instill in the younger ones that there were things they could do if they had a chance. There wasn’t a bright path, but there was a path,” Tuggle said.
Braswell’s family lived in Vickie Lynn for about 15 years.
“We are an example of what HUD intended, subsidized temporary housing that would aid families,” said Braswell, who also said her mother, Clara Smith, eventually purchased her own home which is now completely paid for. “It was a stepping-stone. It was never supposed to be a destination, a legacy.”
“Yes, she was a single mom. Yes, she reared eight children. But with the help of the Lord and the support of the neighborhood, she can proudly say that all of her children have done well and she owns her own home,” Braswell said. “Our parents know how to take little and make much, to stretch, transform, a small amount of money and other resources into greater things.”
Leftovers were never thrown out but saved to make another meal. Braswell’s mother would take two dollars and buy a pack of wieners and a loaf of bread to feed her children.
“I learned to slice mine. Some of my siblings ate theirs whole like a hot dog but I sliced mine up and made a sandwich. My mom instilled in us to use what you have to get the job done,” Braswell said. “There were no excuses and absolutely no complaints about what we didn’t have. As Moses did, we used what was in our hands.”
The children in the neighborhood made a basketball rim for pickup games and football was also played, complete with cheerleaders who tore up newspaper to form pom-poms. Classmates from the neighboring streets often joined them to compete against one another -- Vickie Lynn Vikings versus the Chuck Circle Chargers.
Braswell said that even now, at family gatherings, talk always returns to the days at Vickie Lynn.
“It was a place that we remember fondly and where I received a solid foundation. That’s why we wanted to have the reunion, to celebrate that foundation. To celebrate what we have become and to allow our children and grandchildren the chance to meet the people that impacted our lives, people we have talked about for decades,” Braswell said.
Braswell said that reunion was also designed to inspire others to move beyond their meager beginnings and do the great things for which they were destined.
“It doesn’t matter how you start; your beginning doesn’t have to determine your destiny,” Braswell said.
While resident after resident gives credit to God and to the Vickie Lynn neighborhood for the successes in their lives, the children who grew up in Vickie Lynn also credit the teachers at Tabor Junior High and Northside High School.
“Our teachers saw that we were hungry for knowledge and helped to feed that knowledge,” Tuggle said.
Children who were raised in Vickie Lynn during the 1965-’85 time period have joined the military, attended colleges all over the country and traveled the world.
Braswell said that most people that know her at the Pentagon are unaware of her background but from time to time she shares her story with others.
“I will share it when I want to encourage a young person, especially ones that are not carrying themselves in a respectful manner. I would share with them, if God can do this, take a child that ate egg sandwiches for dinner and was glad to have them, imagine what God can do for you.”