Former resident returns to changed Progress Village

Alfred Sheffield, 66, recalls his childhood in Progress Village. Courtesy of Samantha Nieto.

 

Progress Village has been a nostalgic childhood home for one resident, who remembers a better time for the neighborhood even though the area’s recent value has seemed to diminish.

Alfred Sheffield moved back to Progress Village, after living in California for over 20 years, to take care of his mother because she had Alzheimer’s. He has acquired his childhood home and remains in the old community.

Progress Village has depreciated, compared with the surrounding complexes that are now being built. It is not as spacious, nor does it look as nice as it used to because so many people have moved in over the decades.

Previously, the houses in the community were all on large lots and similarly built. Which made for more space around each residence.

“It [the village] became depressed. It doesn’t look nearly as nice as it looked many years ago when we moved into the village,” Sheffield said. “It’s kind of sad to see that, because it really was a great community at one time, but just leaves a bit to be desired now.”

Sheffield, 66, began life in Progress Village in 1960. He was nine. His family bought a house in the neighborhood when it was first being constructed.

Jeanette Abrahamsen is a communications professor at the University of South Florida. She and her advanced reporting class teamed up with WUSF to showcase stories from the long-standing community.

“People are proud of this community, but there is also just difficult things they have been through,” Abrahamsen said.

Sheffield explained that over the decades, the village experienced many financial up and downs. Families were seriously affected by disappearance of unions and many people lost their jobs.

The community was established in the late 1950’s to provide affordable housing for black members of Hillsborough County, according to the University of South Florida’s library records.

The village was developed as a model community that would offset major displacements caused by redevelopment in predominantly black neighborhoods.

It grew under the responsibility of local leaders, including C. Blythe Andrews, Cody Fowler, James Hargrett, Sr., and Perry Harvey, Sr. Amongst others, they comprised the original Board of Trustees for Progress Village, Inc.

The Sheffield family moved to Progress Village from Tampa’s Central Park. A sub-section that was an urban area with low-cost housing, which no longer exists.

“Well, I know my mother was very excited. She loved it,” Sheffield said. “I remember how enthusiastic she was about the house, and having our first house like that. It was great.”

Adjusting to the country life came easy for him and his family. They were open to their new way of life.

“I’ve never lived in an environment like that. In no time, I was away from the house and exploring the neighborhood as a 9-year-old,” Sheffield said.

During Sheffield’s time at Progress Village, he learned about life in the country and the importance of a close community.

More than fifty years after Sheffield first moved, Progress Village still stands as a viable example of cooperative neighborhood development and public enterprise.

“I wonder how my life would have been like had we not moved,” Sheffield said. “But I understand now, of course, that that move was better for us as a family.”

 

 

 

Local leader tells her story

 

Photo by Ashley Vedral

Oct. 16 marked the first of two days students from the University of South Florida would conduct interviews in Progress Village, Florida for WUSF, the school’s radio station.

Seated in a long, narrow room covered with art made by children, Linda Washington, President of the Progress Village Civic Council, spoke.

Washington told her own story.

She was born just outside of Tallahassee on Sept. 24, 1957, in a town called Quincy and moved to Progress Village in 1961. Washington still cherishes memories from her time there as a child.

Washington said one lady, the candy lady, had an impact on her life.  She remembed the candy lady vividly.

“Mrs. Washington was the candy lady that lived next door to me,” Washington said.  “It’s nice to have someone in the neighborhood that still provides those little sweets.”

The candy lady was a welcome sight because stores were few and far between Washington said.

“Having a candy lady next door to get a frozen cup or penny cookies, that was ideal,” Washington said.

Washington said that she was on only child for 16 years, so being able to go out in the community and play really met something to her.

Bad memories proved hard to recall but Washington shared her memory of the storm that tore through the village in the mid ’60s.

As she grew up, Washington had many ideas as to how her life would unfold.

” Well I thought was going to be a teacher for the longest because I used to play school in my bedroom,” Washington said.  “So I really thought that I was going to go to college and become a school teacher.”

Washington notes the happiest moment of her life was having her daughter. Before her daughter, she married and moved away from Progress Village, to Bloomingdale, Florida. Several years later, she and her daughter returned.

“You knew almost the entire community whether it was through church, school or just, you know, activities that took place in the community,” said Washington. “I was raising a daughter and I knew that I would have a support structure with my parents living in the community.”

Washington’s return to Progress Village occurred in a way that was almost too good to be true.  There was a home available.

“It was on a Christmas Eve,” Washington said.  “I’ll never forget it, and that’s what started the wheels rolling, like I’m going to move back to Progress Village.”

After returning to Progress Village, Washington began attending meetings for the civic council. She said she enjoyed going, as she wished to be a part of the community. Attending regularly earned her the spot of President.

“I started going to the civic council meetings, and at that time, Mr. Kemp was the president,” Washington said.  “And so, for the 2011 elections I was voted president of the civic council.”

Although she was hesitant to take on the position, because she was working full time, Washington accepted and has not looked back. Washington led the community after the storm of 2011.

“I never knew about storms like that,” Washington said.  “There was a lot of devastation, and it was all material things. No loss of life.”

Washington could recall what that storm was like.

“March of 2011, we had tornadoes that hit Progress Village, and that was a lot of damage to homes,” Washington said.  “I mean, it was pretty destructive because there were several tornadoes. It wasn’t just one that hit.”

In addition to making sure Progress Village recovers when tragedies occur, Washington also works to organize the town reunions.

“Every 10 years or so we have our reunion and that is unique in itself,” Washington said.  “This is a community reunion, where people come back and share in the memories of what it was like living in Progress Village, and that’s always fun.”

As a leader of Progress Village, Washington credits the former president of the civic council with teaching her to successfully carry out the role.

“I have to say that, our past president, Mr. Kemp has been very influential in my life,” Washington said.

Pam Colleton’s 57 years in Progress Village

 

Progress Village is Tampa’s first low income housing area and it has been through a lot over the years, but one resident has always stayed faithful and seen the best in the neighborhood.

Pamela Colleton has lived in Progress Village since the 60s. Colleton loves “The Village” and she knows almost everything there is to know about it.

“Our community was like one big family. You know how you hear that it takes a village to raise a family? Well this is our village. I raised my kids out here. I tried to move one time, but they didn’t want to move, so I couldn’t move and stayed here. I’ve been in my (current) home… it will be 40 years January 28. So, I just love the village,” Colleton said.

Colleton works in the parks and recreation center where she meets all the families that live in the village.

“Well I love the community. I have been here for 57 years, so I grew up in the neighborhood. So, I know a lot of the families here, the older families as well as the newer generations of families. I’ve worked at the parks and recreation for eight years doing the basketball program at the gym. So, a lot of the newer kids I met. So, it’s a feeling of home it really is,” Colleton said.

Colleton moved to “The Village” when she was eight years old. Before that, she lived in Hyde Park. Growing up in “The Village,” Colleton was able to share many stories about the park, where she spent most of her time when she was younger. The park was the place where everyone would hang out, and none of their parents worried about them because they knew their children were safe.

There was always plenty to do at the park like playing on the basketball courts or dancing to James Brown music. Mr. Johnson, who ran a concession stand at the park, would put a quarter in the juke box for the kids to dance to. Colleton was very active as a child and would constantly be engaged in games of basketball, volleyball, kickball and more.

Photo from Jeanette Abrahamsen

“The basketball courts. We had four goals and we had a four-square court and that stayed busy. The four-square court from the beginning to the end, that stayed busy. In front of the concession stand we had a large piece of concrete where the music was playing. You could go and dance if you wanted to,” Colleton said.

Colleton owns a family reunion booklet. The booklet is about Progress Village. “We had people coming back to Progress Village who haven’t been back in Progress Village for years. Pulling this all together we advertised it in the papers. We were just trying to get everybody back and quite a few people came back, every year quite a few people came back,” Colleton said.

The booklet was Progress Village’s yearbook and showed all the history that happened in the village. The book had history ranging from church history to the history of the first city council presidents. The booklet gives people the chance to see and learn about their own history.

Pamela Colleton is passionate about Progress Village and she loves being part of her community. She shared several stories with WUSF and you can listen to the whole interview below.

Little League children taught to succeed off field

Bianco Berry (left) and his daughter, London. Photo by Katie Ebner

The vice president of Progress Village Little League teaches children more about life than baseball in hopes of inspiring a misunderstood community.

Progress Village was created less than 60 years ago—before the height of the civil rights movement—to give black people an affordable community to call home. Only a railroad track separated it from the Klu Klux Klan, who terrorized members of the new community.

Progress Village changed a lot over the years, but it still fights a bad reputation from its drug problems and murders that seem to be the only reasons the community makes the news.

Little League Vice President Bianco Berry, however, sees Progress Village differently than outsiders. Though he did not grow up there, the tight-knit community enjoys a rich storytelling culture, which is how he learned about its history.

“Just to hear the old stories is really, it’s almost like, you growing up, you wasn’t always here, but you always feel like you was always involved in the community,” said Berry.

Berry started volunteering with the Little League when he moved to Tampa in 2006. His passion for giving back to the community and being a positive influence for his children and the children he coaches earned him a spot on the Little League board, and eventually the title as vice president.

During his stint as vice president he coached both of his children, and even coached his daughter’s softball team when it won the district championship two years ago. His daughter, London, 11, cherishes her relationship with her dad for more than what they have accomplished on the field together.

“Many people don’t have a dad that can just tell them that, ‘oh you’re amazing, you’re worth it in life,’ so I just feel like respected that like I have someone that is there for me that can tell me that,” said London.

She credits the Little League for playing a big role in teaching children like her valuable life lessons.

“I think that kids can develop great leadership because Progress Village, we hold a lot of like activities for the children to do, just to get involved more, and also it gives the kids like new opportunities to learn something new, and to experience things off of others,” said London.

His primary focus is not winning games. It’s helping children learn how to achieve great things beyond Little League Baseball.

“We’re trying to teach you the game, trying to teach you the fundamentals, trying to teach you this is how life is,” said Berry.

As one of the league’s leaders, Berry wants players to recognize the importance of working together.

“We try to give you the tools that’s not necessary to succeed in sport but to succeed in life as well,” said Berry. “This has to be like a team organization. You got to have teamwork when you go to your job, you got to have a team, got to be able to rely on others, you try to teach them it’s not always about ‘me me me.'”

He also emphasizes the importance of giving at-risk children a positive atmosphere to learn and grow, instead of falling into bad habits.

“[We] try to teach them to be respectful of everyone, and just try to provide a safe and fun environment for them to come out and do stuff, and not have to be always in the streets, always doing something negative,” said Berry. “Try to turn something negative, and try to make them keep, keep a positive attitude.”

Bianco and London spoke to WUSF as part of its “Telling Tampa Bay Stories” radio series. Photo by Katie Ebner

Berry teaches his own children these same values. On every family vacation, he and his wife take their children to different universities wherever they visit to show their kids what they can achieve if they continue to work hard and be positive influences on others. These trips gave his daughter a new perspective, and inspired her to make a difference in others’ lives.

” … Until like a few years ago I didn’t really realize that most people don’t exactly get like I have,” said London. “[I’m] able to do stuff in life, [and] not always [be] one of those people who’s always down. I can always stay positive.”

According to Berry, both of his children exemplify the values he tries to teach Little League players, and he could not be more proud of them. His daughter talks about how she stands up for kids who get bullied at school, and how she is involved with Sisters Network—an organization that raises awareness for African-American women impacted by breast cancer. One day, she wants to be a doctor or professional athlete.

“I mean, she’s a pleasure,” said Berry about his daughter. “Both my kids are, so I’m just happy trying to do the right thing by them, make sure they can be productive citizens in life.”