About 15 volunteers spent their Saturday morning painting houses for four hours with a goal in mind: to beautify the Porters Quarters community.
Ruby Williams, 85, watched from her living room window as her house’s outside walls turned from light blue to bright yellow — a color to represent sunshine.
Williams lives on the corner of Southwest Sixth Avenue and Southwest Third Street in Porters Quarters, a historically Black neighborhood established in 1884.
Her 66-year-old daughter, Faye Williams, said her mother’s house is the perfect place to start the beautification because she’s one of the oldest residents in their neighborhood.
Alachua Habitat for Humanity donated brushes and paint to help get the volunteers started in their mission. The volunteers who came to help paint were people of all ages and professional backgrounds, working elbow-to-elbow. There were more people than brushes.
City Commissioner David Arreola and City Commission candidate Scherwin Henry also volunteered.
“David came and that was great and Scherwin was here that's great, but my position is you’re just another person,” Williams said. “If you came over to paint some houses, there's a brush. Pick up the brush and start painting the houses.”
They will probably paint the next house sky blue, representing going up to the heavens, Williams said. She wants the house after that to be green, representing the grass where everything is born together.
“Everybody wants beauty around them,” she said. “That’s the best part of our culture as Black people. We have always been about nature and beauty in our music, poetry, dancing.”
Jenn Powell, a 43-year-old Gainesville resident, has worked as a painter since 2017. She has worked on both commercial and residential projects in the past, but this is her first time participating in a community volunteer project.
“When Ms. Faye asks you to do something, you come,” she said.
Powell said she came to volunteer as a way to try to protect historically Black communities in Gainesville.
“If you make things nice, people living here can take pride in their community,” she said. “When everything's run down and paint’s peeling off, you don't want to necessarily take care of it, so improving the look of it just brings up people's morale.”
The Rev. Gerard Duncan, now an Ocala resident, lived in Gainesville for 30 years.
“This project is about revitalization and giving back to our seniors,” Duncan said. “Not only is the Porters community significant to the greater Gainesville, but the community historically is a major part of the culture of Gainesville.”
Many of the seniors and other people living in the neighborhood cannot afford critical maintenance repairs for their houses, Duncan said. He has noticed how the development at the edges of the historically Black neighborhoods in Gainesville are negatively affecting its residents.
He said neighborhoods like Porters Quarters were once believed to be suitable only for Black people to live in them. But once a Black neighborhood has been established, others come back to gentrify the area that they once claimed was not good enough for them.
“[It’s] like the quality now of the homes and the pleasantry of a place that Black people were banished to now becomes prime real estate,” Duncan said.
By beautifying Porters Quarters, Duncan said no one will be able to drive them out of the place to which they were driven.
Contact Jiselle Lee at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a journalism junior and The Alligator’s features and investigations editor. Previously, she was a reporter for NextShark and a news intern at The Bradenton Herald. In her free time, she enjoys thrifting and going to the beach.