DOBBINS HEIGHTS — If laughter is the best medicine, then it would follow that the best way to take care of a community is to share laughter with family, friends and neighbors.
That’s what the “Unity in the Community” events are aiming to do for Dobbins Heights. More than 50 residents turned out to the Community Center Friday night to share memories and insight for the younger generation in what town officials hope will be the first many similar affairs.
Residents expressed their reverence for the town of fewer than 1,000 people, in a number of ways: skits, poems, posters — and the old-fashioned way.
“If you’re not from here, you’re not going to know the stories,” Mayor Antonio Blue said before the speakers and performers began.
The event came together through a partnership with FirstHealth Food and Nutrition as a way to approach “health” in a more holistic way. Over the course of nine months, FirstHealth and Dobbins Heights officials met with residents to discuss what they wanted to see happen in the town, what was needed and what could be fixed.
Those meetings spawned at least five more projects: Pink Sundays, to raise awareness about breast cancer; swimming lessons; a community garden; CPR training; and a community newsletter. A community leader has been named to run each program.
“This was a night to remember,” said Town Councilmember Angeline David. “This has been more enlightening to me than anything I’ve done in my 12 years on the council.”
Mary Ann Gibson and her brothers, Eddie and Michael “Mickey” David, performed a skit to honor their mother, Channie McManus, who was the first female mayor of Dobbins Heights.
Eddie David and Gibson did a call and response, while Mickey played himself as a child.
“I remember …” Eddie started each story, and Gibson picked up with a story about going into Ms. Caldonia’s store on Perry Street when they were kids in the 1960s. She said her uncle, Frank Strong, used to spoil Mickey, the youngest in the family, with whole bags of cookies — which were three cents each at the time.
“Uncle Strong made us ask Mickey for some cookies and he would always say, ‘No,’ and stuff his mouth full in front of us,” Gibson, said.
The siblings said that back in those days, Earle Franklin Drive — where the Dobbins Heights Community Center now sits — was the only paved road in town.
Debra David, treasurer for the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, shared a story about her father, Joseph David, who ran a popular shoe-shining stand back in the day. Morgan David, Angeline David’s niece and a junior at Richmond Senior High School, read a poem she wrote for her church’s Black History Month Service about how she came to understand the struggle her ancestors experienced as slaves through a confrontation with a teacher.
Leila Gibson, 12, drew a picture of purple heart representing Dobbins Heights’ status as a Purple Heart Town that she saw on the way in Friday. Gibson, who said she draws “at an eighth-grade level,” thought the sign was “pretty” and said the best thing about Dobbins Heights is that most of her friends live there. Her favorite story was the one about the cookies.
“They could buy so many cookies back then!” she said, frustrated by the economic realities of inflation.
Robert David said that we he was a kid growing up in the “North Yard” as Dobbins Heights was known, they didn’t need CrossFit, the popular exercise regimen, because they had to run from his neighbor’s dogs every day.
“It was survival,” he said. He also told a story about him and his friend trying to find gold at the end of a rainbow. His friend bought a shovel to dig up the gold, and he brought a bat to beat up the leprechaun in case he got in their way.
“We kept saying, ‘It’s right over there,’ but we never found it,” David said. “That’s what I love about the North Yard, we were all family — even if you were doing something silly, you had someone with you.”
Cheryl Washington Streeter, 48, used to come down to Dobbins Heights every summer but moved there to stay on Dec. 6, 1983 — she remembers the day because she hated it so badly at first. Now she says the town is “home” and told stories about Uncle “Big Head” who used to fatten up his hogs every year to eat, and some of the darker times when family members struggled with addiction.
“People say, ‘How do you remember that?’ and I say, ‘Because it’s family time.’ You don’t forget,” Streeter said.
She stressed the importance of sharing stories with the next generation, which she had experienced listening to her grandfather talk on the back porch which had a major impact on her life.
“When you’ve been through something, you become the best teacher.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]