By all accounts, Reginald "Kiyi" Ballard, Sr. was an incredible man. In his various roles as a career employee within the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, Ballard devoted his life to helping District youth find their way. He would wake up early every morning for individual workouts with kids he thought needed special attention. He knew whether his young charges were getting good grades or not. "Winners never quit, and quitters never win," was a motto anyone who came into contact with Ballard in the 1960s and '70s at the Langston, Kelly-Miller, Douglas or Benning-Stoddert rec centers knew all too well.
"He is the father that we didn't have, or for those of us who had fathers, the second father we didn't know we needed," said Gilbert Hoffman, Jr.
Ballard certainly deserves to have something in the District of Columbia named after him. But that something won't be, and as residents from the surrounding neighborhood made resoundingly clear Monday night, shouldn't be the Rosedale Recreation Center.
See, several months ago, a group of adults who credit the man they all called Kiyi (pronounced "kai-yai") with much of their later successes in life decided they wanted to find a way to honor Ballard, who passed away in 2005. So they approached Ward 6 D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells about naming the soon-to-be renovated Rosedale Recreation Center on Gales Street NE after their mentor. That's when the trouble started.
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Wells told the group, led by Carrie Nobles, that he'd consider supporting the idea if the local ANC and other community groups signed off first. But instead of approaching ANC 6A or the Rosedale Citizens Alliance to make a presentation, the group scheduled a star-studded community meeting featuring a panel that included former assistant D.C. police chief Marty Tapscott, former New York Jets running back Tony Paige, Sports Talk veteran Glenn Harris, and retired Baltimore Parks and Recreation director Marlyn Hinkle.
With so many vocal luminaries from outside the Rosedale community pushing for the name, even if it wasn't the intention, the message received in the neighborhood was that residents were quickly being left out of the decision. And then The Afro published an erroneous report that the name change was already a done deal.
Boom. Enter well over 100 Rosedale residents who showed up Monday at Miner Elementary to voice their displeasure.
"It's disingenuous for someone to come into my house and tell me what to do," as one neighborhood pastor told the crowd, receiving rapturous applause from a table full of members of the Rosedale Tigers Cheerleading squad.
Much to the credit of everyone in the room Monday night, the tone stayed mostly civil, even as the discourse turned passionate. It wasn't about a lack of appreciation for Ballard's impressive legacy. Nor was it only about a perceived disrespect for the wishes of the community. Rosedale has been called Rosedale since segregation times, and in fact was one of the principle battlegrounds of that struggle in the early 1950s. A local civil rights collective known as the Rosedale 10 risked imprisonment and worse when they protested to integrate the playground, and after 1952, Rosedale became a haven for African-American youths who had long been shut out of its walls.
Also evident at Monday's forum was a deep generational divide between the younger adults currently working with the youth of Rosedale and the older adults who benefited from Ballard's guidance. More than one Rosedale coach accused the assembled panel of having dropped the ball and abandoned their duties to the community once they became successful. "The thing that [Ballard] stood for was not continued," said Rosedale Citizen's Alliance president and Rosedale Tigers color guard coach Nikki Bowens. "We had to start this whole thing over again."
Several compromises were eventually proposed, including possibly naming just the future Rosedale library or dedicating a single wall or gymnasium to Ballard. How that all shakes out remains to be seen. But it was facilitator Tommy Wells who at the end captured the unmistakable feeling that the entire Rosedale neighborhood had come out to make sure the heart of their community would not be trifled with.
"This is one of the most amazing evenings I have ever spent in Washington, D.C.," said the D.C. Councilmember. I'll go ahead and second that emotion. Lesson learned. You don't mess with Rosedale.