Gemma Joseph Lumpkin (pictured) grew up in Newhallville. She was in for a surprise—about what makes a neighborhood—when she and her family moved back there from Westville. Read on for an installment of her Sheffield Avenue diary.
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Once we accepted the fact that due to my mother’s disability it was best that we move back to our old neighborhood, Newhallville, to help her, my husband and I committed to the idea. Having lived in the Westville and Edgewood neighborhoods we knew the move back to “the hood” would take some getting used to.
Although we did not know each other then, my husband and I both grew up in Newhallville during the 1970s when many families including ours owned homes and had a great sense of pride in the community. However in the 1980s and early 1990s things started to change.
Neither of us remembers referring to the neighborhood as “The Ville.” But we were quite aware that Newhallville began to be described with every negative connotation of a neighborhood that one can muster—poor, single-mom families, unsafe, slum, gang infested, drug-haven, with lots of undereducated folks, just to name a few.
So here we were, husband and wife, graduate school-degreed and self-employed, moving back to this place and committed to making the best of an unexpected and unplanned situation.
Upon moving back, one of the first things we noticed was the sense of community that didn’t exist in other places where we lived. On my street we noticed the neighbors spoke to each other, calling out to each other from windows and porches. I was stopped by neighbors who wanted to know how my mom was doing. They asked about my sister and my brother and niece and nephew. Not just one or two neighbors were checking in with me. but several were doing so.
We felt a widespread sense of kindness and caring not experienced in the other places. We started to think that everybody is related to each other. Then we thought maybe not related, but certainly connected.
We experienced a beautiful summer season not too hot and with just enough rainfall. Neighbors took advantage of the weather and hung out on the front porches, talking to and about each other. We learned which neighbor was new to the neighborhood, which ones sold their houses and moved down south, and also which ones we should be careful of. The neighborhood was vibrant. Lots of children played on the street. Sometimes music could be heard from someone’s house or even a parked car.
After a few weeks of living in Newhallville we decided to take the advice given to us years go by Nick Pastore, the former New Haven police chief. Pastore said that one of the best ways to reduce problems in a neighborhood was to “throw a party.”
We invited to our home all of the owners we knew, plus the area’s alderperson, and we served coffee and donuts in our living room. The gathering was the beginning of a different understanding of Newhallville, a place about which few outsiders have a clue.