“Our Promise is to Students,” the tagline of ACPS’ latest campaign for the renovation of T.C. Williams Parker Gray Stadium and the installation of stadium lights. It is also a message to the dozen or so African American homeowners whose property abuts the stadium.
According to the city attorney, promises made to homeowners by ACPS and the city are not binding; nor, would it seem is history. The city essentially stole the property on which T.C. Williams stands from the African American community in the 1960s, using eminent domain and paying pennies on the dollar. This cleared the way for the school and forced many historically rooted Black families out of the area.
The one small concession to those who remained, a promise; that because their property borders the stadium, lights would never be installed. This was reinstated in an agreement that paved the way for construction of the new T.C. Williams.
What is lost in this debate is the issue of fairness. Should one neighborhood be consistently subjected to a lower expectation of privacy than homeowners in every other section of the city. It is not primarily about lights; the issue is the unmitigated usage lighting facilitates. Along with usage comes noise, traffic, nuisances and misconduct. Currently, stadium activity is limited to daytime use. ACPS and the city have no intention of curtailing that usage, rather, it will extend activity well into the night, every night, throughout the year.
Unlike during 1960s, racism is not a factor this time. Support for “Let there be Lights” crosses every demographic — racial, social, political, economic. However, that should not absolve ACPS or the city from past transgressions or excuse behavior which continues to disproportionately impact the same African American community. This is not an abundantly affluent community, much of their wealth is vested in home equity; and persistent stadium activity will decrease home values.
What consideration do the residents receive for their obligatory sacrifice? The Planning Commission in a 5 to 2 decision supporting lights and constant late-night use of the stadium asked ACPS: to “promise” to be a better neighbor; to “promise” to do more to mitigate nuisance impacts; to “promise” access to an ACPS grievance point of contact — promises, really?
Odds are good that City Council will approve the Parker Gray Stadium project, including lights, with minimal dissent. The justification will be “the greater good.” The message to the African American residents will be another sober reminder of the morally corrupt treatment the community has and must continue to endure.
Roy R. Byrd