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Joppa calls for community hands to help kick-start 'The Melissa Pierce Project'

Melissa Pierce Project.jpg
South Central Civic League
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South Central Civic League
Flyer for the Melissa Pierce Project Clean out

The southeast community of Joppa, one of the original freedmen’s towns of Dallas, is holding a community cleanup of what will be their first multipurpose center.

Since 2017, there have been ongoing efforts to create a multipurpose community center in the community of Joppa.

This Saturday, the doors of what was formerly Melissa Pierce Elementary School will finally open for a community work day to begin prepping the structure for renovations.

“The Melissa Pierce Project” is named for the school and for Melissa Pierce, who was herself formerly enslaved. She donated the land with the condition that a school be built for kids within the Joppa community.

Shalondria Galimore, president of the South Central Civic League, organized the project. She envisions the space serving Joppa's multi-generational demographic which includes many who have never had a resource like this in proximity before.

“So the community is coming together, that's their way of giving back — we don’t necessarily have millions to donate, but they’re donating their time,” Galimore said.

Even though Joppa is a small area, residents of the 150-year-old community have raised questions to city officials as to why more development was not happening there, given the long standing history.

In the beginning stages of the project, UT Arlington historical architectural professor Kathryn Holliday was influential in helping articulate the need to protect the community’s character, history and purpose while working with collaborators like Habitat for Humanity and the South Central Civic League.

In a 2020 presentation about the project, Holliday said that the community of Joppa “does not want to freeze anything, but (rather to) develop the land around the school.”

Melissa Pierce Elementary alumni are still alive today, and Holliday says they want to make sure the unique history and resilience of the property continues to be represented.

“Melissa Pierce, herself a formerly enslaved person, is a part of that story of self-determination," Holliday said.. "It’s just a different story than your everyday neighborhood history, so people who have been students at Melissa Pierce are very passionate about trying to keep that sense of self-determination that they felt by being students at that brand new school that opened in 1953.”

For now, the 10,000square-foot red brick structure sits hollow on the corner of Hull Avenue and Fellows Lane, awaiting a new beginning that organizers are excited about.

Over the past two decades, Joppa has seen a spike in growth due to family homes built by Habitat for Humanity. Galimore says this project will fill a need for more local community spaces.

“Joppa has never had a community center or multipurpose center, so we’ve had people in the past that have made homes out of different afterschool tutorial sites for children.The last 17 or 18 years we’re having more and more people there but nothing for them to do,” she said.

Once it’s up and running, organizers say the multipurpose center will also provide services such as food assistance and addressing local gaps in healthy food access. They also plan to have onsite emergency aid and interactive programs for all ages.

Those interested in volunteering can reach out to joppee1872@gmail.com or call 469-718-9372.

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Got a tip? Email Solomon Wilson at swilson@kera.org. You can follow Solomon on Twitter @SolomonSeesIt.