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People of the South End: Miss Clara Phillips

by Elizabeth DeSantis

Keeping the Past Alive
Mississippi native Clara Phillips has been in Albany for 56 years, and has stayed a loyal resident to the South End ever since. She has been a part of AVillage for the past 8 years ever since running into Willie White one day after her church service who said, “I’m starting an organization”. Ms.Clara has since been known as “AVillage’s first member”, and her dedication to her work is accredited to something her mother always told her -- “If you’re going to do something, stick with it”. Her dedication is visible through the creation of the 100 CDTA bus line and the annual Mississippi Day.

While interviewing Ms. Clara, I asked her what her favorite memory of Albany is, to which she laughed and said, “Well, at first, I didn’t like Albany. It was too quiet”. Now, Ms. Clara said, she would never leave the South End or Albany. Mississippi will always be home, but Albany has become a good second home for her.

She now occupies her time by working at the South End Children’s Cafe where she helps youth with their homework and tries to answer all of the questions about life they throw at her. “They keep you in touch”, she said, when asked about how different is was working with a younger generation. Since younger generations are more involved with social media than Ms. Clara, they fill her in about technology while she tells them stories about her past.

Ms. Clara admitted that she’s not as updated with technology, but she wishes the South End could get more media coverage to raise awareness. “You can’t buy salad in the South End”, she said. The importance of raising her, and many others’ concerns about the need for jobs, health insurance, and vegetables needs to reach more social media coverage so that change can happen.

When asking about her history, Ms. Clara told her life story with a reminiscent look and a smile that never left her face. From sharing stories about the day she cooked for the first annual AVillage Mississippi Day with an injured ankle to how she works at the local South End Children’s Cafe to help students with their homework, it’s clear why social media is important. Without social media platforms, some stories never get shared. They may die with the person they belong to, but Ms. Clara is working against that by writing her first novel. Still in the making, From The Beginning to Almost The End, will share her well known recipes and the challenges she’s overcome. Her hopes for the book is that “it might help someone else”. 

People of the South End will be an occasional feature of AVillage VOICE. If you know someone with a story to tell, let us know. The Editor.

Corey Ellis Talks Economic Development

by Mahalia Cummings

It was on those yellow pieces of paper that this organization was born,” Albany Common Council President-Elect Corey Ellis begins his talk at December 7th’s Thursday Meeting by calling back to AVillage’s origin story. He talks about the way that Willie White built on an idea. An idea that Corey first witnessed come into its own on bright yellow flyers and on passion before the it was even fully conceptualized.
South End residents dream for themselves, too. Corey Ellis points out that for too many people, the job opportunities they see always come with a barrier or obstacle attached, so that they can see it, but can’t grasp it. Some of these obstacles stem from educational injustice, lack of economic opportunity, the absence of equal representation in government, housing disparities, and racial discrimination.

For Corey, it is about equality and equity. It is about tapping into the entrepreneurial minds of young people, but it’s also about institutions. “You have to have some entity that holds people accountable.” Corey co-founded the Capital District Black Chamber of Commerce to become an economic driving force and leverage  for people who found themselves shut out in the face of systemic discrimination. “What about your lending practices? Your high interest rates?” Corey speaks of crossing into a world where institutions are no longer blocked off to marginalized members of the community.  “That’s where your institutions have to come alive. Your churches, your chambers. Your urban league.”

The discussion also centered on the merits of empowering yourself, any way you can. The inherent value of unions and the importance of advocacy was a hallmark of the meeting.  Members from ECWA local 102, a construction union, were present at the meeting. ECWA Local 102 is proficient in training its members, and works with legislator and community leaders in the city. Corey doesn’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to this subject. But he stresses the importance of going after the people who contract the companies in the first place, and getting down to the nuts and bolts of how many jobs community members will be viable for. And providing access to that training.

When AVillage member Ray Turner asks what he needs to do to achieve what Corey Calls a “sustainable, workable, livable” community, Corey tells him that he’s already doing it. “Being part of an organization that is based on community growth. Being active in the community.”

Corey is an example of what community activism does. As he said, he didn’t come to the meeting to talk at community members. He aimed to listen. There wasn’t always complete agreement, but conversations have to be nuanced to make change. Corey Ellis is at the forefront of our Common Council, filled with group of people who take a significant role in representing the residents of Albany. As Vivian Kornegay said at the meeting last Thursday, what affects one of our neighborhoods, affects us all. Corey stated that the resurgence of the South End is going to come hand in hand with aggressive change. We are all a part of that change.