Aji Green, a candidate for the Toledo Board of Education, speaks at a candidates’ breakfast on Saturday. Seated, from left, are Rob Ludeman, Chris Varwig, and James Nowak.
A candidate for the Toledo Board of Education called Monday for collaboration between the city and Toledo Public Schools to combat blight in neighborhoods that surround schools.
Aji Green, standing at Fernwood and Forest avenues outside Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys, said money for housing redevelopment should be concentrated near schools, to tear down abandoned homes and rehab others.
“We have a beautiful school,” he said, “but look out the window.”
A string of vacant homes lines Fernwood Avenue near the school. While the academy has improved academic achievement in recent years, the neighborhood continues to face gang and blight problems. Several houses on the street have burned in the past year. Others were riddled with bullets. Some serve as hangouts for the Smith Park Mafia, an inner-city gang also known as the Lil Heads.
Mr. Green said he walked the neighborhood recently and spoke to a group of young men hanging out near the academy. The group spoke openly about selling drugs, and Mr. Green pointed to a hole in the base of a home where he said the men stashed guns and drugs.
That home is directly across the street from MLK Academy and near a memorial for a gang member shot and killed there in October, 2011, during a vigil for a friend who was shot and killed a year earlier. Mr. Green said the city should tear down the home. It could be replaced with a garden that students could maintain.
Mr. Green knows personally the negative draws in neighborhoods of endemic poverty. As a youth in Arkansas, he grew up near drug dealers, bootleggers, and gambling. He ran with gangs, and has a gang tattoo on his hand, a constant reminder of where he came from and what he has overcome.
It wasn’t until an aunt and uncle, both educators, took him in, that he turned his life around. Mr. Green also advocated Toledo Public Schools bring back busing so students don’t have to walk through depressed — and at times dangerous — neighborhoods.
TPS Superintendent Romules Durant, while not commenting specifically on Mr. Green’s plan, pointed to efforts by United North that were paired with new school development — such as housing projects in the Chase neighborhood — as examples of successful linking of new schools and neighborhood development.