Anthony Bellows, a native of English Avenue and lifelong resident of the Historic Westside, led devotion at the Feb. 7 Transform Westside Summit.
“Thank you, Westside Future Fund, for allowing me to tell my Westside story,” says Bellows. “I’m from Atlanta, I’m a Grady baby. I was raised on the Westside most of all my life.” Growing up, Anthony and his mother lived with his grandmother, two uncles, two brothers, and two sisters. “My grandmother moved here from Summerhill. She moved to the projects called Bankhead Court. We was like one of the first families that was moving there after the apartment was built.”
Unfortunately, Anthony’s family was evicted in 1988. After his grandmother’s passing some time later, the family moved into his deceased great grandfather’s house on Vine Street. The pro? The house had already been paid for. The con? On top of being worn down, it was located in The Bluff, the most dangerous neighborhood in Atlanta and one of the most dangerous in the nation. After learning of the house’s location, Anthony reflects, “I said, ‘I don’t know about going over there.’” But with nowhere else to go, the Bellows family moved in and lived in the house until its dilapidated condition became too much of a hazard.
“It was just a whole lot of mess in The Bluff. It was like drugs, police, everyday. That’s all you know, that’s all you can see everyday.”
Looking for work and a way out, Anthony eventually found himself battling depression and seeking occasional help from doctors. Having been able to see the city skyline from the streets of The Bluff, he reflects on looking up at the high-rise buildings where people who were doing well could afford to live. “I wondered if the people up there in them buildings were looking down at us, ’cause I know they can see down here. It just felt like that was just far, like we just right here in this little bad community, but the people up there in them buildings were living good.” Anthony had questioned, “‘Is this the dream that Martin Luther King said that we supposed to have?’ I said, ‘Where is the dream?’”
Eventually, Anthony moved to Joseph E. Boone Blvd. as the Bluff began transitioning and people were being pushed out of the neighborhood. “I still had ties to that area, so I kept riding through there.” Having noticed the new development that had been happening in the community, he was shocked by the new sidewalks and the unusual quietness. “I’m like, ‘man this is nice. This looks like what it’s supposed to be.’” However, Anthony couldn’t help but wonder how much longer he’d be able to afford to live in the redeveloping neighborhood.
He recounts, “My landlord went up on my rent about two years ago. I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to do something.’”
Anthony remembers searching online for new places to live on the Westside. That’s when he discovered Westside Future Fund. “I put in Westside and it said ‘Westside Future Fund,’ and I said, ‘Whoa, that’s money!’ It said something about ‘summit meeting.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go to that meeting, they’re giving out money.’”
Though cash handouts weren’t actually what he would gain from the Transform Westside Summit, Anthony had begun a path toward perhaps an even better prize.
Recalling his first summit, Anthony remebers feeling nervous when self-introductions started. “‘Ah man, I’ve got to stand up and say my name?’ Everybody was standing up saying, ‘My name is so and so, and I’m with this company, I’m with that company.’ I was like, ‘Oh man, I ain’t with no company. What I’m gonna say?’” Anthony remembers thinking to himself, “‘Well, I’m a resident,’ so you know, I just started saying, ‘My name is Anthony Bellows, and I’m a Westside resident.’ That’s got to mean something. When it boils down to it, that’s what it really is all about, you know, the residents.”
“I said, ‘well this is for me, everything they’re doing here is for me, really. I’ve just got to get the connections.’”
After attending his first summit, the ceiling in Anthony’s home sprung a leak. However, he wound up having a hard time getting an unresponsive landlord to fix it. He reflects on walking to Westside Future Fund’s office which was only a few blocks away to see what they could do to help. “So I walked down there to the office, and I met Ms. Sonia Dawson. She said, ‘We’ve got some volunteer lawyers. I’m going to give you their number, and I’m going to send them an email, and they’re going to get in touch with you.’” Before he got home, he had received a call. “Take a picture of the ceiling and send it to me,” he remembers being told by Eric, one of the volunteer lawyers and who had also attended the summit. “I’m going to send your landlord an email of these pictures too.”
“I said, ‘I don’t know if he should do that. They’ll probably put me outdoors.’ Then I said, ‘well if they ain’t fixing nothing, and I’m paying my rent on time, it’s nothing they can do.’”
Anthony re-enacts when his daughter called and said, “‘All these people out here talking about they need to get in.’ I said, ‘Who?’ She said, ‘It’s a whole bunch of people out here!’ I hurried up and came there because she wasn’t going to let nobody in. When I got there, man, these people came in—they were fixing everything.”
“That was just one of the benefits coming here.”
Anthony then reflects on the time shortly after his daughter graduated from the historic Booker T. Washington High School and didn’t want to go into debt to go to college. “So, I found out about the Westside Works here, you know, by coming here.” He remembers taking her a flyer, which she kept putting to the side.
“I said, ‘you better go on and get that free training, it’s free!’” Anthony says his daughter, tired of working in fast food, eventually went through the Information Technology training offered by the program. “She went through it, and graduated, and now she’s working for AT&T, and you know, she’s doing real good.”
“So, that was one of the other benefits of coming here.”
Anthony shifts his focus to highlight his experience volunteering with Westside Volunteer Corps. “I started volunteering a lot too. I got with Westside. They did a volunteer build for Habitat for Humanity.” The project lasted a few weeks. “I was there from start to finish. The lady got the keys to the house, and Westside was out there and they took a picture of everybody, and it was just good to see the lady and her little girl get a home. It just made me feel good, and I said, ‘One day, I want that to be me.’”
Recalling when the woman whose house he had helped build recognized him at a later Transform Westside Summit, Anthony says, “She came and gave me a hug and said, ‘Thank you,’ you know, because we all worked together to help build that house. It was just a nice experience.”
Volunteering has become a passion of Anthony’s, and he takes every opportunity to give back while encouraging others to also volunteer whenever possible.
“I just feel good about volunteering,” he says. “That’s the biggest paycheck. That’s more than a paycheck—just to see the results of you helping somebody. I just want to encourage somebody. Just sign up to volunteer, volunteer for something. You can’t put a price tag on volunteering.”
Speaking on the impact he’s seen and been a part of through Westside Future Fund, Anthony expresses, “Westside… they’re really building lives. You say they’re building buildings, but they’re building lives too.” He then urges that more people should attend the Transform Westside Summits because, “you’ve got to come here to know what’s going on. I can tell you all day, but you’ll never know until you come in here.”
Preparing to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a homeowner through the Home on the Westside program, Anthony ends devotion summarizing his experience at the summits and of Westside Future Fund with arguably the most telling few words of the morning: “In here, this is love.”