LR community members pushing for community centers to re-open

Victory Over Violence

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Community centers are a safe haven for vulnerable kids, keeping them out of harm’s way and protecting them from anything. Like the recent shootings at Little Rock parks.

Some community centers sit empty and there’s a push to get them open.

This is the third park shooting in Little Rock and the second that has injured young children.

Some community members have said this last shooting could’ve been avoided if the Eastend community center, better known as the Nathaniel Hill Community center, was open at the time.

The Nathaniel Hill Community Center sits less than half a mile away from Cheatham Park in Little Rock where the latest shooting took place.

It was closed in 2008 due to low usage. Jackie Smith, the founder of the Injustice for Justice Coalition, is one of the people who has been pushing for it to reopen.  

“We go to the city board meetings, every Tuesday fighting for these kids, for the place to put them in,” Smith said. “There’s nowhere to put them, what else can they do? They’re bored, they don’t have a job, we don’t have programs, we don’t have any type of activities for them to do.”

The City of Little Rock has 7 community centers. Three of the centers, Dunbar, Southwest, and West Central, reopened on April 5th after being closed due to COVID-19.

Monday, the city said Stephens and East Little Rock community centers will reopen next week.
Smith wants more to be done.

“Open up these centers, and do what needs to be done in the city, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we have a problem,” Smith said.

Smith has been fighting for the same thing, and spreading the message from last week’s press conference to an emergency city board meeting and even at a vigil, she hosted.

This plea, follows the latest shooting at a Little Rock park. Four people were shot, including a 3-year-old and 4-year-old girl. 

22-year-old Devontay Allen was killed. Now his mother is also on the front lines with Smith. 

“Every day, somebody child is getting shot or killed,” Mother, Kimberly Allen said. “We have to come together.”

“That’s the importance of these community center’s, and that’s the reason why we want them open,” Smith said. “Because we don’t have these type of things in our areas, we don’t.”

Although the Nathanial Hill Community Center is currently closed, the city said it remains open for various community meetings and activities.

The summer playground program at Nathanial Hill will be open on June 7th.

The Ottenheimer Therapeutic Recreation Center is also closed, but no word yet when they will re-open.

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