I felt welcomed as soon as I entered Ms. Tremerell Robinson's home. Her husband gave up his television room for us to record our conversation. Her gentle warm spirit was evident and her soothing voice was inviting. She had created a home for her family that reminded me of my parents' home.
Ms. Tremerell Robinson, her husband, and her five-year-old daughter Danyelle, moved into the Sherman Park neighborhood in 1984. They fell in love with the woodwork in the house . They put down their deposit right away and for the next ten years they lived as renters in this duplex unit. She was not new to this neighborhood. Her mother had purchased a house in this area in 1972. Ms. Robinson remembers attending Townsend Street Elementary and Peckham Junior High School, now converted into the Sherman Park Senior Living Community. She attended summer programs at the Washington Park High School and remembers walking through the neighborhood back and forth from school. She remembers the neighborhood when she was growing up as nice, quiet, and cozy.
After living in their duplex for a while, the landlord decided to sell this building to the Robinsons. When they became landlords themselves, Ms. Robinson carefully personalized her home. Exquisite African art is proudly displayed in the living areas. The entryway has three curio cabinets filled with work of her favorite artist Thomas Blackshear. Ms. Robinson showed us the “man cave” built in the basement and changes she made to the attic. She noted that their previous landlord would not have minded if they made these changes to the home, but they did not feel comfortable making those investments to a property that was not theirs.
As renters Mrs. Robinson and her family had built a community with the renters who lived in the upper unit and with the neighbors across the street. Her daughter Danyelle played with other children living in the block. Adult neighbors supervised the activities of the children, creating a safe place for all the kids to play. A neighborhood boy taught Danyelle how to ride her bike in the alley behind their home. This close-knit environment kept the Robinson’s engaged and invested in this community.
When the Robinsons first moved into their rental unit, they became friends with the couple on the second floor of the duplex. The two families used the back staircase to visit each other. Often, they would walk into each other’s kitchen and exchange goods. When they hosted dinner parties they would rarely use their front door, preferring to enter from the back entrance. The two families shared the backyard for cooking and eating. Ms. Robinson told us stories that explained the close relationship of caring and concern between the neighbors. One day, when her daughter Danyelle was screaming as she used a hot comb to straighten her hair, the man who lived upstairs came down the stairs because of the noise and stood at the doorway. He had feared that Mrs. Robinson was hurting Danyelle.
Ms. Robinson’s husband made connections with the neighbors too. He befriended the man upstairs and connected with one of the men living next door. That neighbor was called Tim the Tool Man Taylor. Mr. Robinson would get Tim’s help to complete repairs in his home. He asked Tim to help him install the backyard fence. Later, after they had purchased the duplex, the Robinsons became close friends with their tenants. The two families met over food. Her tenant was talented in the art of pie making. They used the back staircase to engage with one another and sustain their friendship. But over time, living with strangers became difficult. Ms. Robinson told us a story about walking into the shared basement and finding a stranger — a guest of a later tenant — doing his laundry. When she confronted her tenant, she explained that the man was her brother. This did not sit well with Robinson because she did not want strange men in her home. That was the last time she had a tenant in the upstairs unit.
Recently, her daughter Danyelle, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren moved into the upstairs unit after the elder Robinsons had some health problems. Her daughter decided to live with her parents in order to take care of them. Robinson’s duplex is now an intergenerational living space. There are many benefits of living with her grandchildren in the same building. Ms. Robinson can keep an eye on them when her daughter is out. In the past, her daughter used to play on the street. But now-a-days her grandchildren don’t step outdoors to play. Her grandchildren are under constant supervision when they are in the front yard. In the backyard, the kids have more freedom as that space is fenced in.
Ms. Robinson remembers how life was peaceful in the neighborhood. She hangs wind chimes in her backyard to remind herself of the peace and tranquility of her childhood. Her home is landscaped with flowers that her grandchildren helped her plant. One year Robinson received several free flowers and she shared them with her neighbors. Her love for flowers inspired her to beautify her home. This created a domino effect. Other neighbors began to take care of their front yards too. This inspired a healthy flower competition among neighbors, encouraging a close knit sense of community on her block.
Ms. Robinson began her time in Sherman Park as a young girl freely experiencing the people, neighborhood, and schools. As an adult, she raised a strong and caring daughter. Today, she enjoys her extended family in her intergenerational home. Ms. Robinson is unassuming and quiet but also resilient and strong. She is a leader who is committed to building a strong sense of community on her street.