The Southeast Denton Neighborhood Association continues to thrive with a new leader at the helm.
Colette Johnson took over for Caroline Phillips, who died last September, vowing to honor Phillips’ wishes and plans for the organization while crafting her own ideas and plans to help keep the neighborhood relevant, informed and vibrant as Denton continues to grow and change.
“I wasn’t there straight in the beginning of it back in the 1990s, but I did start coming and getting involved,” Johnson recalled. “I became secretary, so I was like Caroline’s right-hand person.”
It’s been a storied position to hold. The Southeast Denton neighborhood fought to reclaim its residents’ identity after city leaders ordered African-Americans to move from the Quakertown neighborhood to create a city park.
Quakertown had been a thriving black community beginning in the 1880s, with Denton’s first black physician, a grocery store, restaurants, a tailor’s shop, churches and a school. By 1923, Civic Center Park had displaced the heart of the neighborhood.
In 2006 the park was renamed Quakertown Park, but officials still fought to clean up old property liens and other problems in the area. The park received a state historical marker last year.
Phillips led many of the efforts to restore the area. But by 2012, Phillips began putting out feelers to find someone who could learn the job and take over when she was gone.
“She started grooming me to take it over,” Johnson said. “When I did in 2012, she would still come to the meetings and help me out and try to guide me.”
In December 2012, Phillips became ill. It was not for another month that neighborhood residents learned just how sick she was.
“I really didn’t know what to do; she still had everything,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she didn’t want to bother Phillips because of her illness.
“I couldn’t go visit her for a long time, and I regret that now,” Johnson said. “When I did finally and we talked, she would tell me she wasn’t going to make it and to just keep [SEDNA] up.”
Johnson recalled talking with Phillips about goals and ideas she had in mind for the neighborhood group to work toward.
“She had some unfinished business,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she is working on some grants for the neighborhood and continuing to work with the city and the Denton County Transportation Authority on residents’ concerns.
“I have a very good group of 20 to 25 seniors who support me 100 percent. I am trying to take it to the next level,” she said.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.