By Morgan Bryce
Opelika native and Elevate Your Grind founder Jeremy Gray is leading renovation efforts to the Curtis House, located at 125 Jeter Ave., with the goal of making it a community center that will help shape healthy lives, bodies and minds for people in the area.
According to Gray, the namesake of the house and Gray’s great-grandfather, Lottie B. Curtis, was a man who cared about his community and its people. He said he hopes to restore that sense of neighborly love in the Jeter community with the house’s renovation.
“My great-grandfather in short was superman. He was enlisted in the Navy, to later become a World War II vet, a deacon at Greater Peace (Baptist Church), and a huge humanitarian who gave all his fruits and vegetables from his garden away for free. I vividly recall him transporting the seniors from their doctors’ appointments, then working at the local garage, finally to come home and help my brother and I with homework, he went in that booth day in and day out; not only was he a positive male influence in my life but, a father figure for this community,” Gray said. “I’m hoping to just basically use his blueprint, and put my own spin on it.”
The Curtis House, once completed, will feature offices for its mentors, teachers and staff, as well as a cafeteria and kitchen. The shed behind the house is being re-purposed as a technology lab with classrooms, health clinic, and an organic garden.
Gray said that the health clinic will be available for all community members, but that the vast majority of the center’s resources will be used to mentor, educate and guide the youth in the area. He noted that sports, particularly in the black community, are often viewed as the only vehicle to a prosperous life, mostly because they lack strong, educational resources or alternative education avenues in this area. Gray said that he, along with the mentors and teachers, hope to show youth through programs at the Curtis House that they can be successful in any career field they choose; not just athletics.
“I understand that when you look at sports in general, you have people who make it, but they have to keep trying to make it each year. You have some guys that go into the pros, and make a little bit of money, but have to continue working to keep it, and then, there are the mega-stars, who won’t have to worry about money during their career,” Gray said. “As for everyone else, you still have to find something to do after sports and I’m just hoping we can show kids here that there is an endless list of possibilities. We have to observe the talents our kids possess, and develop those first, then if sports intersect with that, we can merge them and await the opportunities that will unfold.”
As a youngster growing up in the 1990s, Gray said he remembers growing up on nearby Samford Court (formerly Chester Avenue) and feeling like he belonged to a village, which he said has since vanished from the community.
“When I grew up on Chester Avenue, we used to walk to school in a group, and that was because the community was a village. Everybody knew each other, so instead of having one mom or one dad, you had five or six moms … so if you did something, it got back to the neighborhood,” Gray said.
Since that time, Gray said he has seen a rise in violence, which has increased separation amongst households; in return ultimately deteriorating the community, it is his goal to eradicate such hardships with the birth of the Curtis House.
“We want to try to create that same kind of village dynamic here, making a safe haven for kids to come so they’ll have something to do but also to cultivate education and personal growth,” Gray said.
The center will be open 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. seven days a week, to provide flexibility and accommodate for the needs of both children and parents.
The total cost of the project is nearly $100,000 and Gray said he hopes to raise sufficient funds through various projects, to include: a recently launched GoFundMe page, and a pancake breakfast on Feb. 4.
Gray said, funds permitting, that he hopes to install the organic garden in late February, and have the houses’ restoration finished in less than a year.
Giving money to the Curtis House is not only a worthwhile investment for the community at-large, Gray said, but will be life changing for the youth who participate and go through its programs.
“I hope that the children who go through the Curtis House become productive citizens, and by that, I mean not only making a decent living or having a family; I also want them to achieve optimal health and wellness throughout their lifetime,” Gray said.
For more information, visit the Elevate Your Grind Facebook page, or to donate to the Curtis House fundraiser, visit www.gofundme.com/the-curtis-house.