Linden Block Party Celebrates Columbus Neighborhood

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Dexter Nelms dropped a packet of hot dogs on a charcoal grill before wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead on Saturday.

It was the second fire he lit to cook at Linden Block’s 7th annual party last weekend – where Nelms ended up serving more than 500 children, parents, residents, community partners and just about everyone those who stopped St. Stephen Community House in South Linden.

“I love this community,” said Nelms, sporting a red chef’s jacket with the words “Chef Dexter” engraved in cursive on his left breast pocket. “But man, they’re testing my patience.”

The 1980 McKinley High School graduate laughed as he flipped the hot dogs.

Nelms, of course, was joking. He’s always happy to help fellow Linden native Ralph Carter and the face behind We are Linden: the non-profit organization that organizes the block party and offers youth programs, community outreach and mentoring throughout Linden.

“It’s not about me,” Carter said. “It’s about community. We Are Linden is the embodiment of all community. Our babies need direction and that’s my focus. We want to bring this village back.”

Grace Towns, 10, left, dances during the Linden Block Party at St. Stephen's Community House.

Who is behind We Are Linden and what do they stand for?

Carter, 36, is a city man.

He carries two cell phones – still ringing – and stops to shake hands with almost everyone, whether inside Big Mal’s Linden Cafe during lunchtime or the other. side of the huge black roof next to St. Stephen’s, where dozens of community partners are setting up folding tables and tents for the Linden Quarter Festival.

Last week was the first time We Are Linden attempted a whole week of festivities preceding the block partyincluding a back-to-school campaign, hoops and a ‘Walk to End Gun Violence’.

Seven years ago, Carter inadvertently hosted the first Linden Block Party at his home.

During his years at Central State University, he was known to throw a party or two and had a leftover foam machine to use. So in 2015, he invited all his nieces and nephews and their friends over, walked in to bake some extra hot dog buns, and walked out to find 30 kids in his front yard.

Anita Drummond takes cotton candy from Pastor LB Towns during the Linden Block Party at St. Stephen's Community House.

“After that, I knew it could be a thing,” Carter said. “Eventually I learned how to get city block permits and it all kind of grew from there.”

It inspired the now father-of-three to create We Are Linden, which he says is about community pride and challenging the negative stereotypes people have about the neighborhood – mostly that the only thing going in Linden is crime.

“The pride has always been there,” Carter said. “But we still have to constantly stand up for who we are and what we stand for.”

Scenes from a Linden Block Party

Karen Dawson is known as “Linden’s Aunt”.

She works for the non-profit health care company Care Source, and helps people access Medicaid, Medicare, and the health insurance marketplace. She is also a great community advocate and just like Carter is everywhere at once.

Standing in the CareSource tent at the block party on Saturday, Dawson is attentive and engaged with every person who passes by.

“We were put here to serve others,” she said. “It’s my first time attending the party, but it’s awesome. Just look at all the people supporting and coming out.”

Across the St. Stephen’s parking lot, in the nearby park, dozens of children are playing in an inflatable obstacle course. Others pile into the nearby bounce house.

Myangel Anderson, 4, left, and his brother, Robert Anderson, 10, top, play in an inflatable obstacle course during the Linden Block Party at St. Stephen's Community House.

A trio of Linden McKinley High School students were hanging out near the bouncy houses.

Ty’Janae McCarrel, a sophomore, and her friend, Amanda Smith, a freshman, said they understand why many kids feel frustrated and hopeless in Linden.

“I understand,” McCarrel said. “But it’s some people. Not everyone. It’s people who feel like they can’t get out of the neighborhood.”

The girls said part of that feeling comes from not belonging to something – whether it’s the cheer squad and playing volleyball, as McCarrel does, or the drill like Smith. The two said events like the block party and Carter’s work with We Are Linden help the community a lot.

McCarrel knows Carter well. Before he started working with We Are Linden full time, he was a high school security guard.

“If we’re being honest, he helped a lot of people at McKinley,” she said. “I know a lot of people who say Mr. Carter helped them change their ways.”

Dancers Jayla Gant, 16, and Johnae McQuiller, 17, stand next to hip-hop artist Dalen Ryan, 17, for a portrait during the Linden Block Party at St. Stephen's Community House.

For Carter, it’s about encouraging children, parents and residents of Linden to champion the “Are” in We Are Linden, which stands for “Actively, Restoring & Empowering” the community.

“These kids don’t need to hear rough, tough gangster stories,” he said. “We just have to keep pushing constantly. It’s not North, South and East Linden, it’s a Linden.”

Carter hopes to have her own recreation center one day – a safe haven for everyone in the community to volunteer, hoop, grab a bite or just take a minute to decompress. For now, he will settle for the success of the block party. In addition to her cell phones, Carter also carried a megaphone on Saturday and led the party to some early cheers.

“Who are we?” he shouted through the asphalt.

“LINDEN!” the crowd roared.

This story is part of Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative. Visit our reporters at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Linden Library and read their work at dispatch.com/mobilenewsroom, where you can also sign up for The Mobile Newsroom newsletter.

Céilí Doyle is a member of Report for America and covers rural issues in Ohio for The Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.

You can reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @cadoyle_18

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