Lekisha Johnson, Jamaica Plain

It’s not like Lekisha Johnson was some goody two shoes growing up. She had her fair share of troubles. But she saw too much- learned too much- to ever end up in jail. That’s how she sees it. And now, she’s got this goal: finish school, for herself, and for her four kids.

In that, and so much else, she had a mentor: Mildred C. Hailey, the commissioner of the housing complex where she lives. Mildred made it feel like home.

Here, in her words, is how it happened:

“When people look at me, they’re like, ‘Oh, well, you’re a happy person.’ But I have to be happy, and I have to be strong, because I have kids growing up, you know? Even if I am in the projects, or wherever I am, I still gotta be strong and keep a smile on my face—just to keep going, you know?

I worry about a lot. I worry about the neighborhood because I see a lot of people going down. When I first moved here, it wasn’t like that. It was peaceful and quiet. And now you can’t even walk down the street. I just want peace. That’s all I want. I want to feel safe. And the only safe place there is, is my house at this time.

Before Ms. Hailey died, it wasn’t like this. It was wonderful. Everybody gave her the most respect, you know what I mean?

If someone was trying to come into the projects, and she seen that they were staring at this person, she would have something to say. She’d be like: No, everybody’s welcome here. You don’t treat people like that, just because they’re not from here, or just because you think they’re from some other hood or something like that.

Ms. Hailey, she was the Commissioner of the Projects, so she put this here together. Cause there was nothing here at all. She wanted to add on, you know what I mean? Like a community center, like every neighborhood should have, you know what I mean?

I always wanted to get out of the projects- I wanted to get out of the projects after I had my kids, but that didn’t happen- and I used to tell Ms. Hailey: I want to move. And she would tell me: No, you ain’t got to move. You don’t have to move, honey. We all need to come together.

She used to always say this, but nobody really seemed to come together.  I mean, we got together, but we shoulda came together—as much as we could have. Because at that time, she was trying to tell us something. And now that she’s gone, I can’t talk to somebody else like how I used to talk to her, you know what I mean?

I miss how she used to educate us on being a family, being as one, helping each other out, not going against each other.

Her funeral was held at Morning Star (Baptist Church). I didn’t go, because it was too much, it was too much. But I seen the videotape and all that, ’cause her son let us watch the CDs and everything.

It was beautiful. She was in a horse and carriage and everything. And she looked really good. The church was packed, a lot of people there.

She’s truly being missed right now. No matter what happened, she always had a smile on her face. No matter what. And she always gave you that encouragement. She always had a answer! She always had a answer, you know what I mean?

I just felt like family—instantly, when I first met her. Because when I went to the office, the Bromley-Heath office, she was like: Hello, how ya doin’, and welcome to the family!

And I was just like: Wow! I never heard nobody talk to me like this before, you know? And that was a good feelin’, you know what I mean?

But then stuff started going downhill, and it just wasn’t the same anymore.

I have a friend, she’s 83 years old, and she was telling me how it used to be nice and clean and the milkman came and stuff like that. There was no trash. She was like: It was paradise.

And I was like: Wow.

And then, she said, I watched everything go down.

And I asked her, I said: How do you feel about that?

And she was just like: Well, you know, everything changes, you know? It’s not gonna stay the same.

And I said: That’s true. But I wish it would, though.

Lekisha was interviewed and photographed by story ambassador George Powell at a books and breakfast event at the Mildred C. Hailey apartments, formerly called the Bromley-Heath housing development. You can read more about Mildred C. Hailey in these Boston Globe articles below:

Bromley-Heath no more; development renamed for tenant leader

Mildred Hailey, 82, dies; Bromley-Heath leader achieves national stature

Mildred Hailey’s activism transformed public housing