“It’s looking good, it’s looking good,” Cassandra Bryant said as she sat one recent morning in her Lynwood Park Recreation Center office.
The longtime Lynwood Park area resident and center director was referring to the remodeling of the building now that Brookhaven’s parks have been transferred from DeKalb County to the city.
She’s worked at the center for nearly 10 years, after retiring from General Motors as a trainer on the assembly line. Before her stint at GM, Bryant also worked at the center.
And that’s not even where her history with the building begins.
Until 1969, when it was desegregated, the building was Lynwood Park Elementary and High School, located in DeKalb’s oldest black community, according to the book “African-American Life in DeKalb County” by Herman “Skip” Mason Jr.
Bryant attended the school until seventh grade, when she moved to Cross Keys High School as DeKalb schools desegregated.
“It was a big deal,” she said. “When we first went to Cross Keys it was a riot every day. When we got to school, there were kids standing out front and we could barely get off the bus without a fight. It was terrible. Then it got better after a couple of years. We were able to participate in different activities. But it was a big change.”
Today she works in what was once her basketball coach’s office, right across from the gymnasium. “I have lots of fond memories here,” she said, with some of her favorite including participating on the basketball and track teams.
Bryant still lives in the neighborhood.
“I live right here on Osborne [Road],” she said. “I’ve been here in the community all my life.”
Bryant fears that Lynwood, like much of Brookhaven, is losing its neighborhood feel as small homes are being razed to be replaced by much bigger houses. “There used to be a church across the street,” Bryant said, pointing to where some large, new houses are popping up.
“Those little cute houses were more like a community, more like a home,” she said. “Now you know your neighbors, you see them, you speak to them, but years ago it was like a family. It was one big happy family. It takes a village to raise the kids, they say. That’s the way it was in this community. Everybody knew everybody. Your relatives were here. Your neighbors could get on your kids if they were doing something wrong.”
She said when Brookhaven residents first started exploring cityhood, Bryant and a group of community members would attend the meetings.
“We were trying to fight for our little community, trying not to transition into a city,” she said. “But it happens, and you just roll with the punches. Some of us weren’t too happy, but that’s like anything, when you find out about anything new or a change, right off the bat you’re not happy.”
Bryant does her part to retain a sense of community. Every year at Thanksgiving, she, along with friends, family and fellow churchgoers at Little Zion Baptist Church, prepare a Thanksgiving feast at the Lynwood center for those in need. They also deliver meals “up and down Peachtree” for the homebound.
Five years ago, Bryant and a group of ladies in an exercise group decided to start a Christmas charity event at the center.
“We lost a few pounds and said, ‘We should do a Red and White Ball,’” she said.
Now held annually, it includes a toy drive, sit-down dinner, live entertainment and jazz music, with proceeds benefitting children in need during the holidays.
In its third year – around the time Brookhaven was becoming a city – Bryant and her friends feared that would be the last year they could hold the event at the center, so they went big. Comedian George Wallace, Bryant’s first cousin and a Brookhaven native, performed at the ball in front of more that 500 people.
But that, in fact, wasn’t the last year, and “the city says we’ll be able to do it again this year,” Bryant said.
One thing hasn’t changed for Bryant. She says that whether children coming into the center now are from old or new families in the neighborhood, it’s still all about them.
“You get to know the kids. You become very attached to the kids and it’s just what I enjoy doing,” she said.