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FESTIVAL AIMS TO REVITALIZE COMMUNITY ON EAST SIDE

Above the Jefferson Avenue Arts Festival, on the damaged marquee of the abandoned Apollo Theater, the words "A Miracle in Progress" were spelled out in thick black letters.

The theater, although covered in peeling brown paint, its neon lights long burned out, was the backdrop for a colorful mural that stated, "Help Us Rebuild Our Community."

Those two slogans seemed to be the theme of the second annual arts festival, run by 50 Women With a Vision, a group of women committed to revitalizing the area's dwindling business district. The arts festival is part of a larger project, which includes Apollo Theater.

"It started with women who worked in a beauty salon," said Sandy White, a member of the group. "The area wasn't like we remembered. So we started cleaning up. The women represent the spirit of the people."

Michelle Boyd, a member of 50 Women With a Vision, said cleaning up the community involves more than picking up litter or bringing in vendors.

"We heal people who have substance abuse or physical abuse in their lives," Ms. Boyd said. "Those abuses are the downfall of the community, and we help clean it up."

Ms. Boyd said drug abuse and lack of jobs keep the area depressed.

Council Member at Large Beverly Gray, also a member of 50 Women With a Vision, said the entire community is in the midst of an economic renaissance. She said she envisions the theater and surrounding block being transformed into a multimedia entertainment center, including telecommunications, a library and a theater for plays.

"We'll use that as the anchor project for the entire East Side," Ms. Gray said. "African-American women have always been a catalyst for change."

She said government has ignored the community for the past 30 years.

"We want to generate activity back on this commercial strip," Ms. Gray said. "If there are more stores, there will be job activity, and our dollars can recirculate and stabilize the economic activity here."

She said the arts festival brings new people, money, energy and -- most important -- hope.

Masten Council Member Byron W. Brown and Ms. Gray said an open-air market will begin next month, with vendors selling produce and crafts on a weekly basis.

"We hope to bring customers and businesses here," Brown said. "We want to help small businesses in the hopes that they will grow to occupy a storefront."

Cynthia Dorsey, who was selling figurines at the arts festival, said she does not own a store but will be part of the open-air market.

"For small businesses, the overhead for starting a business is so high," Mrs. Dorsey said. "Festivals like this are the best because the community has a chance to see what people can make and do."

Vendors lined the street Sunday, selling gold necklaces and bracelets, T-shirts, framed paintings, stuffed animals and books. Yellow flags, trimmed in green, red and black boasted "the Jefferson Avenue Business District."

"I'm proud of the miracle that is taking place," Ms. White said.

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