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Cleanup men: Tyrell Pryor (center) and company at Saturday’s event at Dark Angels Park in Troy. Photo by John Whipple

A Place of Our Own
Troy residents take the lead in cleaning up a park and showing city officials how to care for its neighborhoods
By Travis Durfee

Eighteen-year-old Tyrell Pryor remembers playing in the park off of 10th Street in Troy when he was younger and it was safe—back when the grass was mowed and trash was removed on a regular basis, when the playground equipment wasn’t broken and covered in graffiti.

As the only park in his neighborhood, North Central Troy—one of the poorest and most neglected in the Collar City—Pryor remembers that the park off of 10th Street was the only safe place for neighborhood kids to play. But it declined in recent years, Pryor said, devolving into one of the more dangerous places in his neighborhood: Located down a hill and hidden behind an embankment off of one of the city’s back streets, the park became a haven for drug dealers and rowdy youth.

“There would be people who would hang out in the park after it was closed and they would be selling drugs and destroying things just for some kind of satisfaction,” Pryor said.

Pryor, who lives kitty-corner to the park on 9th Street, wanted his younger brother, Sajae, to have a safe place to play.

“I don’t want the kids my brother’s age to come out like that,” Pryor said, “being out late at night with nothing better to do but destroy things.”

So three years ago, he started organizing regular cleanups of the park with other neighborhood kids. And they carried out their work without help from either the city of Troy or the wayward youth who’d made the park their sanctuary.

Pryor and company would spend a day cleaning up the park, only for the night crowd to destroy it again. Troy city officials weren’t offering much help either; as previously reported in Metroland (Newsfront, July 11, 2002), they had all but given up on trying to maintain the park.

“In the past, neighborhood residents have not taken enough interest in keeping the park clean. . . . It’s like beating a dead horse,” Ted Keefe, superintendent of Troy’s Department of Public Works, said last summer.

“We did go down to City Hall last year, a whole group of us—like 15 kids and a bunch of adults,” Pryor said. “And it was hot that day. We were all riding bikes and we went down there for nothing. It seemed like the only way to get the mayor to do anything then was to get the news down there.”

With the help of local nonprofit Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, Pryor and other concerned neighborhood residents contacted local media, staged cleanup events and put the pressure on City Hall, and it worked. City officials recently offered verbal commitments to keep up with the maintenance and to install playground equipment donated to the park after one of last summer’s publicized cleanups.

“When we have that kind of support from the community, it is incumbent upon us to do our part,” said Deputy Mayor Jim Conroy. “It is just that much more effective to work with a neighborhood group that has that kind of interest.”

Conroy said the city is about to take ownership of a vacant parcel of land adjacent to the park due to tax delinquency, and it will be turned into a safe access to the park from 9th Street.

“The city felt that people didn’t value the park, and that really frustrated the city, but that is no longer the case,” said Hilary Lamishaw, director of community affairs with TRIP. “The kids are really feeling ownership of the park and for taking care if it.”

This past Saturday (June 7), TRIP sponsored a baby shower to celebrate the about-to-be-reborn park, and to thank Pryor and other neighborhood residents for their midwifery. Despite Saturday’s downpour, Lamishaw said about 200 people attended the event. Three DJs from Jamz 96.3 FM broadcast from the park, and the station also donated pizza and soda.

Neighborhood residents also had a chance to look over plans for the park’s renovation, which were provided by the city Saturday. Deputy Mayor Conroy said the neighborhood residents had a few suggestions, and the plans are back at the drawing board.

The neighborhood residents also voted Saturday on a new moniker for the park. They decided to call it the Dark Angels Park, after Pryor’s R&B group.

“That was cool. We’re working on a CD right now, because it is kind of hard because we don’t get that much exposure,” Pryor said. “But we feel that at least with the park we’ll have our little place in history. No matter what happens to us, we’ll never forget where we came from.”


Low prices, slave wages: Wal-Mart.

Sam’s Poverty Club
Wal-Mart wages don’t support Wal-Mart workers
By Stan Cox

On June 6, Wal-Mart’s shareholders converged on Fayetteville, Ark., for their annual meeting. According to Arkansas Business Online, “The famously colorful event often takes on the feeling of a high-school pep rally, as shareholders and company executives perform the ‘Wal-Mart cheer.’”

And why shouldn’t they cheer? Their company chalked up a record $56.7 billion worth of sales in the first quarter of 2003.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s biggest employer, the low-price champion, and a seller of just about everything. A healthy family with a roof over its head could supply virtually all of its other basic monthly needs with one stop at a Wal-Mart Supercenter like the one here in Salina, Kan. To me, that raised a question: Can a family whose breadwinner works at Wal-Mart afford to supply its minimum needs by shopping there?

On a recent Sunday, my adult son and daughter joined me for a visit to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Salina. We spent an hour and a half wandering among the hundreds of red, blue and yellow “Always Low Prices” signs. We checked many of those prices and then went home to do some calculating.

Our conclusion: A single parent employed full-time at Salina’s Wal-Mart and raising two children aged 4 and 12 does not earn enough money to supply the family’s basic needs by shopping at that same Wal-Mart.

According to the personnel manager at Salina’s Supercenter, a cashier earns a starting hourly wage of $6.25. After Social Security and Medicare taxes, the paychecks for a month would total $1,016 for a full-time 176 hours. (That’s 40 hours a week, which would put this cashier in a better financial position than the many employees who work 32 or fewer hours a week. Of course, hourly pay rises eventually, but the 2001 PBS report “Store Wars” found that most employees have left by the end of their first year.)

We calculated the amount that our hypothetical three-member family would spend each month if as many of its essential needs as possible were supplied by our local Supercenter. The bottom line: They would need an absolute minimum of $1,136 per month to cover housing, food, transportation, health care and miscellaneous expenses. Despite our best efforts, we exceeded our cashier’s monthly income by $120. We couldn’t have come even that close had our cashier’s family not been eligible for a State of Kansas child-care allowance that covers all but $22 per month in child-care costs for such a family living on so low a wage.

To determine needs, we used published studies on an “adequate but austere” budget for a family with one adult, one preschooler and one school-age child living in Salina. But we slashed some of the published budget items by as much as 38 percent, based on the “Always Low Prices” we found at the Supercenter. And we completely eliminated anything we could do without.

“Living wage” campaigns across the country have attempted to determine and advocate for a wage level that can provide a decent life for working families. Living wages are designed to sustain a family over time. Our goal was much more modest. All we asked of our Wal-Mart wage was to get our cashier’s family to the end of the month in a central Kansas city of 50,000, assuming they were already settled in a rented apartment or mobile home and had a paid-for car, furniture and appliances. The Wal-Mart wage failed—even at Wal-Mart prices, even with the 10-percent employee discount, and even with employer-assisted health insurance.

Our monthly budget allowed for a USDA-recommended “low-cost food plan” on which we economized further by selecting the cheapest foods in each category. It made for an unappealing and not-especially healthful diet. Gas, oil, and repairs for the car—which was used for little more than getting the cashier to work and home—all came from Wal-Mart.

Our cost-cutting left no room for “luxuries”: no travel outside Salina County, no cable TV, no home telephone service, no movies, no newspaper or magazine subscriptions, no fees for community sports or classes, no saving at Wal-Mart’s in-store bank in case the car had to be replaced, no eating out (except for one meal a month at the McDonald’s located in the Supercenter). Most of what’s available at the Supercenter was off-limits to us: videos, haircuts, Christmas presents, eye care, tanning sessions, family portraits, bats and balls, small appliances, furniture, bicycles, film and developing.

There is a fundamental and inevitable conflict between the interests of corporations, to whom wages are a cost, and most human beings, to whom wages are a means of survival. Nowhere in this society is that conflict better illustrated than at your local Wal-Mart. Most of its employees and most of its customers depend on their paychecks to pay the bills. But to keep its shareholders in the money, the company depends on hyperconsumption.

Wal-Mart could not survive in a town with good public transportation, where families all grow their own vegetables, cut one another’s hair, sew their own clothes, and borrow and lend tools. Like all retailers, it has to move vast quantities of merchandise at an ever-increasing pace. It does it, as the sign in the store says, by “Daring to Save You Even More.” And to drive prices to rock-bottom, they have to drive down the wages they pay.

Of course, the wages Wal-Mart pays in Kansas seem princely when compared with those paid by many of its suppliers around the world. Try going to your local Supercenter with the monthly paycheck of a Bangladeshi factory worker who makes shirts for Wal-Mart. You won’t make it to the end of Aisle 1.

Here in America, the government implicitly recognizes the insufficiency of Wal-Mart wages. Our cashier’s family would be eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) of $4,140 in 2002. That would close the gap between the cashier’s wage and bare survival, and provide enough additional income to lift the family just above the poverty line.

EITC, food stamps, Medicaid and state programs like Kansas’ child-care allowance are needed because corporations like Wal-Mart refuse to pay their employees a sufficient wage for the work they do. Wal-Mart would not be able to “roll back” prices the way it does, or pile up its gargantuan profits, without this government subsidy.

In February, Fortune magazine emphasized the unchallenged dominance of the world’s largest corporation: “Wal-Mart in 2003 is, in short, a lot like America in 2003: a sole superpower with a down-home twang.”

Well, if Wal-Mart represents both the future of employment and the future of marketing in America, a lot more down-home folks are going to be tumbling into that gap between Always Low Prices and Always Low Wages.

Stan Cox is a plant breeder/geneticist and writer living in Salina, Kan.


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