Kenilworth Hero: Kimi Gray

written by Joe Lapp, aimed at a younger audience

When Kimi Gray moved to Kenilworth Courts in 1965, she was a young, divorced mother who didn’t have much money. No one would have blamed her for letting her problems get her down. But Kimi was a dreamer, and deep inside she remembered something her grandmother used to say, “If I say a roach can pull a cart, then you hitch it up — and load the cart.” So Kimi set out to prove her grandmother right by making some of her almost-impossible dreams come true.
First, she went back to school and got a college education. After that, she noticed some things weren’t working right in the neighborhood, like the trash never got picked up on time, and sometimes there was no heat or hot water. “Poor people are allowed the same dreams as everyone else,” Kimi said to herself. Then she said it louder so that other people heard her, too. So the community began working together to achieve their dream of a safe, well-kept, and happy neighborhood.
Neighbors elected Ms. Kimi, as she was called, president of the Resident Council, a group of leaders that worked to bring positive things to Kenilworth Courts. Ms. Kimi got to know nearly everyone in the neighborhood, and nearly everyone got to know Ms. Kimi, and she learned enough about the place and its people to start to see some answers to the problems they faced.
In 1974 some teenagers came to Ms. Kimi and said, “We want to go to college, but we don’t know how to get there.” Very few people from Kenilworth Courts had ever gone to college. So Ms. Kimi helped them finish high school with good grades, celebrated their graduations, hooked them up with scholarships, and took them on college visits. Then she made sure they got their applications in on time, rode them to the bus station when it was time to go, and made sure they could get back home for holidays.
Soon it took more than just Ms. Kimi to do all this, so she and some neighbors formed College Here We Come. They helped many Kenilworth teenagers go to college, then had those students come back and help improve the community.
After awhile Ms. Kimi met Stuart Butler, a pretty smart guy who knew a lot about government and money. Even though she called him “a funny little man with a British accent,” they became good friends. Mr. Butler introduced Ms. Kimi to some of his friends in Congress who could help her with her dream of improving Kenilworth. As it turned out, she helped those Congressmen a lot, too, telling them about how things in Kenilworth really worked and helping them get support for a change in the laws that would allow residents of places like Kenilworth Courts to run their own neighborhoods.
Soon Ms. Kimi and other Kenilworth residents had formed the Kenilworth-Parkside Resident Management Corporation, or KPRMC. Together they began to manage Kenilworth themselves. They collected rent, made sure the trash got picked up on time, and fixed the boilers to get the heat and hot water back on. And you can believe they fixed those boilers quick, because they didn’t have any heat or hot water in their own houses, just like everyone else, if the boilers stayed broke! They helped some people find jobs, too, and others stop using drugs. Together with the police, they chased away the bad guys that had been making some people afraid to go outside.
But Ms. Kimi didn’t stop there. She dreamed of even bigger things. With the help of her government friends, she convinced the city to let the residents of Kenilworth Courts not only run the neighborhood, but own it as well. Since some of the buildings were getting old, she found money to fix the whole place up, and she started making plans to build more houses for seniors and to start some stores and other businesses in the neighborhood.
Sadly, Ms. Kimi died in March of 2000. Not all her dreams came true, but the ones that did helped many people in Kenilworth have a better life and a prouder future. So if the problems you face are getting you down, remember to hitch the roach to the cart — and load the cart!

Washington Post clipping, October 26, 1988

Image courtesy of Kenilworth Parkside Resident Management Corporation (KPRMC)