By: Lindsey Langley
More than 3 years ago, I moved to Katie Hill here in Northeast Nashville. I began noticing a man walking down Fern Avenue everyday. He had a smooth walk about him. Like a Michael Jackson walk. He sometimes carried a bucket to pick up trash and would leave the bucket at the end of the street. When we walked back at the end of his work day, he would pick the bucket back up again and pick the new trash that had accumulated. That was Ellis.
After about a year of trying to talk to Ellis, he finally stopped in front of my home as I was weedeating one afternoon and asked, "What's your dog's name?". I responded and told him Princess. Ellis just smiled and kept walking. I was just so happy he started talking to me.
Over the next couple of years, i began wondering more about Ellis, and we would share a bit more chatter as he walked by daily. I am an avid "trash picker-upper", so i had immediate respect for him keeping our neighborhood clean. I also had grown close with a few of the families that lived on the Hill. In May of last year little Keith Vaughn was killed on his 5th birthday as he crawled under a car searching for his ball. During the tragedy, I became close with the Bowden Family.
The Bowden's had lived on Katie Hill for nearly 50 years in a modest small home at the end of Fern Avenue. Mack Bowden and his wife raised 6 kids and many grand kids here on Katie Hill...... and Ellis.
60 years ago, Eddie "Ellis or Elrod" Johnson was born in Tunica, MS. I asked him last month in his hospital room, " How is the world did you get to Nashville?" He said, " I started walking. I got so far one day and it got too dark to turn back, so i just keep walking and ended up in Nashville." He then told me that Mack Bowden picked him up on the interstate and the rest is history. I chuckled to myself because that is exactly how i remember Ellis on the hill .... walking.
Ellis ended up living in the Bowden's garage and working for Mr. Bowden's tree service company for nearly 40 years. He became a part of their family. Although Ellis was black, and the Bowden's were white, they never saw each other as "different". As a matter of fact, if you ask Ellis what color he is, he will tell you he is a white man. I laughed out loud when I heard that story about him. Anyone and everyone that knew Ellis around here said he was a kind spirit and never hurt a soul. Although I heard many stories of him being picked on, verbally assaulted, and even physically beat up from bullies around the neighborhood. Everyday when i saw him walking and I asked how he was, he would always say, "Fantastic". I later learned that "Fantastic" is Ellis's favorite word.
Ellis was a hard worker. He worked day after day doing manual labor all around Nashville. He was a handyman. He may not be able to read, write, and had education of a 5th grader, but he could fix your lawn mower in 5 minutes when it would take the average man 5 days. I am no medical expert, but after having many conversations with Ellis, I would consider him to be undiagnosed Autistic and simply just a beautiful mind.
Fast Forward to March 2016 ...
Nashville is growing. The housing market is booming. Katie Hill is the next " hot spot" for real estate. A realtor on Facebook posted a video recently saying " They are just tearing these houses down and building new ones everywhere on Fern, come now and check this out!"
Among those houses being torn down was The Bowden's. Although they were residents on the hill for 50 years, crime was high on the hill recently so they were not opposed to starting a new life in Donelson, and the builder gave the family plenty of time to secure a new home. Yet the memories made on Katie Hill would always be a part of their hearts as they packed up their life and moved to their new home, Ellis's garage and shelter for 40 years was about be torn down ..... and he had never known anything but living on the hill. Penny Bowden, Mack's daughter, shared a story with me not too long ago about how their family moved to Kentucky for the summer years ago. They brought Ellis with them. Ellis did not like Kentucky and missed home, so he walked over 100 miles back to the hill.
This is his home. Katie Hill is all he knew his entire life. So the Bowden's reached out to me to see if there was anything i could do to help him find a home. I began researching tiny homes. My heart ached for Ellis. Where will he go? In March of 2016, the house and the garage where he lived were torn down. Last we had known, Ellis was sleeping in a tent on Weakley Avenue and wherever he could find a spot to lay his head. Ellis didn't like really living inside. He liked being outside. He loved Katie Hill.
Ellis hadn't been seen in a while. The Bowden's called me to see if I had seen him walking around any...... Nope. He was last seen April 20th, and apparently a few people had seen Ellis. Rumors spread that he had been hit by a car and died. So we called Skyline Medical, and they stated he had been treated and released. After receiving that news, we all suspected to see him out walking around, but there was still no sign of Ellis. So the Bowden's decided to call Skyline back and they stated they made a mistake and gave out the wrong information. He was treated, but TRANSPORTED to Centennial Hospital to have major surgery.
On the night of April 20th, Ellis was walking along the side of Weakley Avenue around 2am, and he was hit by a car. Hit and left to die. Apparently some neighbors had heard him screaming and called the paramedics. Skyline transported Ellis to Centennial after realizing that he needed major esophagus surgery. His esophagus has ruptured and fluid had filled his lungs. We were told he had little to no change of living. After spending 7 days alone in the hospital, we were finally able to get to him. To love him. To give him hope. To share his first smile with him after living through such a dramatic experience.
Ellis began to respond to us. He made it through surgery, but not without a fight. I can't begin to tell you how great the staff at Centennial Medical Center have been with Ellis. Ellis has no insurance, and could have easily been treated as the homeless black man. I demanded everyone know his story and to treat him like the honorable man he is, and they did. Little did we know his fight was just beginning. The medication that Ellis was having to take to keep his blood pressure down cause his hands and feet to literally swell to the size of super hero hands and feet. They. Were. SCARY. After a while though, they shrunk up to nothing and almost withered away, which was just as terrifying. He began smiling and gradually began talking. The esophagus surgery was MAJOR and he was on a feeding tube for at least 2 months. As he began to talk, he could tell us a little bit of what happened, but could not remember who it was that hit him and drove off. During it all, he still said he was "fantastic". His positive attitude and physical improvement was quite remarkable.
The doctors then informed us that Ellis was most likely going to lose both of his feet and most likely all of his fingers. We were all devastated. Yet, Ellis just wanted to know when he was going to get out. He still was fantastic. He really just wanted to get his hands and feet, learn how to use them, and get out on the streets again to work.
Ellis had been through so much, and remained positive. Those of us helping Ellis had been going through a lot too. Ellis has no insurance. The hospitals did everything they could to help Ellis, but it takes months to even get an appointment with Social Security or disability. The hospital would not release him with out a follow up plan, and we had nowhere for him to go, or the funds to cover everything he needs. What did we do? We prayed, and we still pray every day that the needs for Ellis will be met. in June, Ellis's legs were removed below the knee, left hand fingers, and half of the fingers on his right hand.
Ellis spent about 3 weeks recovering at Centennial hospital post op. After weeks of trying to find a place for him to go, Ellis was admitted to Summit Medical Rehab facility with a brand new pair of legs from the folks at Nashville Prosthetics and Daryl Farler ( we are so blessed for this amazing man coming into Ellis's life! ).
July has been a great month for Ellis. Challenging, but nothing Ellis can't handle. He was admitted to Summit Medical Rehab this month, and you would think Ellis was born to be an amputee marathon runner! The first day he stood up and walked 50 feet in his new legs. He celebrated his 61st birthday and ready for his new life. He was released from Skyline Medical and is currently living with Penny Bowden Sain as he learns how to navigate his new life and heal completely. Everyone that has encountered Ellis falls in love with him and his ability to fight and tenacity to get better. When most people would be depressed and down at the situation they are in, he is ready for a new life. He said he is ready to cut the grass again and get to work.
It has been extremely difficult for many of us, especially Penny, who is now caring for Ellis full time... but nothing in comparison to the difficulty Ellis has overcome. Ellis has no insurance yet, and Ellis has no permanent place to call home. and this is where we need the support from the Nashville community.
Part of Project NENA's mission is to create inclusive restorative communities, and Ellis belongs on Katie Hill. This is where he wants to be, and where he deserves to live the rest of his life. Just because growth is occurring in our city, does not mean we are allowed forget about those who were here first. You hear about equitably housing and communities, but do they really exist? Can different worlds truly exist or are we just gentrifying every single community and forgetting about live, people, and humanity? This is an opportunity to show what true LOVE is and the power of LOVE.
Project NENA originally had a plot of land to place a community garden in honor of Keith Vaughn, and we still plan on creating this, but we have to meet the immediate needs of the community, and we feel like we can still put a garden on the land AND build a home for Ellis. We want to build the micro/mini home that we originally wanted to build for him before this tragedy took over his life.
Of course we have immediate needs for Ellis as well. We need help paying for his medicine, clothing, food, and basic necessities, but ultimately we want him back on the hill where he wants to be. He is part of the heartbeat of Katie Hill, and without him, this neighborhood is not the same. We have a commitment from a builder interested in building him a home, but he will still need support in so many different areas for years to come, and we want to make sure he has every opportunity in the world to get back on the hill and walk the streets of Katie Hill and Northeast Nashville like he has for years.
please consider giving to Project NENA to help support the needs of Ellis. We are small organization. We do not have the funds to do this alone and we need the support of this city in order to make things happen for folks like Ellis.
Please click the donate button and be sure you write a note to support Ellis on Katie Hill. Your donations are tax deductible and appreciated so much!
Please click on the "contact us" tab and fill out a form if you are interested in volunteering or donating!
Please Click here to sign up for a time slot to volunteer between 12/18-12/22. Once you fill out a time, we will get back with you on specifics!
We are in need of voluneers for the following:
Thanks so much!
Check out our Story on channel 2 this week with Stephanie Langston. We are so thankful for everyone that has given back this year and our media partners!
We are excited to share that are approval came back for 501c3 status ! All donations to Project NENA are tax deductable :-)
This Time Last Year - I wrote this. 1 year later, we are up to 175 kids and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve with you all!
Written By Lindsey Langley
on December 2, 2014:
I have received a few inquiries about what the Katie Hill Toy drive is about and how they can help. Nothing makes me happier than talking about Katie Hill, our community, and the families that live around me. So if you would ever like to read more in detail, you can always Click here . Here is why I do what I do... in a quick nutshell, and why I NEED YOUR HELP.
My name is Lindsey Langley, many call me Lynclair.. I moved to Katie Hill in April of 2013. We are located just 1.5 miles Northeast of downtown Nashville. Most will recognize us from the "Fern Avenue Bridge Overpass" ( Where 65N and 24N merge headed north) while the newcasters always discuss the heavy traffic flow AMs and PMs ..... with the stunning Nashville skyline in the background. When I first moved here, I chose this place for the beautiful views of downtown Nashville and my gorgeous home. As I moved in, I also became aware of my surroundings and the fact that a majority of the homes and families were very modest and most families and many single moms were just doing what they could to provide for their families and their children. I also made an effort to get to know the families personally and as December of last year approached, I decided I wanted to do something for the families of Katie Hill. With the help of many friends and families, we were able to provide Christmas presents and basic necessities to around 38 kids and 15 families. As the fall approached this year, I decided it would be great to do a school supply drive. Not just your normal school supply drive, but i went as far as getting school and grade specific lists for 70 children and made sure they had everything they needed when they walked into school the first day. We also celebrated with a back to school party and a Nashville Night Out Against Crime with the help of Metro Police and Fire as well as Mayor Karl Dean's Office of Neighborhoods. The families were overwhelmed with gratitude and it was a wonderful night of community here on Katie Hill.
As Nashville grows, many communities are becoming gentrified and the families that live in inner cities neighborhood are quite frankly having to go somewhere else because they can't afford to live there anymore, or many of the properties are just not well taken care of and they are still paying quite a bit in rent. I certainly am not super woman and can't stop everything I don't agree with, but I can continue to help those in need and be an example. Gentrification is a different topic in which you can read on my blog, but for the sake of why I am writing this and doing a toy drive for Katie Hill, I want you to know that I fully believe a community is a group of people living together in the same area in which the race age or income of its residents are not whats important. What IS important is that we all come together with the common goal of fellowship, provide a safe environment for all residents, good education,, basic necessities, and opportunities for our children to learn and grow . Katie Hill is home to me, and I am blessed to have a network of wonderful people willing to reach out and help these children and families have a Merry Christmas this holiday season. Tis The Season For Giving ( and the rest of the seasons are too, but just sayinnnn :-)
If you are interested in adopting a child, we have around 65 kids this year, and around 30 families that are requesting assistance. There is not price limit on what you should spend, but I am telling most people to focus on the necessities and then go to the toys. By necessities i mean, clothing, coats, socks, shoes, and educational toys, then go for the fun stuff if you wish. I would say most spent anywhere for $150-200 last year per child. Please fill out the form on the following blog post or just click here and I will contact you shortly. I will accept monetary donations but adopting a child would make my life easier. I will already be shopping like a crazy woman for fillers and for any extras that are missing out on certain items. ( Last year It was around $5k spent on fillers ( socks, undies, etc.) Thank you so much and lots of Katie Hill Love this holiday season! Below are also some pictures from the 2013 Toy Drive.
PS.... Words To Live By: Your job is not to judge. Your job is not to figure out if someone deserves something. Your job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and heal the hurting. Each of us has the ability to change lives regardless of our own personal situations. You can also start by picking up a piece of litter....but that's a whole nother topic too :-)