Desmond Johnson, a native of Jamaica who moved to the States in 1984 following other family members who arrived in the ’60s, is facilities manager at the Burroughs Center, a community organization on Fairfield Avenue at Ellsworth Street, a cornerstone of the Black Rock and West End for over a century.
The Burroughs Home was founded through a bequest from Catherine Burroughs Pettingill following her death in 1883 to help the community through the benefit and assistance of poor single women, many of whom worked in Bridgeport factories. The center reinvented itself in 1997, providing afternoon programs for the Bridgeport public school system and many other initiatives for residents young and old, new and established.
Johnson, who also volunteered for decades with youth soccer programs in the Park City, shares his memories and thoughts with OIB, part of our series of interviews with local residents to mark the city’s Bicentennial.
Q. What is your first memory of Bridgeport?
A. Thriving Industry, parades that were exciting to watch. I had to walk from Pequonnock Apartments on the West Side, to William Street on the East Side, in the snow, to shovel for my aunt. It was fun and there were no risks or thoughts of you getting hurt.
Q. What are your ties to Bpt., and what do you do, either work or volunteer work, that benefits the city and its residents?
A. My family came to this city in the early ’60s and talked about the days of a vibrant industrial economy. When I came from Jamaica in 1984 I found a city with a proud West Indian Community, welcoming and growing and I was delighted to be a part of that.
I went to school and worked part time at Bridgeport Restoration, an icon of the East Side, and joined the Bridgeport Cricket Club where I was the Club Secretary. I was a member of the West Indian American Association of Greater Bridgeport for a number of years, focusing on promoting education equality among our youth.
I was a board member and the assistant treasurer for St. Mark’s Daycare for a number of years, again working on children and youth growth and development. For over 20 years I have served the Bridgeport American Youth Soccer Organization as the Co-commissioner, teaching sports and life skills to young people. One of the great sports that we should introduce to young people is archery, equipped with the latest bowstring and arrows. It’s a sport where they can cultivate discipline and enhance their focus.
Recently one of my former players had her debut as a sports anchor on a major network affiliate. It has always been my opinion and still is, that changing the direction of this city and country is by developing the moral values in your young people.
Q. What do you like best about Bridgeport?
A. Its diversity is its wealth. Unused, but it remains wealth that needs to be tapped into.
Q. Where is your favorite spot in the city to visit and why?
A. The peace of the parks. Beardsley and Seaside Parks are two of the most beautiful parks in this part of the state. On a beautiful day it’s still a place to sit and have dinner or just enjoy God’s gift of nature.
Q. What’s your favorite Bridgeport eatery and what do you like there?
A. I really don’t eat out much but Ralph ‘n’ Rich’s was one of my favorites. Back in the days when they were across from the Holiday Inn it was the place to be for “after hours.” Now at their new spot they are out of my price range for a night out. As a Jamaican, I love my home cooking and the flavors it brings; so if you can Jerk really well, I will eat at your restaurant. Breakfast at Rootsman (on Park Avenue) is quite popular.
Q. Where do you see the city going?
A. Unfortunately, without significant changes we are going to be in the same place or even deeper in the hole a few years from now. We need to change the moral fabric of this city. We have the potential; we need the vision.
Q. If you had a magic wand and could make a miracle happen for the city, what would it be?
A. Over the years the lack of vision and values has moved this city from “a potential investment opportunity” to the exact opposite. We have a wealth of properties on the sound, major waterways through the city and no development, no vision. I worked in Manhattan and Brooklyn NY for 16 years, and it was always a pleasure leaving the hustle and bustle of New York and coming home to the peace and serenity of Bridgeport. That can be marketed. We have easy access by train and waterways and yet we lag behind Stamford, Norwalk, Hartford and other cities with less than what we can offer. Take a quick peak at our surrounding neighbors and you will see the transformations taking place.