Former Y.H. Thomas Students Reminisce At HAWS Board Meeting

Samuel Grier, the tall, thin, Black elder who lives on the eleventh floor of Crystal Towers, has resided at Crystal for approximately two decades now. He is the son of distinguished firefighter Robert Grier (no relation to actress Pam Grier). Sam often wears overalls and a colorful skull cap. Sam has a quick smile and a very agreeable personality.

Samuel has been a mainstay of the group’s meetings in the last five years that I have been working with Crystal Towers United. So seeing Sam at the HAWS Board meeting earlier this week wasn’t surprising. But I was surprised to see Sam connect with HAWS Board Chair Andrew Perkins.

Mr. Perkins had a Hampton University letter jacket on the back of his chair at the HAWS Board meeting in the Loewy Building. That sparked a conversation on Hampton, Virginia, between Mr. Perkins and Mr. Grier after HAWS’ Board meeting. And it led to the surprising revelation that they both attended Y.H. Thomas Junior High in Hampton, Virginia.

Andrew Perkins And Samuel Grier Talking At HAWS Board Meeting

After Samuel and the group from Crystal Towers United left the meeting, I asked Samuel about his conversation with Commissioner Perkins and how they stumbled upon a connection they never knew they shared. Samuel told me that Y.H. Thomas Junior High was a good school. (But it was a segregated school in the age of separate and unequal education).

Y.H. Thomas’ nickname in the community, according to Mr. Grier, was ‘the training school for young hoodlums.’ I asked Samuel what took him to Hampton. He said it was his parents’ divorce. Samuel said that one day he was put in a car and told he would live with his Mom in Virginia. That must have been a difficult time in Samuel’s life. Samuel Grier eventually dropped out of Y.H. Thomas.

Samuel had a short stint in the Navy when he came of age. “As Grier became older, he began working a wide variety of jobs such as wholesale market produce, piezometer work for the company Engineering Tectonics, and medical lab sanitation.” Now in his mid-70s, Grier has had his share of ups and downs. But he’s doing well for himself today, thanks in no small part to the stable housing that Crystal Towers provides.

Samuel likes living at Crystal Towers because of its proximity to downtown resources. But like other residents and members of Crystal Towers United, Samuel would like to see the building substantially improved. Crystal Towers’ substantial maintenance backlog leads to daily hardships and stress for its residents. Residing on the 11th floor, Samuel suffers as much as any able-body resident at Crystal Towers when its elevators are partially or entirely offline.

Samuel and other members of Crystal Towers United wanted to speak to HAWS’ board on Tuesday, but they were denied that opportunity. Crystal Towers United’s message is that Crystal Towers can’t wait. It’s time for HAWS and the City to find the funding needed to upgrade the 50-year-old highrise substantially.

To some degree, Samuel Grier and Commissioner Perkins went in opposite directions after they left Hampton, Virginia’s Y.H. Thomas Junior High. Perkins had a distinguished career in the Arm Corp of Engineers. He is currently Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities and Engineering at N.C. A&T State University. Perkins is well qualified to lead the HAWS Board. But fellow Y.H. Thomas alum Samuel Grier and other public housing residents deserve to have their voices heard too.

It’s time to put the public back in our local public housing authority. HAWS must open its board meetings to public housing residents and concerned citizens.

Crystal Towers United At The Loewy Building

Above, Local Firefighters Drive By Robert Grier’s House To Celebrate His Birthday And Honor The Legacy Of Engine Four. As Of Tuesday, Both Elevators At Crystal Towers Were Working. But When They Are Both Down, The Fire Department Is Called To Transport Residents Who Use Wheelchairs. Calls To Samuel Grier’s Building  Are Nothing To Celebrate. They Are The Predictable Result Of Years Of Disinvestment.


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