Weelunk is committed to telling Wheeling’s story. Our goal is to encourage conversation and engage everyone in what’s happening here. As city officials are determining what the future holds for the Nelson Jordan Center, it’s important to understand the value that the Nelson Jordan Center adds to our community. We’re pleased to help bridge the gap by providing a glimpse into the work folks like Rod Lee are doing to ensure the future of this important community institution.
You’re a high school junior. It’s winter break. Not just in name, the weather is bad enough to cancel anything anyone had planned. You remember your coach saying that “serious” players need to work out over the break, in order to make the team.
If you were a young man from East Wheeling, Grandview Manor or Lincoln Homes in the ’90s or early 2000s; this presents a problem. Not a problem without a solution, but a problem nonetheless. So, for a young person fitting or falling into this description, the description looks something like this:
Wake up early.
Begin making calls.
The order doesn’t matter but the names remain the same. Rod, Ronnie Sr., Jayloni and Puff. These men are the unofficial gatekeepers of the Nelson Jordan Center. The NJC is the recreation center hidden away in East Wheeling. It was founded during the time of segregation for African Americans to have a place to exercise and spend their time for social, recreational and educational activities for youth and families. Back then, the city’s hands-off approach to the NJC, made it feel like ours. The Black community’s. We cleaned it, repaired it and utilized it.
Rod Lee aka Coach Rod was the official/unofficial director of the NJC. He answered all questions, handled all problem and made the place what it was to all of us. He didn’t do it alone. There were several in the community with a stake in the center’s success. No one was as giving as Rod though. He gives time, money, temperament and patience. But like anyone else, he had a life and job separate from the NJC. So that meant he couldn’t be at our beck and call.
So, if you needed in the center to work out on a cold winter morning, you had to make some calls. At any given time, there may be as many as five men that you could call to gain access to the NJC. All men that Rod trusted, that had a vested interest in the NJC, and men who he could rely on not to abuse the sacred space. Let’s say you made your calls, and you lucked out and found someone who was off work that day and didn’t mind getting out of bed on a cold morning to let you in. That’s step one.
Once you got in the building, you had to make sure it was warm enough to work out. As you take off your coat, you notice that you can see your breath. Before you take your sneakers out of the gym bag, you read one of the series of hand-written notes that Coach Rod has left all around the center.
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It says, “Heaters are upstairs.” You then remember the convo that led to that sign being posted. Coach Rod was sick and tired of the “jet engine” heaters that were fire hazards waiting to happen. He went out and bought a bunch of smaller space heaters. The kind that automatically shut off if they get too hot or tip over. He bought them out of his own money. You hook up a couple of the heaters as you get dressed and start to warm up and shoot around. You only hook a few up because you figure that if you’re still cold after you get started, you must not be doing it right.
Step 3: The Equipment
After scouring the building, you realize that you forgot to ask that the equipment room be unlocked. It must stay locked because since everyone can’t always be there, balls tend to just walk off. You brought your own ball, but you’ve had that thing forever and the tread and grip are almost gone. It doesn’t matter to you though. Coach said to get a workout in, and that’s exactly what you’re going to do. The ordeal to gain entrance, the issues with the heat or cold, the lack of or inaccessibility to equipment; none of those are of issues to you. You can’t get to the newly built Howard Long Wellness Center. No one is going to ride you all the way up Park hill.
You got to work with what you have. A normal motto in our community. There are several words that others in Wheeling use to describe the NJC: “a blight,” “in deplorable condition,” “sad” or “neglected.” For us, the people who use the center. For those who care for the center. For those who love and protect the center. There is only one word that we use to describe it. Only one word that matters in reference to the Nelson Jordan Center.
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• A lifelong Wheeling resident and graduate of Wheeling Park High School, Ron Scott Jr. attended Morehouse College and graduated from West Liberty University. He spent 13 years as a counselor in the field of addictions, working at a variety of agencies. His love for community, justice and creativity has led him to positions such as former president and vice president of the Upper Ohio Valley NAACP, former vice chairman of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, founder of the Ohio Valley African American Students Association, member of Undependent Films, chairman of the Performing Arts Committee of the Wheeling Arts & Culture Commission, and a board member of the Independent Theater Collective. He currently serves as program director of Cultural Diversity & Community Outreach for the YWCA Wheeling.