Second Annual I Love the Nickel Block Party Brings Fifth Ward Community Together

Courtesy of Tye Remone

Julia Li

11/05/22 4:09 p.m.

Last Saturday, the I Love the Nickel Block Party brought together members of the Fifth Ward community, weaving together the buried stories of Louis White Grocery Store and its owner, civil rights activist Elnora White. Urban Engaged HTX, a new nonprofit created by Ashley Ruiz, hosted the block party. Urban Engaged is a wholly Latina-owned urban real estate development company that aims to uplift the Fifth Ward community through outreach, restorations and social events.

Ashley Ruiz, who was born and raised in Fifth Ward, decided to buy the grocery store a few years ago to make it the community’s premier event space. When she first purchased the building, she was unaware of its historical significance.

“I sold my house to pay for the majority of this building,” Ruiz said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was approached by the Houston Preservation. They let me know that the building has historic value.

Meanwhile, Ruiz was already talking to a few contractors and was told that it was more profitable to demolish the building. Instead, Ruiz decided to learn more about the building’s history: the story of Elnora White and her husband, a black couple in the 1940s who owned the Louis White Grocery store. According to Ruiz, the store was the backbone of Fifth Ward, a food and healthcare desert.

“White people gave credit to community members if they needed it, and they gave advice and medical help,” Ruiz said. “They were pillars of the community.”

After her husband’s death, Elnora White continued the store’s mission.

“She inherited the store and continued to run the store with her son,” Ruiz said. “A white saleswoman tried to put extra items on her shelf, and when Elnora White responded to the white man, she was arrested in her own store.”

After this incident, White joined local civil rights groups before turning to national civil rights organizations, inspire members of the local community join the civil rights movement. Once she learned of the significance of Elnora White’s untold story, Ruiz decided to restore the space for local nonprofits to operate during the week and as an event venue on weekends. end.

“I feel like I’ve found my purpose. I decided to give back to the community,” Ruiz said. “I was trying to think about the things that I didn’t have growing up in this community.”

Ruiz, who is raising his son Chastin in the Fifth Ward, is working with community members to run robotics and aviation lessons for kids at the store, while also aiming to create space for nonprofits. profit-making owned by minorities. The party featured food trucks, vendors, saxophonists, hip-hop battles and performances, including African cultural dances. It also featured plenty of activities for kids, dressed in Halloween costumes, including two life-size dinosaurs, bubble and drone stations, and an underwater mermaid to take pictures with.

Another feature of the block party is the large mural on the exterior wall of the old grocery store. This year’s mural was created by Dominique Silva, a Houston-based artist known as Paperbag. Silva says he hopes to connect with people through his art by addressing issues such as mental illness and racism. He painted his fresco live during the block party.

“I did it with the kids using their hands,” Silva said. “It was to show that this is the oldest community in Houston, but it continues to grow, and the children are what keeps it alive and the story goes on.”

Going forward, the space aims to serve the community in the same way as Elnora White’s grocery store, while allowing her story to be shared. Urban Engaged HTX also plans to expand into Denver Harbor and Pleasantville.

“I hope my heart is seen in that,” Ruiz said. “This platform is not only for me, it is also for everyone. Restoring history while helping the community – that’s a double win.

James C. Tibbs