Francis Street Reunion hit with former residents

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Residents from the Francis Street housing project in the Hill District brought back the annual reunion that used to take place years ago. The new committee consists of Francine Bibbens, Carol Bibbens, Calvin Bibbens, Shannon Lawthorne and Janicee Council. With the demolition and sale of the Francis Street housing project these former residents want to keep the memories alive and well for future generations.

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ORGANIZERS—Francis Street committee members Francine Bibbens, Calvin Bibbens and Carol Bibbens at the Francis Street Reunion.

“Even though the Francis Street Reunion initially started 10 years ago, we wanted to get it going again because the only time we reunited with someone from Francis Street was when someone died. Instead of meeting at funeral homes, I wanted to see my old friends and neighbors on a happier occasion. Carol Murphy, Dundee Council, Alice Richardson and others started the Francis Street originally and it was a great time for everyone” said Francine Bibbens.

Growing up in the Francis Street housing project was equal to growing up with family members. Everyone took care of each other. It was the atmosphere of one big family.

“I am sad that the housing project no longer exists, but if we can keep having these reunions, it will carry Francis Street on forever. We are going to meet again in September to keep this reunion going. We may have to cabaret on other events throughout the year to raise funds for the reunion next year. The reunion that we just had came out of pockets and it was a major success. We want to have vendors and have a three-day weekend in the future,” said Francine Bibbens.

Francine along with her sister Carol and brother Calvin are overjoyed at the major success of the reunion and are looking forward to the next one.

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ENJOYING THE REUNION—Former residents of the Francis Street Housing Project at the Francis Street Reunion.

“I was filled with joy to see all of the people that came out because it showed me that they wanted it just as bad as we did. Even though the reunion was called “The Francis Street Reunion,” we invited Chauncey Drive, Bedford Dwellings and Francis Street. We are trying to bring peace back to the community by having the reunion every year. We wanted to show our youth how well we get along. If they see that connection, then maybe they will realize that they should not be fighting. It should give them incentive to say that we should get along, too,” said Francine Bibbens.

Carol Bibbens was also tired of seeing her neighbors at funerals and thought it was a great idea to reunite with old friends and family.

“We had a memory board on display for those loved ones that are no longer with us. We can’t forget them either. People signed the board and showed their support and condolences. It takes a village to raise a child and that reminds me of Francis Street. The neighbor was able to whoop for something I did wrong and then take me home and my mother would whoop me, too. That is what Francis Street was all about back in the day because we were all family. You could go over your neighbors to eat and it was cool. You can’t do that in this day and age because if you whoop your neighbor’s child, the parent will be ready to whoop you. As my sister stated, we were tired of seeing our old friends at funeral homes when someone passed away. We’ve been very successful getting the word out about the reunion by word of mouth and through Facebook, but we want to do other networking to make it a bigger success next year. I don’t like using the word “picnic,” but I do prefer to call our event a reunion because that’s what it is,” said Carol Bibbens.

Being the only boy in a family of three women was hard for Calvin Bibbens, but he made it work for himself. He loves his family and the men that looked out for him when he was growing up in the Francis Street housing project.

“Growing in the Francis Street housing project was a journey for me because I grew with three women and I am the youngest,” Calvin Bibbens said. “It was hard for me because I did not have a brother and you take so much to heart. When I grew up on Francis Street and the brothers could not play basketball until they came and got me. If I did not play, no one else did either and I took my ball and went home. Maurice Lucas, Jeep Kelly and Ricky Coleman were the basketball legends in the neighborhood and I knew them all. Singer George Benson also took me under his wing and I am grateful to have met these people from my own neighborhood. These men made me strong because I didn’t have these male role models in my own family. We have a large family and where we came from Francis Street was all we had. When they tore down the housing project, everyone went their separate ways. It took a lot out of me when they tore down the Francis Street housing project and it still hurts today. It took a piece of my heritage and my history and it hurts. I want people to trust in God and look forward to the next reunion.”

Calvin was at the reunion and hugged everyone he came in contact with because it was a great feeling to see everyone who attended the reunion. He loved it and he is looking forward to next year’s reunion. Currently he and his sisters are getting e-mail addresses and other ways to connect with former residents of the Francis Street Housing project.

“Instead of people coming to Pittsburgh from out of town for one day, we want them to come to the Francis Street for an entire weekend. We plan to have an itinerary for the weekend for the next reunion by God’s grace. They call me the legend because I’ve been through some things and I can tell the youth what not to do. I give advice to the youth and right now, I am a part of the usher board at Bethel AME Church in the Hill District and I’ve change my life around. Everyday is a challenge for me, but I tell the youth to stay strong, humble and listen to your parents” said Calvin Bibbens.

(To contact the Francis Street committee, you can reach them via Facebook (Francis Street Neighbors or call Carol Bibbens at 412-537-4215.)

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