Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee called a press conference at the Southmore Post Office Station at 4110 Almeda Rd. where she proudly announced along with community members turned super activist that the Southmore Station will be spared from closure.
The historical landmark brought the predominately African American community of Third Ward together as they fought side by side to save the post office from imminent closure. This is also a much needed win as rapid change has happened within the community within the past couple of years.
This struggle started in December of 2013 when the community learned of a public hearing during a City Council meeting. Real Estate Specialist for the USPS, Sandra Rybicki, delivered the shocking news to council members and Mayor Parker that six stations were under review for proposed closures: Southmore Station, Medical Center Station, University Station, Greenbriar Station, Julius Melcher Station and Memorial Park Station.
The Southmore Station received thousands and thousands of letters on behalf of its importance to the community of Third Ward/ Midtown and the city of Houston. Leaders such as Kofi Taharka of NBUF personally hand delivered the letters in Washington, D.C. to send a direct message that Southmore Station would not be an easy target.
Students from Texas Southern University under the leadership of Professor Serbino Sandifer- Walker diligently protested, marched, wrote letter and rallied for others to write letters to save their station.
With the good news delivered the Congresswoman and community members were all smiles yet they remained focused as to the lingering issues of the closures in the community schools.
Community members were reminded of the power they hold when they unite and fight together. Their united front saved Southmore Station from closure and preserved the historical legacy of the civil rights break through that happened right there on that property before the USPS decided to build a post office on the land.
The Judson Robinson Community Center was a packed house Saturday, January 11, 2014 as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee held a town hall meeting to address constituents who were upset and confused with the recent news that the United States Postal Service (USPS) could possibly close down six stations.
Continuous swells of Houstonians filed in to hear what the Congresswoman had to say about the postal locations. As the meeting location was in the 9th Congressional district which is Congressman Al Green’s turf, he stood with his long- time colleague and with elected city officials, Larry Green of District K and newly elected Dwight Boykins of District D. USPS had their representatives present as well to address the community. Sandra Rybicki, the real estate specialist for USPS, came back to give her public address that she once before gave to City Council in December. Rybicki was joined by the Houston District Manager USPS, William Mitchell and acting Post Master, Jocelyn Wynn.
Lee started off by saying that the post office is an economic engine in the community. She began to rattle off the locations asking the community members which ones were their station.
The Southmore station received all the attention as the African American community showed concern about what the closure would mean in terms of the historical marker that has been incorporated into that particular post office location.
“That is a place that Texas Southern University students marched from TSU to indicate that we cannot live in two Americas; that is history for us,” said Congresswoman Lee. “That is a place that we not only go to the post office but we are able to look at a marker that says this belongs to the community.”
Sandra Rybicki was called to address the community and the Congressional members present as she did the Mayor and City Council. She explained about the excessive space and why if found to be conclusive that the postal areas are underutilized then they will be closed and relocated. When the Sun talked to Rybicki she stated, “There hasn’t been much opposition. Some don’t mind the move and some don’t mind as long as there is another station in the direct area, but there hasn’t been much feedback.”
The feedback came right away once she finished her speech on the procedures and method that would be executed.
Closure is based on the premises of saving money. William Mitchell, Houston District Manager USPS, informed the masses that the USPS is losing between 20-25 million a day.
“The postal service does not accept tax dollars. The only money we do receive in revenue is revenue that comes from postage. Right now we are faced with a situation where we have retiree health benefit that is being taken out of our bottom line to the tune of 5-7 billion a year which forces us to have to look at opportunities for us to save money,” said Mitchell. “One of those things we do to save money is to look at our facilities to see which ones are oversized and see if there is an opportunity for us to move carriers into those facilities and if we can move carriers into those facilities, sell the existing facility after setting up an alternate retail in that same area. If we can do that we can save a significant amount of money, relocating those carriers and selling the property.”
For many members of the community, the issue was very personal as they correlated the issue to gentrification and the value of property along the Medical Center corridor into Third Ward. Saving the postal service money was not high on the priority list.
Yet in still, many of the people present started or had a lasting career with the USPS, including the Congresswoman and community member, Jackie Bostic, who spoke as a retiree of the postal system and as a concerned citizen.
Community input ranged from why are the outside postal boxes gone from the Southmore station, to how far away will a new post office be put for those who walk. The town hall gave Houstonians a place to air all their grievances.
Suggestions were given as to how they could utilize space. Gerald Womack, a developer, voiced that the excess space could be used as a mixed- use facility that could be subleased to other businesses to conjure capital.
The public was told to write Sandra Rybicki at her Dallas location and to mail it off before the January 17th deadline. Houstonians were told repeatedly that the closures are not a done deal and with community support the decision can go either way.
The proposed closures were for Southmore Station, Medical Center Station, University Station, Greenbriar Station, Julius Melcher Station and Memorial Park Station.
USPS officials did listen to community members as the outside postal drop box is back at the Southmore Station.