"I haven’t always been this person. We all have a past. Once I got my life together, I just wanted to give back. In my younger days I was a taker. When we’re young all we think about is ourselves. But now I just want to help better my community, better the people. I try to be in touch with positive people, people who can help me help my community. I have brought a group to the community called A Woman’s Journey. We empower women. And then we have the Oasis Center that helps the teenagers find work. It’s all about anything that’s going to help the people. Helping to build them up. Because where we live, it can be very depressing. People out of work, and you want to work and can’t find a job, so with me knowing some of the people I know, I try to lead them in the right direction.”
Marilyn Greer has lived in Cayce Place just off South Eighth Street for five years. She is vice-president of the Cayce Place Resident Association, is on the board of directors at the Martha O’Bryan Center, and also is on the board of the Metro Development and Housing Agency’s “Envision Cayce” project. Stirring her coffee at Bongo East, the sun hits her reddish ringlets of hair, framing a 62-year-old face that looks no more than 40. Greer is involved in the push to remake her entire neighborhood from the ground up. Metro is about to break ground on the biggest housing project redevelopment in Nashville’s history. One at a time, Cayce’s reddish brick, two-story buildings are going to disappear and be replaced by townhouses that will take the aesthetics of the neighborhood to a whole new level. A supermarket is planned along with structures to house additional businesses. There is even talk of an amphitheater.
“A lot of things are being moved around, like the family clinic,” Greer says. “We’re trying to get a library, we’re getting a green area where people can walk their dogs, we’re going to have a park, so it should be very beautiful. Also, Martha O’Bryan will be expanding because they’re going to be building another school. So I’m excited to see what East Nashville and the Cayce homes are going to turn out to be.”
The project is huge. Greer says the whole endeavor will take eight to 10 years to complete. “It will be such an improvement, hopefully we as people can all learn to live together,” she muses. “It will not be only for the people in Cayce. Some of the homes will be market-rate homes, some will be based on workforce, and then some of them will be for the Cayce community. I can imagine me living next door to a teacher, or a nurse, and we’re going to have to learn to adapt to each other. And people in Cayce and the people that’ll be moving in, we’re just going to have to learn to adapt and live together. It can be done.”
All the 2,000 current residents will be grandfathered into the new living spaces, and there will be plenty of extra space after that for new tenants. The current tally of 716 apartments will grow to over 2,000.
“Cayce goes all the way from South Fourth, almost by the interstate, all the way up to South Eighth,” she says. “That’s a lot of land, and also, MDHA has bought other properties in the area, like Lenore Garden and there’s a church, I think it’s on South Fifth. They bought all that land, too. They’re going to be building and building, it’s going to take a while.”
A full-time grandmother in addition to her community work, Greer seems a little perplexed when asked what she likes to do in her spare time — probably because she has precious little of it. “I’m always doing something,” she says. “I like to stay busy. My daughter tells me all the time, ‘Mama, you need to sit down.’ But I can’t sit down. I feel like there’s work to be done.”