Saturday, August 13, 2022 Aug 13, 2022
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NAKED CITY She Had A Dream

Her desire to help disadvantaged kids cost her much more than money.

FOR A WHILE THERE, JOANNE Roosevelt-longtime Junior League member; St. Mark’s mom; wife of FDR’s grandson-was a wonderful role model for the well-intentioned but socially sheltered North Dallas charity set.

For three years, twice a month and sometimes more, Roosevelt, 52, got in her shiny, red Suburban wagon and drove all the way down Inwood Road, past the mansions tended by West Dallas gardeners and housekeepers, over the Trinity River, into the heart of the flat, desolate flood plain where those housekeepers and gardeners lay their heads at night. She went there to share her good fortune, her family, her home and pool and ranch-all the riches of her private life- with four kids. No matter what side of the river you live on, she tried to say, you are important. You have value. You can have a bright future.

Each time she went there, again and again over three years, her friends and associates and protégés, who did not make that drive, watched. And marveled. And though they thought she was naive to think she could single-handedly change lives, they admired her. And learned from her.

Until March 2, 1990, the day that JoAnne Roosevelt’s regular trip down Inwood Road ended in disaster. And people in North Dallas went back to whispering over candlelight dinners and adies’ luncheons: “Why do it? Why take the chance?”

In April, a year after she was almost stabbed to death on a West Dallas street-a week after the kid who attacked her was sentenced to life in prison-Roosevelt decided that maybe it was time to talk about how she really wasn’t so naive. And how what she did wasn’t in vain.

JOANNE ROOSEVELT HAD DONE it all-the Crystal Charity Ball committee; the women’s council of the Dallas Arboretum; the board of trustees of St. Michael’s school; the church; the Junior League; the St. Mark’s Parents Club. Now that three of her four children were grown and on their own, she was ready for a bigger challenge. She found it in the I Have a Dream program, which battles school dropout rates by inspiring kids, emotionally and financially, to graduate from high school and pursue college.

As a program sponsor, Roosevelt was required to attend monthly meetings at her kids’ elementary school in West Dallas, where all the kids and sponsors for that school gathered for inspirational speakers and one-on-one encouragement, which was to continue until the kids graduated from high school.

But Roosevelt, who took her role as mentor seriously, decided to do more than that. Usually one Saturday a month, she drove to West Dallas and picked up her kids and took them home. Her husband Elliott showed them how to work with tools and fix things in his workshop. Her son David played basketball and football with them. She baked cookies with them and planted pansies in the yard with them and took them horseback riding on her sister-in-law’s ranch in North Texas. She gave them copies of National Geographic, a magazine they had never seen, filled with pictures of places they’d never been to. She threw them a sixth-grade graduation party-a barbecue in her back yard, with a big graduation cake and festive decorations and lots of pictures.

When she wasn’t doing things with her kids, taking them places, she called them on the phone. She called their parents. She called their teachers. And later, when they were bused to North Dallas middle schools, she stood on her porch in the afternoons, like any good mom would do, and waved to them as they passed by on the bus.

She had a lot of hope for her kids. “I wanted to see them all graduate from high school and all go to college,” she says. “I like to think we exposed them to ideas and an attitude that you can do it.”

Unbeknownst to her, though, one of the kids already had an attitude. All the while Willie Adams, 17, was baking cookies at Roosevelt’s home, he was committing crimes when he left it. He stole $204 from his school’s office, burglarized a house, drank alcohol, and smoked marijuana, Before he met Roosevelt, he sexually assaulted a little girl on a school bus.

Last March 2, Roosevelt became one of Willie’s crime victims. That afternoon, when she returned home from running errands, Willie and a friend were waiting for her in her driveway, claiming to have missed the bus. After offering them refreshments and fussing over Willie’s friend, who appeared to have a cold, Roosevelt offered to drive the boys home. What she didn’t realize until much later was that the two had shown up at her house intending to rob her and kill her. But her genuine concern over the friend’s cold, which even prompted a search for a jacket, foiled the plan. “She was too nice,” the boy later testified in court. “I couldn’t do it.”

Willie, though, was determined. When Roosevelt drove them home to West Dallas that afternoon, Willie lunged at her across the passenger seat and began stabbing her with a knife. His friend joined in, bashing her in the head from behind. By some miracle, she managed to unlock her door, slide out of her seat belt, and slip to the ground, where she tried fruitlessly to crawl away from them, but Willie ran after her with the knife, repeatedly hacking at her head and neck and back.

When a crowd gathered, both Willie and his friend ran away, leaving JoAnne Roosevelt-in her stained and slashed black skirt and silk blouse and yellow jacket, and her broken high-heeled shoes-lying in the middle of Bickers Street, bleeding from 25 knife wounds. A bone was sticking out of her right hand. Her lung was punctured. There was a deep wound in her back and long gashes on the right side of her face, near her ear. The point of the knife’s 4-inch blade was under her blond hair, imbedded in her skull, where it remains today. Along with the sadness.

JOANNE ROOSEVELT IS A STRONG, CLASSY LADY who has put on a happy face in public-to the point of choosing, in the true spirit of charity, not to bad-mouth a program that, at least initially, didn’t screen its young participants very well.

But in her private moments, her strength ebbs. She tears up frequently when discussing the ordeal, She must leave her house-to take a walk, see a friend, or go to her church chapel-on Friday afternoons at 5:30, the time that Willie and his friend showed up in her driveway. She can no longer participate in the program. She is getting an unlisted phone number. She is putting her home of 21 years up on the market, fearful, though she has tried not to be, that one of these days, some of Willie’s friends might come calling.

Still, she says firmly, she was never naive about any of it. “I was always extremely careful about what I did and very aware of my surroundings,” she says. “In fact, I had my car doors locked that day. I had no idea I had locked the enemy inside with me.”

What happened to her was just a fluke, she says. Today, I Have a Dream has better controls for screening children. And there are plenty of other programs that need help. And plenty of children, too.

Like Anissa Norice, Roosevelt’s sixth-grade girl. She is a high-school sophomore now. And though Roosevelt doesn’t invite her home anymore and doesn’t call, she does write, and she has made it clear that if Anissa continues to do well in school and pursues her goal of going to college, she will see that the I Have a Dream foundation will allocate the funds Anissa needs.

Anissa misses her visits to North Dallas. She remembers when Roosevelt taught her how to swim. And how she helped her plant narcissus bulbs in a clay pot that Anissa took home and put on her kitchen window sill in the projects. And how she bought her a camera because Anissa spent hours admiring the Roosevelts’ picture albums. “I still send batteries,” Roosevelt says.

Judy Norice, Anissa’s mother, says Roosevelt took her daughter to places and exposed her to things that she never would have seen otherwise. “She did things for her that I couldn’t do for her,” says Mrs. Norice, who was recently laid off from her job as a receptionist for a downtown financial company. “We talked about her getting another sponsor, but for some reason she doesn’t want one,” she says.

No, she doesn’t. “1 felt Mrs. Rooseveltwas a person I could always talk to,” Anissasays. “And she would always correct mewhen I was speaking wrong.” She doesn’twant a new sponsor. Maybe, she says in asmall voice, she would lose her, too. “I canmake it on my own. I guess.”