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Recognizing Workman Street royalty

Within about a hundred yards of where two people died from gunshots in the past few months - as recently as March 13 - kids ride bicycles in the parking lot of the Workman Village apartments.

The sun comes out, the weather warms, and into the light strolls royalty.

This 62-year-old queen is disabled, bent from crippling arthritis. She can't work for money because of her frail body.

She lives in public housing in a neighborhood where two young black men died from bullets about 100 yards from her front door.

Yet each day, seven days a week, for hours at a time, Cynthia Jinks picks up trash.

She uses one of those tongs-like grabbers on a long pole. She puts the trash in a white, 5-gallon bucket hung on the crook of her left arm. The left arm has the feel of steel cable.

"I start in the apartments where I live, where children live," Jinks said. "This neighborhood is not what people may think. Real people live here. They love their families. They love their kids.

"That guy the police caught in College Downs, he was just 18. But we can't have that, people running around with guns, the shootings. I have a grandson, 18."

The College Downs neighborhood is a few miles away from Workman Village, in southern Rock Hill - where on any nice afternoon you can find kids playing on swings in the neighborhood park. Using a slide. Running, giggling.

About a hundred yards away from that College Downs park last week, police found a fugitive they say was responsible for three Rock Hill shootings, hiding in an attic, a shotgun nearby.

Neighbor kids were playing nearby. About that same time, a school bus was dropping off our futures - within eyesight and earshot.

Within gunshot.

Thankfully, that day, not a shot was fired.

Real life

That is the real life for these neighborhoods, almost all black, that have seen nothing but bad news emanate from their streets lately.

There is no denying that people who live there know what has happened - and they do not like it.

At College Downs, longtime neighborhood association president Rosa Jones said what ladies have said forever when she heard that a fugitive was found within a football field's length of her front porch: "Oh my goodness! I am shocked."

Yet Jones, who has given so many years of her life to her neighborhood, reiterated what the police already said about Rock Hill's "most wanted," Antwan Agurs, the man police found in that attic at 1968 Gilmore Road in College Downs on Tuesday.

"He didn't live here," Jones said. "He wasn't from here, and we haven't had that kind of problem around here."

However, four men - including one who lived at 1968 Gilmore Road - were charged with hindering police after telling officers Agurs was not in the house.

But that is not the rest of College Downs on an afternoon just like the one when the cops swooped in.

It is small single-family homes.

It is dreams of people such as Charlene Watts, who has a daughter at South Pointe High School and wants to start a housing business to replace empty homes with renters.

It is a self-employed trucker driving his rig home from a week on the road.

It is men and women who come home in the late afternoon with work on their hands.

And on Workman Street, where life goes on amid the killings, police are not deaf to gunshots either.

Both killings on Workman Street are across from a park, and across from the apartments.

'Grandma Cynthia'

Extra police have been in the neighborhood since the most recent killing at 361 Workman St., and some of those officers even talked with kids in that apartment complex parking lot in the sunshine Thursday after school.

Their goal is to let kids know that the police are there to protect them from what happened just down the street. These cops brought nothing but smiles and handshakes.

One tiny kid asked what that was on a policeman's belt.

"A gun!" shouted out another kid.

"What's that in the front?" asked another kid.

"Bullets," said the kid who knew what the gun was.

Reality on Workman Street.

But Cynthia Jinks is more important than any gun, and just as real. Her ammunition is love, and she fires at will.

The kids at Workman Village run around and call Jinks "Grandma Cynthia" as she picks up a wayward wrapper from somebody's carelessness.

Jinks then crosses over the safety of the fence around the Rock Hill Housing Authority's Workman Village, and enters Workman Street proper - where death came twice.

"Sure I worry about safety - I know about the murders - but a clean neighborhood is a safe neighborhood," Jinks said.

She heads south on Workman toward Albright Road. She picks up a bottle cap, cigarette butts. She stops right in front of where a young man was murdered days before. A Bud Light bottle, empty, goes into the bucket.

A sleepy woman answers a door and says she can't talk about any killing a few doors down.

"I work third shift and have to get my sleep during the daytime," the lady said.

That is the real Workman Street, too: A woman working nights for her children, while the husband and father works days.

A man named Henry Boyce, a mechanic, comes by the street on his way to work. He sure will talk about killings in the neighborhood where he lives.

"These murders are not a reflection of everybody," Boyce said. "The other part of this neighborhood is working people. The old people. They don't kill. They work."

Jinks crosses Workman Park, a city park that has seen right across the street two killings since October. Still, Jinks walks through the park with her trash grabber like a duchess with a walking staff, quickly, afraid of no man.

"I have a grandson who just got back from Iraq, his third tour, and this is my country same as anybody else's," Jinks said. "Now watch it. You just stepped on a bottle cap."

She grabs the cap, a plastic bag, more.

'I have hope'

On Belinda Street and Eighth Street, she rolls on. The bucket starts to fill. Then Marshall Street, a block west of Workman. About two weeks ago, a man was robbed about 50 feet from where she stood.

"Young people, they must have hope," Jinks said. "I have hope. I hope for them, and I am out here for them."

An older man named Sam McCleod mowing his grass waves and offers Jinks a handshake.

"She is just supposed to be picking up in the project, but she comes out here into the whole neighborhood - even in the rain and the snow," McCleod said. "The kindness of her heart, I guess. She wants a clean neighborhood.

"Clean place shows the young people this ain't no 'hood.' It's home."

On Marshall Street, a Hispanic man comes out, barely able to speak English.

"Six years," the man said, then shook Jinks' hand.

'Woman is a saint'

Jinks stopped her cleaning and started to cry in the middle of Marshall Street at the corner of Flint Street Extension. A man named James Gordon, who lives at the corner house, came running out to see what is the matter. He knows Cynthia who picks up the garbage.

"Woman is a saint," said Gordon. "World needs saints like her. Can't have her crying out here. What's up, saint? You all right?"

Gordon wasn't going to let royalty cry on his corner.

"I was just crying because I forgot I have been out here every day picking up garbage for six years," Jinks said. "I never thought about how long. Six years. I can't sleep unless I do it. I just do it. The people, they need me. I give them a hug, I find out the babies are born, the anniversaries, the birthdays.

"They need to know that whatever happens around here, even two killings, that they are loved. Picking up the trash doesn't say it, it shows it."

A man named Vic White came outside his house for a hug from the trash queen.

"Cynthia knows, I told her, not to come out at night," White said. "Days, fine. The neighborhood is fine for her. People know her, I look out for her and others do, too.

"Nights, nobody out here to watch for her. Nights, no."

Yet the first killing, in October, happened on a beautiful warm afternoon just like the Friday afternoon Cynthia Jinks was working in.

"I can't stop," Jinks said of her community work for no pay. "I am scared of no one."

The circuit is complete back at the apartments where Jinks lives. She arrives with her bucket full.

"One person can make a difference," Jinks said. "We have plenty of good neighbors. The killing isn't all of us. Those neighbors - this is why I am alive."