Growing up I read books like The Babysitter’s Club and Gossip Girl until the pages were stained and worn in. Movies like Grease and Mean Girls ruled my existence. I saw no difference between myself and Lyndsay Lohan or Raven Symone. Ann Hathaway was, literally, my hero in that era of awkwardness. I assumed most people, black or white, were middle-class and just making it. Things like discrimination on an economic level never occurred to me. I was blind to the reality of food deserts or underresourced schools-even though I grew up in these environments. Because my mom owned a car and drove the 2.3 miles to the nearest supermarket and the 17.1 miles to my high school every day, I naively assumed everyone’s parents had this opportunity. To say the least, I grew up protected by my illusions.
Attending Spelman where I analyzed texts by W.E.B Du Bois, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alex Haley, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and so many others, all at once, it became impossible for me to hide behind these illusions. But I confess I did try. I tried shrugging it off. I tried convincing myself that it’s not my fight.
Now, teaching at a black high school in Atlanta and seeing firsthand how economic disparities have the power to limit our children’s expectation it has become impossible to ignore yet again. I have no idea how I am supposed to change anything, but I know that change is needed. State representative for District 56, “Able” Mable’s concept of the complexities of poverty perfectly depicts the devastation that our communities are plagued by generation after generation. Atlanta is steadily creating jobs and opportunities that import people from all over, while it intentionally kills off those already living here through classic economic and racially discriminatory practices. These things are not happening in secret. The proof is all there as it has always been, it is just begging us to do something with it.
What are we to do as marginalized people when our voices are silenced by the economically empowered and our images manipulated by the media? We are continuously painted as violent, unconcerned residents that need to be removed in order for Atlanta to thrive. To be specific, an ethnic cleansing is in place.
The slogan,”Westside on the Rise,” suggests that efforts are being made to pull this community from the ashes to revitalize and create stability in a region that has historically been neglected. However, the promises are being made by people that won’t even take a 10-minute walk down Joseph E. Boone, James P. Brawley, Ralph David Abernathy or Donald Lee Hollowell. The promises to uplift this community are, no doubt, concerned with the future of the Westside, but a future that serves the interests of their pockets and not the needs of the people within it. We all want to believe that these programs and organizations are here for the good of the people, but that would be equally naive as me at 16. Let’s not be comforted by illusions and so comfortable in their safety that we allow entire generations to be displaced.
We have to know what things like the “Anti-Displacement” tax fund actually mean and who it benefits. We need to understand that “affordable-housing” only serves a few and only for a short-term (3-20 years, specifically as outlined by Invest Atlanta and the AHA).
I guess what fuels me the most in this pursuit to save the Westside is even bigger than just the people, it’s also the history. Atlanta is rich with black history. The Westside communities that are home to historically black institutes and infrastructures that have contributed to the prosperity of black people are now being marketed as “perky-bungalows” for sale to gentrifiers ready to expand their territory. I can see 5 years from now entire communities and histories erased; historic buildings torn down to house corporations and work-live spaces for people, obviously, more deserving than we are.
It is more than unfair. It is more than unethical. Housing discrimination is nothing new in Atlanta. The word gentrification is used to illustrate an idea of sprucing up when it really entails gutting out and replacing the old with the new. There’s no denying that Vine City, West End, Ashby Heights, English Avenue, Grove Park, Washington Park and more are in need of rehab. But rehab means fixing what is already there. Provide opportunities for us. Provide rent stability for us. Provide upward mobility for us. Provide adequate home-loans for us. Provide safe housing for us. Provide healthy food for us. Provide educational resources for us. Provide mental health and general health resources for us. The money is there. The million-dollar organizations are there. But where is there help?
Just ask the employees at Good Samaritan who they are servicing? Just ask Westside Future Fund how many houses they have built? Just ask Mercedes-Benz what they are doing to give back to the community they are ravaging to complete their construction? Just ask any of these corporations contributing to the “rise” of the Westside how many jobs they have given to the residents?
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