Tuesday, January 20, 2004

"Our City"
by Gartelle W. Sexton, Esquire

Disclaimer: This commentary is not meant to be seen as racist, nor is it intended to offend. The intent is to wake up the minds of our people.

"But I ain't given up on the hood, it's all good when I go back"-Tupac Shakur

I ain't giving up on the hood. And you shouldn't either. In case you haven't noticed, white folks ain't giving up on OUR hoods. They are coming in droves. Gentrification, it's happening all over the country, especially in my hometown of Washington, DC. Young, affluent and childless whites are moving into our neighborhoods. They are buying single family homes and small apartment buildings in our communities. In our communities where for years property values have dropped because we steal from and kill each other. We didn't take any pride in our neighborhoods. We threw trash and beer bottles on the street, we didn't maintain our homes, we ALLOWED the youth to sell drugs on our corners. We became scared of each other in our own communities.

"Used to be a close knit community but now we're all cold strangers"- Tupac Shakur

Guess what? White folks ain't scared any more. Now they come in, buy up the property and renovate it. Next thing you know, commercial businesses pop up, property values rise and we can't afford to live in OUR communities anymore.

What is behind all of this? Well for starters many of us are giving up on our neighborhoods. Once we get a little bit a money and can afford to move, we leave our neighborhoods and move our families to the suburbs without a second thought. Maybe its just me, but many suburbs, just don't feel like communities to me. Suburbs just aren't real to me. They seem so artificial and contrived, it's like they have no pulse. I don't mean to knock suburbs because I have never lived in one. I'm a city guy and I just can't fathom living on a street called Quaint Corner Drive or Apple Crisp Lane.

Now I understand that no one wants to live in a neighborhood rampant with drugs and crime, but our neighborhoods are OUR responsibility. If WE keeps our streets clean, if WE maintain our homes, if WE spend more time with our children AND other peoples children, then they will not be in the streets selling drugs. If WE demand more from our elected officials and stop complaining about how they never do anything for our neighborhoods, then maybe we can make some change. You see, the folks that live in Georgetown and Capitol Hill, they don't tolerate inferior treatment, but for some reason we do in our communities. I know that money makes the world go around, but we do a have vote and a voice if we choose to use it correctly.

Another factor in the gentrification of our cities is that we don't OWN anything. Many of us are lifelong renters. Many in our communities are not educated about home ownership. Home ownership is ever so important in this country of ours. Far too many of us choose to pay for expensive cars, clothes and jewelry, but have bad credit, live with our parents or rent. Our priorities are skewed. We opt to spend BILLIONS of dollars outside of our communities on depreciating assets instead of appreciating assets like a home, stocks or bonds. We need to become financially knowledgeable and responsible. Years ago two words were spoken to me that have stayed with me ever since, "Delayed Gratification." Simply put, good things come to those who wait. Far too many of us are more concerned with keeping up present appearances, than keeping up with our future and our finances. There are numerous programs available for potential homebuyers that are FREE. There are numerous programs available for credit repair. The resources are there, we must make an effort to utilize them and take back our communities. (If anyone needs a list of resources, let me know.)

Anacostia, Shaw, Deanwood, these are our neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are full of our history, our tradition and once were full of our people. These neighborhoods used to be some of the best in the nation. They used to be safe and clean. The used to be full of Black businesses and Black people who were proud to live there. Those people more than just lived there, they raised families, they built churches, they built communities. Unfortunately, the only thing being built now are condo's and Starbucks (and I don't drink coffee.)

For years DC has ben called Chocolate City and that's how I have always pictured my home. Notice how I called DC my home? That's how I feel about this city, about the people of this city. I was born and raised here, but I have been around the world and back again and I know that there is no other city with a dynamic quite like DC. This city has so much to offer everyone. And since this is still Chocolate City, WE need to take advantage of the opportunities that are before. We are still the majority (decreasing rapidly however) in this city and have the chance to make things better for our communities. There is so much more I could say about this but I will leave you with this question. When you close your eyes and think of DC, what do you see?

"I close my eyes and picture home... on my block"- Tupac Shakur

-Gartrelle W. Sexton, Esq.