Do you remember Big Mama? Every neighborhood had one. It did not matter if you lived in the country, the city, or even in the forest, Big Mama was everywhere. She was that one who always had good smells coming from her kitchen (and would sneak you a taste when your parents weren’t looking). She had hugs for you when you passed by her porch. Her eagle eyes saw every time you cut up and would tell it to your parents in a heartbeat. She knew before you did, how you were doing in school. Big Mama had a good ear for listening and words of wisdom when you needed them. And she had great stories. Big Mama was every parents’ dream. A mom could ask Big Mama to keep her kids a bit while she ran an errand or went to work and knew that they would be safe as houses. And Big Mama would gladly do so because she just loved the kids as much as they loved her. She didn’t replace Mom, Dad, or your grandparents – you love and cherish them. But Big Mama just was a part of the village that raised us. Maybe even several generations of us. And you never knew how old she was, she just always seemed to be there. The thing is because she loved everyone, you forgot whose Big Mama she actually was. Big Mama belonged to everyone. Now she belongs to no one because Big Mama is gone.
Where did Big Mama go? Well, she went the way of the residents, the Mom and pop stores, and neighborhood hangouts that were priced out of the neighborhoods by gentrifiers. She went to the nursing home while her real family moved to the suburbs. A gentrifier bought her house and renovated it into an open concept, stainless steel appliance and granite counter topped kitchen, master with spa en suite addition, painted inside and out, masterpiece you now see before you (The new residents are now appealing to have a Trader Joe’s and Starbucks brought to the neighborhood.) Big Mama died and no one else could fill that role in the neighborhood because the neighborhood you once knew is gone.
All the above and more has happened to Big Mama. This is why it is important to Gentrify Your Own Self! When the neighborhood was destroyed, so was the village. The neighborhood is more than just buildings. It is the people and the culture that has been established for generations. Young people need to understand the value in that because if they they don’t, they’ll grow up and ask this very question: Where have all of the Big Mama’s gone?
Gentrification will occur. More importantly, gentrification needs to occur, so it important that people who want to maintain their way of life be a part of this process. And holding a gun to someone’s head… well, that won’t get the neighborhood back. Not at all. But in order to hold on to these neighborhoods, you can’t let go of them in the first place. It is important to return, rehabilitate, and maintain the culture that has been a part of these places for generations. And that includes protecting our Big Mama’s because we need her. The impact of the destroyed village is evident in how our children behave, in how they perform in school, regard their parents and peers, and what they value.
Hard as it is to witness, I cannot make people hold on to their neighborhoods, Lauren taught me that lesson. All I can do is expose what has been lost in the hopes that people understand these losses also. And that they are huge. So now that we know that we have lost Big Mama, the question becomes: How can we get her back?