Gentrify Your Own Self!

Pardon me for the misuse of English in this first post of 2014, but I can’t think of a better way to get across my point. What I want to discuss in this post this evening, is the concept of “Self-Gentrification.” What is that, you ask? Well, let’s just put a pin in that for a second. First, let’s start with the meaning of “gentrification.” Now I can just link the word to an online dictionary and you can read for yourself what “gentrification” means but I think I have a better way to get across what I am talking about by providing the following anecdote:

So you are a kid raised in a neighborhood/ward/island/city, living in a Brownstone/Row House/Creole Cottage/Seaside Rancher/80s Style Traditional, where you have your own culture. Only you don’t think of it as “culture,” but as a comfortable way that you live your life. Maybe your traditions include going door-to-door to sample food during the holidays, fishing with handmade nets, parading trick horses down the street, or dancing in Second Lines. That hole-in-wall eatery on the corner makes the best red rice/gumbo/seafood boil/okra, tomato, and corn in the world. That fruit and vegetable stand, has the juiciest peaches, the ripest tomatoes, and the sweetest watermelon. Your neighbors helped to raise you. The seamstress, midwife, and mechanic are all within walking distance. They know who you and your parents are. This is the way of life in which you were raised, your parents were raised, your grandparents were raised…and so on. So years go by and you grow up. You may go away to college, travel abroad, and/or get that corporate career. Then you meet someone and you are ready to settle down now. Only instead of returning to the neighborhood/ward/island/city, you settle in This City East, West That City, or Upwardly Mobile Metropolis. Wherever it is, it’s in the ‘burbs, with the silhouette of the downtown skyscrapers visible in the distance. No matter where it is, you are now living in that cookie cutter, corner lot, open concept, granite/quartz countertops with the island prep space, stainless steel appliances, luxury en suite, gargantuan-sized master bedroom, and equally gargantuan master closet. You just know that is the perfect house that says, “I’ve made it!” One day, you’re feeling nostalgic or you’re going home to visit the folks on the holidays, only to find that most your neighbors and friends are gone, most of the surrounding homes abandoned, that favorite hole-in-the-wall eatery is all boarded up, and crime has run rampant. And what happened to the AME church where you were Baptized? About now, you are thinking, “I’ve gotten out of here in the nick of time.” You try to convince your parents to leave as well but they say, “no way.” Nothing or no one will run them out of a neighborhood they have lived in and raised their family for X number of years. So as this new reality of what has become of your old ‘hood rattles around in your mind, you notice the new neighbors who are unloading their U-haul. They look nothing like the people you have grown up with. Their faces hold expressions of new beginnings, excitement, enjoyment, and discovery. Your parents explain that they are John and Jane Newcomer and they had moved in from West This City and bought and fixed up the Brownstone/Row House/Creole Cottage/Seaside Rancher/80s Style Traditional for the last few weeks and wouldn’t it be nice if you brought them some home cooking and welcome them into the neighborhood (they’d already introduced themselves when they first saw them – that whole neighborhood watch thing). While you’re wondering who in the world would live in this rundown place on purpose, you do as suggested and take food over to the new neighbors. They hesitate to let you in at first, but once you explain whose child you are (“Oh Mr. and Mrs Been Here’s child from next door!”), the fear in their faces disappear and you are invited inside. They are eager to show off what they have done with the place. The first thing that you notice is that the space has been renovated with the very amenities that you covet in your own home in This City East, West That City, or Upwardly Mobile Metropolis. They’ve maintained the charm of the original structure but there is the open floor plan, granite/quartz countertops with island prep space; original hardwood floors (what do you mean no carpet?), reconfigured master bedroom with spa-like en suite, and closet organizer. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit but I’m trying to paint a picture here. So you leave your old neighborhood and return to West This City, That City East, or Upwardly Mobile Metropolis, giving the changes a little thought as you settle back into your normal routine of perfect suburbia-tude. When you return to your ‘hood, you have found that more new people have moved in. These new “come heres” are not friendly like the first set. Although their curtains are drawn, they don’t speak to anyone, and they go about their daily lives, their standoffish and private culture contaminate the indigenous traditions. The homes have been fixed up but have kept the character that you have taken for granted. There is a Starbucks and a Subways, so there is no more desire for that down home hole-in-the-wall eatery and they have been run out of business. Where are the people you know? Well the high property taxes ran the rest of them out of the neighborhood/ward/island/city. Thinking of grabbing your trumpet and joining that Second Line that just passed by your door? The cops are about to shut it down before it gets to the next corner because your new neighbors just complained about the noise. Does the new security gate prevent you from taking food to the new neighbors during the holidays? What about church on Sunday? Oh no, that’s gone too. Replaced by the mega interfaith church outside of the neighborhood. I could go on but you know what I am saying is very familiar and you can fill in the blanks with your own stories of displacement. So with this transition, the people and culture of the neighborhood/ward/island/city has disappeared. And all of this that I have described is “gentrification.” I’m pretty sure that Webster’s does not cover the term to this magnitude.

So getting back to “Gentrifying your own self!” What I mean is sure, go away to school, join the Peace Corps, travel, spend a couple of years in that upwardly mobile place, and earn all of the promotions, but come back home. I mean do not sell the Brownstone/Row House/Creole Cottage/Seaside Rancher/80s style traditional that you have inherited. If you have not inherited one, return to your neighborhood or a place that is similar to your old neighborhood and buy one for an inexpensive mortgage. And if you happen to purchase a home where you are not familiar with the traditions, learn them. Make them yours. This way you are adding to the richness of the ‘hood, not taking from it. That money that you had planned to spend on your cookie cutter, corner lot, open
concept, granite/quartz countertops with the island prep space, stainless steel appliances, luxury en suite and so on, put that into your valuable historic home. The advantage? You can keep that hole-in-the-wall eatery on the corner that serves the best creole/lowcountry/wharfstyle/indigenous cuisine. You can keep the fruit and vegetable stand because you’re still there to buy the extra sweet peaches, ripe tomatoes, and sweet watermelon. You can go to the beach because you kept the beach access. You can grab your trumpet and join in on that Second Line that just passed by your porch, because who is going to call the cops on your own people? Do you see where I am going here? Gentrify your own self! Oh sure West This City, That City East, and Upwardly Mobile Metropolis have larger lot sizes, larger master bedrooms, larger walk-in closets, that illusion of security, the so-called best schools, and the famous mega church, but where does that really fall into the scheme of things? We are losing ourselves. Our children don’t have that cultural reinforcement they need in order to find their place in life and be successful.

This is not about separation or segregation. This is about reclaiming what is yours. This is about you finding the value in where you were raised and where your family was raised before someone else does and by the time you have realized that you gave up your diamond in the rough, it is too late to reverse that decision. This is about building a strong neighborhood that can maintain strong cultures, which is instrumental in giving our children a sense of purpose. This goes along the lines of my last post concerning the reasons, teaching history should still be relevant. Gentrify your own self! I’m talking to myself as well. It’s time for us to go home. To our real home. All of us.


Is History History?

I grew up on movies that starred “The Brat Pack” and the like. It seemed like these big named teenaged actors were always shown in some history class where the teacher droned on in a monotone about endless dates and events while students were lulled into a dull stupor. Believe it or don’t, but I actually hated high school history class and it wasn’t because I was forced to memorize that the Battle of Hastings began in 1066 (Okay I have groaned to my mother “Why oh why do we have to learn this? How will this help me find a job?” But I grew out of asking those ignorant questions). The biggest reason why I hated high school history was because I was one of three Black people in a class among students who drove Beemers, Benzes, and any other high end car that you can think of (that always gets wrapped around a tree in their respective subdivisions). Being one of the few Black students in class, was something I was very used to and actually comfortable with as a result of my elementary years being spent in Teaneck, so that wasn’t the problem. It was just that there, in an atmosphere where almost everyone was an United States immigrant, I didn’t always have to defend my Blackness. In high school, I did. It was an intellectual fight daily. Yes, I know that I went to school in Hilton Head, but it was still the south. I always found myself having to defend why I would vote for Jesse Jackson, if I could vote (I wouldn’t now); why the Civil Rights movement had to occur; and why we would not appreciate still being held in bondage. Oh yes, a classmate actually said to me that slavery was a good thing because it made us Black people more civilized (What? A continent that produced the pyramids, royalty, and early forms of government needs lessons in civilization?!?!). When I protested her stupid logic, she proceeded to call me the “N” word. Nice huh?

I did not like History class, but I loved learning History. My favorite periods are the Civil War, along with the surrounding events, and World War II. See in my readings, I know that the Civil War wasn’t just about freeing the slaves or about White people oppressing Black people. While true, it was all about economics. No one will give up something that makes money. The point I am making here is my knowledge of that, helps me to understand why in present times, the rich are getting richer and the middle and poor classes are getting the shaft. So I just demonstrated one reason why we still need to be taught history. The point with this one example is to convince people that learning history is still necessary today even among science, math, and computer technology. When history is erased, humans are not only doomed to repeat the same mistakes, but they become ignorant to cause-and-effect events that can greatly impact their lives.

Recently, I asked a question on my Facebook page if history was still relevant. There were many responses posted to the thread that suggests that it should not be cut from the school curriculum to make way for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Some of the other comments were are follows:

1) Basic Knowledge! – Most students can’t tell the difference between The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. Now you know George Washington and the other Founders of this country are rolling over in their graves.

2) Students need to know that they too can make history and be instruments of change. It’s hard to be a change agent if a person does not understand what and why something needs to be changed. For example, how would people know the significance of sections of The Voting Rights Act being repealed if they don’t know the history behind it?

3) History is political, national, and cultural identity and it needs to be taught not only from just the dominant perspective, but from all perspectives. Absolutely! Every culture has history. People who know their history understand their place in society and have a better chance of being successful.

4) History needs to be discussed as it relates to contemporary culture. Absolutely again! Learning history helps us to understand present society. It’s that whole being an instrument of change thing.

5) Parents need to be instrumental in teaching history. This means passing down personal stories (even the painful ones) and traditions. You don’t want someone else knowing more about than you know about yourself. Forewarned is forearmed.

6) Learn your history so that you don’t look like a complete fool on Twitter.
OMG, enough said…

I remember while attending Hampton, my classmates a pretty militant bunch, always talked about “His” Story being the only one that is told and we needed to learn “Our” story. As a history teacher, I am really sad to say that today’s students don’t care about “His” Story or any “Other” story. Maybe that is what the powers-that-be are feeding off of. They don’t make history a priority, because we as a society do not. In order to change that, we need to do better. We need to collectively value the lessons that came before and build on that knowledge so that we do not continue to repeat the same patterns. We need to start with our family history. I guarantee that those stories are intertwined, with “His,” “Our,” and “All” stories.

It’s All About that Culture Baby!

I think that is fair to say that it’s been more than a few weeks since I’ve posted on my blog. I actually have a good reason for that. I am going to school for my PHd. So add The University of Tennessee to my list of schools. My degree is going to be in education with a concentration in – wait for it – Cultural Studies. It’s a lot of work, this first semester. There are a lot of reading assignments and class discussions. Then I have to find time to publish journal articles (be on the look out for mine at some point), not to mention thinking about my topic for my dissertation. If you know me, it will be something about the Gullah-Geechee Culture. In addition to that, as a Cultural Studies student, I have to do service learning projects, where I give my time outside of the university to perform services that give back to the community. It’s actually a good concept because it gives students field experience rather than keeping us buried in our books. So I had been wracking my brains trying to figure out what to do. How do I tie my love of culture and history into a service learning project? Well believe it or not, the answer came to me in the form of my 8-year-old son. He always has what I call, “under the radar” knowledge. It’s that he knows something but you don’t know that he knows. But when this kid shows you what he knows in that nonchalant way of his, I don’t know about anyone else, but you can knock me over with a feather. So my eight-year-old and I were reviewing vocabulary and the word was “sew.” I asked him to tell me what it meant. So my 8-year-old responds, “You know when Granny Janie (he makes a sewing gesture) pulled the ‘string’ through the cloth?” Through my tears I told him that was exactly what she had done. I could barely hear my own voice when I asked him what the “string” was called. I couldn’t believe he remembered that Granie Janie sewed quilts. First, she was my grandmother and his great-grandmother. Secondly, she passed away when he was 5-years-old. The other thing that got to me was the impact that my grandmother had made on my son. I’m grateful for his memories. Who knows what else my grandmother left with him? Or as my father always says, and maybe he is right, “This child has been here before.” Anyway, I began to realize that everytime someone passes on, a bit of history dies with them…That is if they hadn’t passed it down to the next generation. Just yesterday in my sociology class, we discussed the fact that history courses are disappearing to make way for new subjects that would supposedly catapult us further into the 21st Century. But our history is important too and I wish that people would not forget that. After all, ef oona ent know weh oona da qwibe, oona should kno weh oona kum from (If you don’t know where you’re going, you should know where you come from).

So my idea for my project is simple: People should talk to their grandparents or the oldest person they know and ask them to tell what life was like growing up. Then write it down in a journal. That way people can keep their own history and culture alive.

So I am going to try my best to juggle my school work and hopefully find time to blog. Who knows, maybe I’ll post a journal article or two ­čśë

The Reviews for “Marshland” and “The Promise of Palmettos” are In!

If you are still not convinced that you should give Marshland and The Promise of Palmettos a read, check out reviews.

Family – Part 2

Have you ever heard that song, Family Reunion by the O’Jays? That song always takes me back to my younger days when my Dad would take us “next door” for our own family reunion. Back then, it was a one-day cookout beneath the shade trees. I can still smell the meat on the grill and the aroma wafting from the covered dishes spread out on the tables. Music would be playing in the background as we kids ate, played, looked for our names on the family tree – near the bottom, and caught up with family. Our older family members always wanted to know who we belonged to. That question was easy enough to answer. But we better know who they were as well.

Then there was the story. My father was the first person to tell it to my sister and me over the dinner table. Then I heard it again during the reunion. The story went this way: During the Civil War, our ancestors fled their mainland plantation. When they arrived at the great water with the islands in the distance, they stuffed the mouths of the babies with cotton and swam on over. That was all that was known. No one knew of their actual experiences. That story died with them. But the tale of their flight has always stayed with me. It was my husband’s idea to create a novel that would fill-in-the-blanks, and that was how Marshland was born. I could have totally missed the mark with my interpretation and crazy imagination. Or maybe I was on the right track and my ancestors helped me with my story. I would like to think it was the later. So thank you ancestors for your bravery that would earn us our island legacy. I hope I did your story justice. If you want to know how we ended up on that vast property where we now eat, dance (Most likely to that O’Jays song), and enjoy our family, I invite you to read Marshland, on Amazon.

Just click the link below.

Family – Part 1

Forgive me for not posting for a while. Between releasing a new novel and chasing a growing toddler around, this has been a hectic 30 days. Oh and I have been coordinating my family reunion…On my mother’s side. That definitely has taken a lot of out of me. It is a special time when my mother’s family gets together because we don’t get to see each other that often. When we do though, there is none of those awkward moments of trying to feel each other out. Nope. None of that. We always fall into that comfortable rhythm of people who have known each other for a lifetime. We just vibe like that.

It was unfortunate that between the early 1990s to about 2010, the reunions just…fell off. Before that point, my uncle was instrumental in bringing us all together for our reunions. He thought that it was important to 1) Know where we all come from and 2) Meet the members that make up this large family of ours. Four surnames comprise our family tree, but there are only three that are represented at the reunions, one name overwhelmingly so. That was evident as I stood up along with about 25 others during the family roll call as our surname was called. In spite of our reaching out with open arms to the other branches, that one particular surname is always the majority presence. I want to use this platform to let the other three know that they are always welcome to join our proud, history-filled, nutty, spade-playing, smack-talking, hard and soft drinking, always laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes misunderstanding, all-traveling, open-hearted, vast-political-viewing, multi-cultural, always hugging, over affectionate clan. We never ask why you went away, but we’ll always tell you that we’re happy you came.

Sadly, we lost one of us this week. While we are all grieving over the fact that he is no longer with us, we should take comfort in that he has been pulled into the welcoming bosom of those dearly departed. And you know what? They’re all happy that they are together once again, having their own reunion.

Marshland now on Amazon!