Where Have All of The Big Mamas Gone?


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?


Spike Lee, Please Gentrify Your Own Self!

I have to admire my sister and brother-in-law. Before the recession, the young couple moved into a Florida neighborhood that was in transition. Making a home in a Spanish-style cottage with a large ficus tree in their front yard that I find awesomely Floridian (but they find it to be the bane of their existence) they had plans to throw family barbecues, raise their children, and just live life. Had the economy held, I am certain that many families, Black and White, with their same values would have found their way into the walkable neighborhood, that is located near commercial and not too far from the beach. There is even a park nearby where you can put your toddler on a stroller and just…stroll. If I lived in South Florida, I would want the house across the street. Had it all gone right, this neighborhood would be the place to live but hard to get into because of the rise in desirability. Unfortunately, the recession did happen and that cute little neighborhood did not become the wave-to-your-neighbor-from-the-porch-where-everybody-knows-your-name-invite-everyone-over-for-barbecue-go-for-a-stroll-with-the-kids-and-oh-did-you-redo-your-bathroom-my-house-is-worth-a-fortune-after-ten-years-and-I-am-jealous-but-really-happy-for-you-kind-of-neighborhood. Instead, my sister and brother-in-law’s neighborhood is… a place that they want to leave. And I don’t blame them. Their neighborhood is so on the other end of the spectrum from what they expected, that it’s not even remotely funny. My sister and I actually had this discussion a few weeks ago. She is awesome in that she reads everything that I write so she had been following my Gentrify Your Own Self! series. After about the second or third “gentrification” post, she asked what I thought was a pretty good question: When do you say that the safety and happiness of my family is more important than trying to gentrify myself? My answer: Safety and happiness is always the first priority.

If my sister does move elsewhere, I do know that two things are certain:
1) She and her family did their best while living there. They kept a nice home and were good neighbors. They were just ahead of their time.
2) If the neighborhood does turn into what it should have been, she won’t get angry at those who decided to take their own chances and move in because she knows that like her, they saw the neighborhood for its potential.

I haven’t actually gotten to the real point of this post yet but I am about to. Sometimes, I wish I were rich in money. If I were, I would have bought homes in my sister’s neighborhood long ago and worked hard to turn it into the flourishing area that it was meant to be. I guess the universe heard me talking because over the last few days, I have been seeing across my Facebook newsfeed these articles about actors/screenwriter/director, Spike Lee – Yes, creator of one of my favorite movies, School Daze – go off on gentrification.
When I read the first article and listened to his addressing this audience about the subject, I cracked up. It was like listening to a comedy routine with some real truths about how gentrification can negatively impact people of color. I understood exactly what he was saying. I related. His father could not play his guitar in a place he’d lived in for over four decades, my family can no longer go fishing in the waterholes they’d known about for over two centuries. ‘Hoods that Spike Lee grew up knowing had been renamed and our ‘hoods on Hilton Head are … What exactly is a sea pine? He talked about raised rents, uncollected garbage, and enough dogs for the Westminster Dog Show. I have witnessed property tax hikes, eminent domain, and limited beach access. So while Spike Lee sounded funny when he went off, it actually can be a bad situation for those people who remain behind. Then I read the second and third articles… Those, I found less amusing. If you will bear with me, I am working through some really deep emotions. Spike Lee wrote some really awesome films. I love, love, love, the Brooklyn Brownstones featured in several of them. Heck, I wanted one of them. I really respected how Spike Lee represented his roots in each of his films. But according to the articles I read, he sold his home for his personal reasons. And of course now, his home is worth quadruple the price he sold it for, but eh what’s a few million dollars when you’re making movies that people still enjoy watching? But it is his right to sell his home if he wants to. We cannot control that. If you recall, I actually wrote about this in The Promise of Palmettos. What he does not have the right to do, after choosing to sell his real estate/home/heritage/culture/legacy, is to go off on people who saw the Brooklyn neighborhoods for the good investment that they are and acted on it.
I wish (please forgive me, Spike Lee because it pains me to say it) that he really had seen the future in Fort Greene and the other Brooklyn neighborhoods. All of these actors and entertainers coming out of Fort Greene, Bedford Stuyvesant, Harlem, Boogie Down, Mount Vernon, and other communities in NYC and not one of them thought it was a good idea to reinvest in their own real estate/home/heritage/culture/legacy?! If anybody could have gentrified their own selves, Spike Lee and these other entertainers could have. It would not have been easy. It’s not for anyone. It is doable. It was doable for my family on Hilton Head Island. And if you want to talk NYC, my own family who lives in Harlem (What did they say it was called now?) still lives there. Why oh why didn’t Spike Lee take to heart the script he had written in Do the Right Thing ? You know that scene where the three old Black men who had hung out at the side of Sal’s Pizzeria stared narrow-eyed at the Asian grocer for having “the nerve” to try to make a living in their neighborhood. Art imitates life. Spike Lee, through his movies, saw gentrification coming. He had the means to maybe not prevent it, but benefit from it, in a way that his father could still play his acoustic guitar as loudly as he wanted, he could have had his Michael Jackson party and do all of the things that made Fort Greene, well… Fort Greene. And yes, it may have still been the “Westminster Dog Show,” because a great neighborhood is a great neighborhood. It draws people of all cultures that we have to learn to respect and enjoy. Not eradicate.
Am I being judgmental? Maybe I am. However, I am not going to dictate the social responsibility of every Black person of means but I want to give people something to think about. I also want to let Spike Lee know that it is not too late to Gentrify His Own Self, if he chooses to. I implore him and others to think about ways that we can make gentrification beneficial to our own community because it’s not going away no matter how loudly we protest and how many “F” bombs we drop. As for my sister and brother-in-law, if they do decide to leave, it means that they’ll have the opportunity to make their mark somewhere else. The most important thing is that they are happy.

If you have not had a chance to read Spike Lee’s thoughts on Gentrification, please view the article below:


Gentrify Your Own Self: The Hubby Edition

Please welcome guest blogger and my husband, Kevin Edward DuBose, who has some insight into this recent winter snowstorm and why it is becoming increasingly important to Gentrify Your Own Self! I expect he will be gracing us more with his blogging talent in the future. Without further ado, I would like to present Gentrify Your Own Self: The Hubby Edition.

Courtesy of USA Today

Courtesy of USA Today

The snowpacalytic events of the past couple of days have motivated me to jump in on the Gentrify Your Own Self! movement and put in my two cents. I think the missus is on to something with her recent blog posts. Be warned, I am not the writer she is. However, like my better half, I am a trained city planner. And I too see something incredibly wrong with our American Dream. In fact, symptoms of the problem are being played out live and in color on CNN as I type this. Yes I am talking the weather but I am also talking about our lifestyles.

Poor Atlanta! They are the poster children of dysfunction today. And the rest of the country wonders how two inches of snow can shut down the Capital of the South. The Governor of Georgia is blaming the weatherman. The CNN anchorwoman is ‘tryna read’ the Mayor of Atlanta (Notice my quoting the Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) there…) Ms. Anchorwoman should proceed with caution, because Mayor Kasim Reed don’t play (excuse the grammar please). His neighbor is Khandi Buress and she will send Momma Joyce and her aunties up there to tell her something. Meanwhile, in the midst of this madness, people are stuck on the highways and kids are disconnected from their families while they ride out the situation in their school lunchrooms.

Would we have this problem, if we truly had neighborhood schools like we used to? Let’s face it, the neighborhood school thing is dead. We keep sending our kids further and further away to school and we continue to move further away from the urban core. Back in the day, if a kid was stuck at the school or in route home, no problem. Momma or Daddy or someone would strap on the timberlands and hike up to the school. Problem solved. A snow day used to be a grand thing. We are getting out early? Cool! Let the cabbage patch dancing begin! Now we are terrified about our buses sliding off a rural road or children being stuck miles away from home.

So who is really to blame here? Well the problem is us. Yes you and me and everyone else trying to make the Joneses green with envy. My wife has discussed the HGTV house hunter mindset that is destroying our urban core. I won’t rehash that. But please note that our neighborhood busting ways are causing major problems with regard to urban services. Our kids don’t go to school within 2-3 miles anymore. We don’t have sidewalks (in most communities) any more. Thus, the simple task of getting kids home on a snowy day is a bigger challenge than it should be.

So what is the answer? How can we fix the problem? Urban schools are being closed by the dozens every year while new state-of-the-art schools are being built in the suburbs. Families who live in the urban areas drive by closed and abandoned schools to take their kids to whatever is left. Suburban kids have 45-minute bus rides to and from school. I feel like Dap on School Daze, as I scream “Waaaaake Uuuuuup!” people.

Unlike my wife, I am not suggesting that you consider the incredible cute cottages and Victorian houses in the old neighborhood as places to raise your family. Forget about those split level houses and 1950 ranchers that dot the neighborhoods around downtown. You don’t want to live where schools are in walking distance and sidewalks connect the commercial areas and parks. You deserve a big 5000 square foot house for you and little Fluffy the Poodle. You deserve that three car garage and double tray ceiling. Stay where you are. In fact, move even further away from the City. Meanwhile, I have got a fool proof plan to fix everything. Drum roll please! The way to fix the problem is real simple people (Why do I have to think of these things?) Here is the concept: Let’s put the schools inside of WalMart. I guarantee there is one of those close to everyone in the suburbs. And we can always get to Walmart. The road to Walmart is the best salted road in the entire neighborhood.

And as Ne Ne Leakes of RHOA would say after she makes her point, Boop!