I am most definitely a city-girl. Downtown-living means being able to walk to all of the yummy restaurants (and not having to cook) plus attend all of the fun events. It’s being able to park my car on Friday afternoon and not turn the key again until Monday morning. I normally choose an apartment based primarily on location– one that situates me as close to the action as possible. My most recent move to Columbus was no exception.
Downtown Columbus (strangely called Uptown) revolves around Broadway — a beautiful tree-lined street with restaurants, people in abundance, fountains and gazebos, and even a new favorite coffee shop for me to write in. There’s also a bandstand in the middle of the avenue where a live band plays every weekend and plenty of venues with all sorts of live music and happenings in abundance. Columbus State University (CSU) is on that street as well so the walkways are filled with youthful and vibrant students running about. And just one street over, there’s also the Riverwalk with a scenic 22 mile running and hiking path along the Chatahootchie River. I was sold on Uptown after one evening of dinner and FroYo and set about finding a place to live on Broadway.
I found a place rather easily — I found two places actually. One was right in the heart of Broadway (above a bar with a 50% discount) and was beautiful:
The thing about Uptown — as lovely as it is –is that it is gentrification-in-progress. There is construction on multiple corners. Next to the spacious Irish Pub and on the same street as the craft beer shop is a store that sells women’s suits. I don’t mean power suits like you wear for your meeting on the Capitol, but the kind that church mothers wear at black churches a.k.a Church-lady suits. The male equivalent store is across the street next to the Cuban joint. And if you leave the center of Broadway, you will see old local businesses that are being converted into other spaces. Go one street over and the disrepair that used to exist on beautiful Broadway is still evident as is the still remaining (mostly black) and poor population. And it gives me a sick feeling like rolling over a speed bump at 30mph to see it.
Of course the problem with gentrification is that it brings all of the resources and business and services needed to an underfunded area, but in return, it displaces the native population, pushing them to the outskirts of their own cities with rising rents and costs of living. It also becomes dangerous to the native population as the new residents (often white) view the existing residents as foreign or criminal which can be deadly to black and brown people. Gentrification is normally done in the name of increasing tourism or bringing in revenue to a city, or expanding living areas for people – not necessarily bad things in and of themselves –but it is often done at the expense of the communities who live there. If gentrification claims to make an area better, then the question becomes: for whom does it improve living conditions? Who benefits from the increased security of an area? What schools receive the boon from the extra money?
Maybe the gentrification had already been accomplished in the other places that I have lived, or perhaps I had never really thought it through until I read about the death by gentrification of Alejandro Nieto in San Francisco, or maybe it was 99% invisible’s podcast on acro-names (i.e SOHO) and how they signal gentrification, but now I can’t stop thinking about it. And what I can’t stop thinking about is the role that I play in not just gentrification but systems of oppression. Where is my allegiance? With whom have I planted my flag? Sadly, I think that my flag has been firmly fixed in the upwardly mobile Middle Class section of the auditorium.
But lately my relationship with Jesus and the Gospel is being fundamentally challenged. Micah 6:8 has been haunting me for at least the last year.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
and to walk humbly with your God?
How do I go about “doing justice” in a world that is patently unjust? What does “doing justice” even look like on a day-to-day basis? If I am honest, what it has looked like in the past is me pulling out my checkbook and donating money to orphans, or building a well, or helping a family in need. And though that is a necessary thing, the money acts as a buffer allowing me the illusion of doing justice without having to interact directly with the marginalized or the oppressed. Kind of like voting, proudly placing the “I voted today” sticker on your chest and telling yourself that that action was sufficient to improve your community. It’s not. Just like my checks – it’s not enough.
I have a habit in the course of my racial justice work of asking other Christians: what Jesus are you following? What Gospel are you reading? Well yesterday I had to apply for something and one of the requirements was that I had to have an income level 185% greater than the federal poverty line for the number of people in my family. My income is 700% greater than the poverty limit for 1 person and about 350% greater than the limit for a family of four. About 19% of the residents of Columbus live in poverty and 28.1% of children here are growing up in poverty. Performing that short calculation and seeing that blurb regarding poverty was like looking in a mirror: what Jesus are you following, Jada? what Gospel are you reading I asked myself.*
The Jesus of the bible wasn’t upwardly mobile or middle class. In fact, he was a poor carpenter from a poor town. His allegiance was firmly with the marginalized — he sided with the poor and the oppressed. And what I am finding out is that he calls us to do the exact same.
I ended up in the apartment in the poorer area of town. The one where there are rescue missions, and churches, and homeless administrations along the street that leads to it– all dedicated to serving a poor and underfunded community. The one that accepts low-income residents on federal assistance.
And for once in my life, I’m not embarrassed that someone mistook me for a poor person. I’m not ashamed to be associated with the poor or the marginalized. This is where I have planted my flag.
*There is nothing wrong with having money and that’s not the point that I’m trying to make here.