Politicizing our memories: Have we forgotten the history of Middle East Baltimore?

 

Our memory is also a struggle for memory against forgetting…The struggle for memory against forgetting requires the politicization of memory, distinguishing nostalgia from remembering that serve to illuminate and transform the present” bell hooks

This morning was overcast, clouds suggesting it may rain at any moment. There was a lot of activity on the 900 block of N. Wolfe street, extending down the 1100 block to Chase Street. The activities being planned were part of the newest addition to the re-branding of the neighborhood. The 7-acre park opening today is part of the 88-acre redevelopment of the Johns Hopkins Biotech Park that started in 2001. This is Middle East Baltimore, slowly being rebranded by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister non-profits of the ‘non-profit industrial complex’, the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, and the new inhabitants who are slowly moving into the neighborhood. ‘Eager Park’ is the new brand. This re-branding is nothing atypical in a developing area. And it’s not atypical either that the name is chosen, or ‘suggested’ by the developers and their proxies-in this case Forest City and East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI). But the rebranding this morning is something that we must remember. The remembering that bell hooks talks about. Because if we forget again, we will re-live this process of displacement of another neighborhood again. This remembering is a politicization because it recognizes the power of a continuous exploitation of one group to benefit another and resultant  inequity that exists today.

The new 7-acre, $14 million park in Middle East Baltimore, ‘Eager Park’

The flyers touting the parks’ opening celebrations from 8:30am until 5:00pm included a parade, ribbon cutting, and a festival; a DJ and dancing, several marching bands, and the children from the new school-also part of the 88-acre redevelopment. There would be dance and musical performances and fitness demonstrations in the brand new amphitheater in the park. The name of the park was decided by the developers and their design contractors, ‘Eager Park’.  The hope was that the $14 million park would usher in the re-branding of the area. There was no mention of the history of the naming of the area that the new parks’ name was attempting to erase, forget.

Why forget? It is important for the powerful developers of this 88-acre development assure that we forget that more than 750 Black families were displaced to make room for this 7-acre park and everything else being developed. The initial master plan made no mention that residents were being forced off their land to make room for a park. The rhetoric in 2001 was that displacement had to occur to demolish the almost 2000 homes in this ‘blighted’ and abandoned area. In order to use eminent domain to take private land and pass on to a private developer, the city government partnered with the university, like it did in the 1950s. That time the government policy that subsidized this private developer’s wealth gain was urban renewal. The first master plan in 2001 justified the development using eminent domain to acquire resident’s homes through the rhetoric of public benefit via 8000 new jobs in the 5 biotech parks and the various amenities.  Sixteen years later the project has provided less than 1500 new jobs. The plan made no mention of how the displaced residents would be able to return: it was a one-way ticket out of the area to make room for the new race and class that the powerbrokers felt could ‘renew’ the area. For the prestigious medical institutions and its partners it’s important for those moving in to forget this history or never know it.

The ribbon cutting ceremony in the amphitheater of the new park, with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

The ribbon cutting ceremony with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

Why is it important to remember this history? This development happening today is the same type of development that happened in the 1950s. We have mostly forgotten about the 1950s urban renewal project -Broadway Redevelopment Project- where 59 acres was acquired by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its partners for expansion. It was remarkably similar to this current redevelopment-displacement of more than 1000 majority Black families. There was housing for students and staff, professional buildings (now we call these biotech buildings), a hotel, retail and amenities to support the needs of the new inhabitants. This memory is political and is required if we are to ‘illuminate and transform the present’. If we (SMEAC, Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc, the community organization that changed the way the development occurred) had remembered during our struggle for equity during the early years of this current development, we would have leveraged this history. But we didn’t know and those who knew at some point, those who were actually involved in the struggle in the 1950s and 1960s either forgot or felt overwhelmed by the challenge before us. Our collective memory of this history would have confirmed that the political powers of majority White institutions, in Baltimore the Johns Hopkins University and Medical systems, continue to take what they want without regard for their neighbors. We would have confirmed how this continuous exploitation of land on the backs of poor and Black communities is another part of the history of serial forced displacement. We would have affirmed that yet again, the white powerful elite and the government had partnered to segregate those different from themselves by displacing them. Like this current development, the 1950s developers had no intention of assuring that existing residents could return-none did because the new housing was unaffordable for them. Had we known of this history, we would have used this information in our organizing campaign. We would have proposed policy and legislation that would delineate how development must occur: in partnership and with control from the historic residents currently occupying the space. We would have assured that the legislation to build affordable housing was built had more teeth. Because 16 years later, of the 1200 new housing units planned, there remains no affordable housing for ownership.

Today there is a petition by two different community members to rename the park, in line with the history of the area. One of the names suggested is ‘The Lucille Gorham Park’. Recently deceased, Ms. Gorham (who named the community ‘Middle East Baltimore’) was a long-time community activist who lived her adult life attempting to increase public support for renewing her neighborhood, without displacement of her neighbors. Much of her work focused on engaging with different members of the institution to stop the continuous encroachment and gentrification by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. In the 1980s she received a commitment from the then president of the university that the institution would not expand beyond Madison street. She had participated in a development project in the 1960s –Gay Street 1 Project- where this continuous encroachment was not the only way to change a neighborhood. The Gay Street 1 developed an area of less than 50 acres with a grassroots emphasis, residents made the decisions and participated directly in the master plan and the development. After her years of struggle to stop the university from swallowing up her neighborhood she was eventually displaced for this 88-acre Biotech Park. ‘Eager Park’; the park rolled over the previous commitment by the university not to expand northward beyond Madison. The outcome of forgetting.

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s Broadway Redevelopment Project

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s-1960s Broadway Redevelopment Project

This morning I chatted with several residents, new and historic. Two of them were residents displaced for this new park; both actually lived on the ground that is now being used for a park. Their comments: “why did we have to move for a park, a park?’; ‘this is a sore spot for me, can’t talk about it”. The new residents felt differently, they saw hope: “ I think the kids will benefit from seeing something different than all those abandoned houses that were here before”. Everyone is speaking from their experiences, what they lived and are living. There is no doubt that the development and its amenities will bring benefit. The questions of ‘who must be sacrificed for the benefit of others’ and ‘why must the  same group of people be sacrificed’ remains unanswered. The question of process and outcome remains unanswered. These are not impossible questions to answer but they are questions that beg us to look into the root of the way we have built our society. Our history can benefit us in looking into these roots. Why were these neighborhoods segregated and disinvested in the first place? Why do we continue to feel justified in segregating those who are most affected by this history of segregation and disinvestment. Memory is political because it reminds us of a history that requires attending to, so we don’t keep doing the same things today and in the future.

Reference: Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America . Lexington Books, 2012.  Text is available free here. Click on book content.

Rebuilding East Baltimore: “taking too much”, segregating, and policing

For more than 80 years, as the neighborhoods surrounding the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in East Baltimore campus changed from white to majority black, the institution has segregated itself, first with walls and then increasing security and off-duty police, and now a K-9 unit. They fear their neighbors and build greater measures to secure themselves from their neighbors. In the 1950s, after displacement of 1000 families and taking the 59 acres they occupied, the institution built physical walls to keep residents out of their newly constructed housing- their “compound”. Displaced residents would have to walk around this compound to get to their destination, previously accessible.

Not unlike the planned exploitation of land for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the university has taken land and displaced its neighbors in small (one house at a time) and large ways (more than 1000 families at a time), mostly black and low income residents. During the current ceremony to protect the land and water by indigenous peoples and other water protectors at Standing Rock, the emphasis of white colonialism and its greed to take only for itself was emphasized as the way America began and continues:

“The Lakota word for “white man” is Wasi’chu (Wa SHE choo). Wasi’chu means literally, “takes too much.” …[The story goes, at] a time when the Europeans arrived, a starving immigrant showed up in a Lakota camp. Nutrient rich tallow fat from the sacred buffalo was drying on racks in the sun. Without asking, the man seized and consumed all the tallow that he saw hanging there. “He didn’t leave any for anyone else. The Lakota had never observed that behavior before.” So the Lakota word for “white man” describes this takes-too-much behavior and attitude–a manifestation of his thought process–not his skin color. The term Wasi’chu applies to any non-native.

The “takes too much” behavior of the Wasi’chu encapsulates metaphorically what the Standing Rock movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is about. As the indigenous peoples of North America come together and pray–creating an historic movement to prevent Wasi’chu’s latest desecration of nature–they illuminate a profound difference between the everyday holistic consciousness that has guided indigenous peoples since Paleolithic times, and the everyday aggressively anthropocentric (human-centered) consciousness that has led to our contemporary world.” (Contemplative Alliance)

This “takes too much” attitude and practice is alive and well in the contemporary leadership of East Baltimore and Baltimore city’s largest employer: The Johns Hopkins Medical institutions. It’s the basis of how rebuilding of the community has occurred for the past 80 years. Similar to the way the DAPL planned its route through indigenous peoples’ land without consulting with them, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions planned its recent 88-acre Bioscience Park without consultation with the neighbors who would be displaced to make room for the development. After acquiring the land and demolishing buildings through the support of government, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and its proxy East Baltimore Development Inc (EBDI), the shiny new buildings and facilities are slowly being erected- two new biotech buildings, a bioethic institute, a new school, a new hotel, a 7-acre park, luxury and moderate-income ownership housing, and moderate and low-income rental housing.

jhmi-expansion

While the institution expands itself and markets to a different race and class, it ignores the challenges of the historic residents it displaced. The drug dealing, crime, and outcome of decades of abandonment and disenfranchisement were displaced to other neighborhoods. But crime does not stay confined to areas of poverty, crime spreads to areas of resources. And it is spreading into the campuses of Johns Hopkins University and hospital. Instead of digging in and understanding the root cause of the crime-structural inequities- the university again chooses to build greater walls, through increased security. This is reflected in the following excerpt from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Corporate Security, (November 30 2016) in regard patrol strategy, partnership with the Baltimore police department, and security technology:

  • Patrol Strategy

“Our Corporate Security team maintains a robust patrol presence on and in areas immediately adjacent to our campuses. We are continually adjusting our security resources on and around our campuses to best mitigate crime and enhance visibility by increasing our mobile, bike and foot patrols. Over the past year on the East Baltimore campus, Corporate Security has significantly enhanced security coverage with additional protective services officers, who are now posted in the commercial area expansion to the north, with two additional mobile patrols and the assignment of off-duty Baltimore police officers. A new canine program will launch in mid-December. This team of specially trained dogs and their handlers from Corporate Security’s special response unit will patrol parking garages, hospital corridors, the Emergency Departments and other locations throughout the East Baltimore campus to help prevent and defuse volatile confrontations, and to detect explosives. The dogs will also be on call to bolster security at other Johns Hopkins campuses should the need arise. On the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus, Corporate Security has increased patrols on the southeast side adjacent to the residential community where many of our staff members live. Mobile patrols are focused on monitoring staff and community members as they enter and exit the campus.”

  • Partnership with the Baltimore Police Department

“A key partner in our security response is the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). Corporate Security has always had strong relationships with the BPD, including the leadership of the eastern and southeastern districts, where our East Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Bayview campuses are located, and street patrol officers. The BPD and Corporate Security share information and support each other’s work daily, a collaboration that, again, helps in our response as incidents occur. In addition, Johns Hopkins University faculty members are partnering with BPD on the Collaborative for Violence Reduction, a research and practical application initiative informed by the best scientific evidence, by marshalling our academic expertise in public safety, violence prevention and gun control.”

  • Security Technology

“Corporate Security has more than 250 close -circuit television (CCTV) cameras  around  the exterior of the East Baltimore campus. A little over 1,200 cameras in total cover the entire campus (internal and external) of approximately 9.5 million square feet (not including seven garages). The cameras report back to a state-of-the-art communications center. On the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus, Corporate Security has increased our CCTV capabilities to provide video coverage to monitor pedestrian traffic in and out of the adjacent neighborhood and along the public properties that traverse the campus.”

The challenges of East Baltimore are indeed the problems of every one of us who live, work, study, pray, and play in the city of Baltimore. People, and the institutions and systems and structures created by the people, whose value is “taking too much” and “leaving too little” for others, have created the problems we now face in our most disenfranchised and abandoned communities. This value of forging forward while others next door to you are left behind, this rugged individualism is American, white American to be more specific. One can see the jarring result of such individualism in places like East Baltimore where the socioeconomic gap between two geographic neighbors have continued to grow over the years, reflected by the expansion of the institution from one square block to more than seven; and the displacement of historic residents and acquisition of their homes to accommodate these takings. In order to address the root causes we must individually and collectively be willing to identify our role in the cause and our role in the solution. We must acknowledge the structural and individual racism and classism that has built and rebuilt communities of poverty, crime, and drug addiction, diminished life-expectancy, diminished health, diminished housing, education, nutrition, recreation, and transportation. The “taking too much” practice has “left too little” in our communities of color and low income. The resulting crime is a problem of inequity; the greater the inequity the greater the violence.

community-benefit-table

But crime is a problem not only for those behind highly secured spaces like the Johns Hopkins campuses. It is a problem in the same communities that these institutions continue to segregate. And crime is an assault on our freedom and health for those inside these highly secured spaces, and outside. The institution boasts of the number of people it employs and its billion-dollar industry in the state. It publishes regular reports on its community engagement again boasting about its role in being a ‘good’ neighbor, providing economic and social inclusion, etc etc. But what it has not boasted about, in the past or recently, is its perception of the community in which the East Baltimore campus resides and its lack of innovative participation in addressing the decades of disinvestment and exploitation-by itself and the city. It, along with universities nationwide, have attached themselves to the service-learning model of community outreach. This model boasts about the countless hours that students provide to community projects but fails to address the lack of cultural competence, and the colonizing and white supremacist attitudes carried by many of the students who are thrusted upon marginalized communities. These are the same communities that the institution fears, segregates itself from, and demonizes with a police presence.

Race and class segregation has resulted in separate and unequal communities like Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its neighbors. It has resulted in the increased wealth of the campus and increased poverty of the communities surrounding it through physical expansion of one group and physical removal of another. This continued serial forced displacement of the vulnerable and marginalized communities of low income and color, and its legacy must be addressed to expose the root causes so as to develop effective solutions. Solutions will not come from researchers developing methods unilaterally without advice from those impacted. We must be willing to engage across differences, welcome in discomfort and unfamiliarity of each other, listen to each others stories. Only then can we begin to understand what each other think and why. With these new understanding we can move toward changing our perceptions and heal the wounds of separation and fear and move toward greater understanding and community-informed solutions. Hiding behind guns, walls, cameras, and dogs simply hides the problem and prolongs the trauma and violence of inequity. Many community members fear the institution, this “plantation” presence in their community with so much power to determine whether they will be able to stay in their homes. This is a basic fear for the right to shelter and all that is attached to the human right to housing and health.

Those with power must acknowledge how their power came to be and be humble and wise enough to finally repair the violence enacted by “taking too much”: this has and continues to be a crime against humanity. This requires a recognition that  power enlivened by greed, hatred, and delusion is an abuse of privilege and is oppressive to people everywhere. Those without must challenge the powerful to live into their humanity at the same time living into their own power. Out of this awakening a new value of “taking less and leaving more” must arise and for this to happen, no one can stand aside anymore.

Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park and Mother Teresa: Contradictions, uneven development, change

It was the perfect day for highlighting contradictions on Saturday afternoon in Middle East Baltimore- the 88-acre area neighborhood demolished after more than 800 families were forced to move to make way for the Bioscience Park at Johns Hopkins. Promising 8,000 jobs to local residents and a redevelopment that would benefit the existing community, the project has yet to deliver on either of these, 15 years later. In Middle East Baltimore on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon the celebration of recently canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who served the poor endlessly, was happening at St. Wenceslaus Hall on Madison and Duncan. Meanwhile, two blocks down the street at Rutland and Eager, the rich and powerful Johns Hopkins University was making sure that the area they cleared of low income, working poor black folks, would be inhabited by those they felt deserved the land: their employees and others of similar class. They were having their lottery drawing to pick the employees who would receive a $36,000 grant toward purchasing one of the new luxury homes being built -starting in the upper $200,000‘s. There were up to 50 lots for purchase that day.

Johns Hopkins Open House, $36,000 grant to employees, September 10 2016

Johns Hopkins Open House, $36,000 grant to employees, September 10 2016

At the church hall the Sisters of Charity who live in the nunnery next to St. Wenceslaus Church on Collington Avenue, the order Mother Teresa belonged to, in their white and blue striped robes were preparing the hall for the feast of celebration. After the mass, they were moving around the hall making sure neighbors and churchgoers had enough to eat, and take home. If you drove to the celebration mass – lead by Archbishop Lori- and lunch you could park on Madison or in the parking lot behind the hall. Of the more than 100 celebrants who attended no one appeared fearful of where to park or the adjacent houses, mostly boarded. Over at the Johns Hopkins Open House however, there were assistants helping potential home-buyers find parking on the street, making sure no one was robbed while parking. A story of contradiction of talk and of intention.

New town homes in MIddle East Baltimore, starting in the upper $200,000's

New town homes in Middle East Baltimore, starting in the upper $200,000’s

But the contradictions don’t begin or end here. The area being redeveloped has been a contradiction in the making. From the way the majority of residents and businesses living in the neighborhood in 2001 learned that they would be displaced- through the newspaper- to the resistance by Johns Hopkins personnel to acknowledge publicly that the development would be for their expansion. From the use of eminent domain to take people’s property for a private development to the rhetoric that it would serve the public good even while the first retail shop did not accept food stamps. The 7-acre park, including a dog-park, spits in the face of residents who had to move for land better served by dog’s urine. The message is clear: to serve the rich we must displace the poor! From the stress and illness caused by serial forced displacement to the fact that it was instigated to benefit a renown health care institution. From the withholding of the truth by then-president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation of consultant’s attendance at meetings -advising against the intention, process, and outcome of the Hopkins expansion- to the continuous rhetoric of transparency and accountability. And it goes on.

These contradictions and corruptions do not go un-noticed. Last week, only four days before the big Johns Hopkins Open House to sell the community as the new up-and-coming gentrified area, EBDI’s* office on the 1700 block of Chase street was vandalized; a brick thrown into the glass door. This vandalism is not new to the security guard-patrolled area. Within the last 7 months, two row houses on the same block as EBDI’s office, in the same square block of the pending luxury town homes sold-off on Saturday, have been vandalized in the same way.# Nothing stolen, bricks from the same razing occurring down the street thrown into the shiny glass doors of the newly renovated row houses. Neighbors in and outside of the 88-acre area are aware of the contradictions and showing their awareness.

EBDI, East Baltimore Development Inc. office at 1731 E. Chase, recently vandalized

EBDI, East Baltimore Development Inc. office at 1731 E. Chase, recently vandalized

Some new inhabitants of the renovated houses near EBDI’s office also show their contradiction in intention. New to the neighborhood and saying they want to get to know residents who originally lived there, they show their contradictions by putting their trash in the bins of these very neighbors they want to get to know better, even when asked not to do so. These neighbors happen to be new white inhabitants of the gentrifying area who feel it is okay to place their trash into the bins of historic neighbors. [There is a thread here, one of moving what we consider “trash” away from us so we do not have to continuously see it…fear of the unknown driven by socially constructed judgements?] This is the new community-building occurring, kept quiet so that the gentrification continues and eventually removes all historic residents. This type of social engineering that Johns Hopkins, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and EBDI initiated-building a mixed-income community- is a contradiction in intention and practice. None of these powerful stakeholders care to address the history of racism and classism which has existed between Johns Hopkins and the community for more than 70 years. A 70-year history of Johns Hopkins pushing people out of their homes for expansion, in large form and small form-ie the 1950’s Broadway Redevelopment Project which expanded Hopkins into 59 acres after displacing over 1000 majority poor and black families. Instead in 2002-2006 the university again directed the displacement of another 800 families, this time for 88-acres of land with no plan for them to return and engineered the rebuilding and rebranding of this historic community of black people.

The current executive director, Ray Skinner, stated that only housing for incomes at $60,000 and above will be built going forward and no more affordable housing would be built (per EBDI community meting summer 2016). With 1400 units planned, there is no evidence that more than 450 affordable units are currently built as dictated by legislation. If Mr. Skinner chooses to use the Johns Hopkins Student housing (more than 500 units) as evidence of affordable housing, he should be reminded that during negotiations (in the mid-2000s) and written in the minutes of meetings with EBDI, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and SMEAC (Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc) it was clearly stated that student housing do not count as affordable housing. It is also written in the legislation stating that 1/3 affordable, 1/3 moderate income, and 1/3 market rate income housing, divided equally between rental and ownership units, should be built. While EBDI representatives at that time suggested that student housing should qualify as affordable housing, it was made clear that this was negotiating in bad faith and hypocritical to the intention of affordable housing for citizens of East Baltimore and beyond-another contradiction.

Chapel Green rental units in the foreground; behind from left to right parking garage, Johns Hopkins student housing; behind this is the Johns Hopkins BIotech building. In foreground on the right, homes previously occupied by residents remain standing next to the 7-acre park area. (1800 block E. Chase, and Wolfe St.)

Chapel Green rental units in the left foreground; behind from left to right parking garage, Johns Hopkins student housing; behind this is the Johns Hopkins Rangos Biotech building. In foreground on the right, homes previously occupied by residents remain standing next to the 7-acre park area. (1800 block E. Chase, and Wolfe St. in the 88-acre gentrification area of Bioscience Park at Johns Hopkins)

In late 1990s/early 2000s Portland Oregon’s HOPE VI project, low-income residents who returned to the mixed-income development had difficulty getting along with the new inhabitants. There was no trust between these two groups and the returning residents reported that the new moderate-income inhabitants, the owners, the landlords, and the housing managers discriminated against them in various ways. Here in the 88-acre gentrification project of Johns Hopkins University, some residents of the newly developed rental units of Chapel Green are reporting the same type of discrimination by housing management and new residents. They are being told not to barbecue in the back of their units, not to sit on the steps. This type of social engineering also occurred in Portland and resulted in distrust and lack of cohesion between the rich and poor residents, and the returning and new inhabitants. This mistrust escalated and resulted in a shooting. In light of this history of conflict in these types of redevelopment/gentrification projects, in 2010 it was proposed to the Annie E. Casey Foundation and EBDI that a truth and reconciliation process needed to occur to heal the past and current division between Johns Hopkins’s violence in Middle East Baltimore before a new cohesive community could be formed. These suggestions fell on deaf years. The vandalism and the continued contradictions foretell the future of this gentrifying area if such a process does not occur. There is healing that must occur and unless the powerful stakeholders address this contradiction in rhetoric and practice, no amount of social engineering will assure a peaceful community grows out of this legacy of structural violence: racism, classism.

Addressing the contradiction of how this 88-acre expansion of Johns Hopkins University/Medical Campus will benefit the local area is crucial. We can begin with: where are the jobs for local people? It is not sufficient to say that people do not qualify. If the project was ever intended to benefit local residents, this challenge to employment would have been part of the planning and implementation of redevelopment of the area and would have established a process to help residents qualify for upcoming jobs: drug rehabilitation, mental health services, job-readiness programs, GRE programs, credit history challenge. These and similar services would have started to address the inequitable conditions resulting from decades of disinvestment and exploitation by systems of public:private partnerships building their wealth in these very same communities. Such planning would have occurred well in advance of the forced displacement. Equitable planning would have included residents to advise what benefit for local residents and businesses actually look like; not just benefit for the powerful Johns Hopkins University and similar privileged brokers.

Crime continues in Middle East Baltimore, even though it has been re-branded with a name to silence the history of the 21st century “negro removal” that occurred. Shootings, by police and residents, drug dealing, squatting, all continue in the 88-acre area and the peripheral neighborhoods, and beyond. The acts of vandalism occurred while security guards on foot, on segways, and in cars patrolled the 88-acre area. Human walls, in the shape of security guards, have replaced cement walls of the past used by the Johns Hopkins University to “keep out its neighbors” but neither will address this history of systematic and structural violence perpetuated by the powerful people of the city and state of Maryland. This historical trauma lives in the minds, bodies, and spirits of residents of Middle East Baltimore, even with the re-branding. Johns Hopkins University continues to proclaim that it calls Middle East Baltimore its home. But that is rhetoric in light of the billions spent over the decades to consistently remove the people who inhabit Middle East Baltimore and replace them with a class and race of people whom it feels represents itself and of which it is not afraid. Our local media, fearful of the powerful giant and its friends, sings the praises of the university and report out untruths about their willingness to rehab houses for existing residents before displacement occurred. Or perhaps the local media prefers to do superficial research listening only to the ones who have the resources and access to resources. An appropriate summary of this type of media control is provided by the African Proverb: Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.

crime-baltimoremideast

The university, and it public:private partnerships throughout the years have directly and indirectly participated in the disinvestment of Middle East Baltimore and much of East Baltimore. Instead of addressing this with transparency and accountability, it has chosen to push away the problem through displacement of residents, churches, and businesses. It guards itself with a security budget and force which has continuously grown. The solution is not policing, as is apparent with the killing of Freddie Gray and many more like him. During the Uprising in April 2015 the National Guard was circulating and protecting the Johns Hopkins Hospital, like the other places of power and wealth in the city. These places of power, knowing the truth of how they achieved their resources, fear when the people rise up to take back what was wrongfully taken.This may well be the faith of the Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park until a process of truth and reconciliation occurs. Continuing on this course of deepening the hole of structural and institutional racism and classism in the guise of gentrification and science will bring no resolution to our country’s and our city’s history and legacy of separate and unequal. And this way of rebuilding continues to provide examples for how the city distributes the taxes of its residents to developers like Johns Hopkins University, Sagamore Development (in proposing more than 660 million tax benefit for a white enclave of Port Covington), and Beatty Construction (building Harbor Point for the creative class and receiving millions in tax benefit). The trickle-down economics did not work when the city subsidized the Inner Harbor, the Charles Center, or Harbor Point. When you keep doing the same thing, how can you expect something different to result?

This continued path of uneven development has not benefited our most vulnerable citizens of Baltimore. Public parks, schools, recreation centers, food markets, housing and libraries in our most disenfranchised neighborhoods continue a path of disinvestment and deterioration. And the people inhabiting these places provide the evidence of this history of uneven development and investment: in substandard and unsafe housing, substandard education, decreased life expectancy, under employment, increased incarceration, overweight and obesity, stress, and chronic illnesses. When will this path of inequity end? What would Saint Mother Teresa say today to the growing inequality between the rich and the poor being socially engineered by Johns Hopkins University and the city of Baltimore in her neighborhood of Middle East Baltimore and beyond? We cannot allow this to continue Baltimore.

Saint Mother Teresa

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

A racial equity assessment is needed in Baltimore. Such an assessment would help to shape laws, fund equitable and sustainable development policies capable of being implemented and evaluated, direct appropriate use of tax dollars for disinvested communities and people, promote honest dialogue followed by transparency and accountability, and redistribute the wealth gained through exploitation of its most vulnerable citizens. This will begin a path toward equity: an honest and fearless path which meets the difficult history with a fresh plan and action for peaceful change.

*EBDI- East Baltimore Development Inc. the quasi public-private development entity created by then Mayor O”Malley to carry out the development. The board did not feel it necessary to have any residents from the impacted community on this board and was forced through protests to allow residents on the board. However decisions continued to be made by the powerful board members representing Johns Hopkins University, Annie E. Casey and other Foundations, and the Mayor’s office.
#Data suggest that the crimes reported by residents/businesses and collected by the Baltimore Police Department does not correlate with actual crime committed. Two of the three vandalism incidents noted were not reported to the police. After having my car broken into on the 2100 block of Madison recently, the police officer said I should not file a report, that it would take too much time and he would have to call another officer. He asked me “what would it do?”

Port Covington or Port Covet-a-ton

Wow, the drama of exploitation does not seem to end here in Baltimore. This most recent one shows billionaire developer Kevin Plank coveting-a-ton of our tax dollars in the guise of Port Covington. This time it’s 535 (or 660, the directors have not quite settled on a nice round figure yet) million dollars in tax increment financing (TIF) to develop a 7,500-unit housing complex, retail and office space. Wish as it may the city can’t afford to lavish such benefit on Mr. Plank-owner of Under Armour-, whose wealth accumulation is championed by Sagamore Development in this drama. So the state has stepped up to accommodate his continued accumulation of asset, by guaranteeing the bonds on the backs of the people. Oh yes, and exempting him from city law requiring affordable housing. Port Covet-a-ton

Never mind we’re still recovering from the exploitive drama (in laywoman’s term, recent injustice) that occurred in 2013 in and outside of city hall when City Council member Carl Stoke’s Taxation and Finance Committee attempted to stop this coveting-of-a ton by millionaire, Michael Beatty. But the committee’s hearing and decision was usurped by private dollars and government cronies to grant Mr. Beatty subsidies for his Harbor Point Development. This one granted subsidies in the amount of 120 million dollars. Harbor PointIt followed on the heals of Paterakis’s development in Harbor East, also heavily subsidized (with TIFs and PILOTs) by the government. This continued ‘theater of exploitation’ (in layman’s term, neoliberalization- or letting the market determine what’s best for the citizens- of urban spaces) of Baltimore by private developer’s greed for wealth accumulation, whether in the form of universities-Johns Hopkins – or individuals, seems unstoppable. Harbor East

Our destiny?

Many thought this macabre theater would end with the killing of Freddie Gray and the uprising by Baltimore citizens calling for an end to the roots of systemic racism and systematic economic exploitation-uneven development. But the wheels of capitalism, set in motion the development of Baltimore, and didn’t ever decide that black and poor lives matter. So while lip service about acknowledging the history of disinvestment of the poor and wealth accumulation of the rich trended for a moment, the movement from above continued. This is the movement of continued exploitation-carried out by public and private partnerships.

This has been the pattern with development in our city: inequitable and unsustainable. In the 1960s when the the city exempted developer’s of the Charles Center and Inner Harbor from a competitive bidding process amidst black residents protesting their lack of black employees, the justification was that it would serve the public. Charles CenterIn the 1950s the city and state granted subsidies to Johns Hopkins university and hospital for expansion into 59 acres in East Baltimore, displacing more than 1000 mostly black families. It served itself while the surrounding community continued on a road of poverty and neglect.
1960

But large scale uneven development seems to have been put on fast forward starting in 2002 when the Johns Hopkins university and hospital targeted another 88-acres in Middle East Baltimore for a Science and Technology Park. The city, state, and federal government again stepped in to assist this private developer with bonds, subsidies, and grants, using eminent domain to uproot another 700 black families and acquire the land. Like Port Covet-a-ton, Hopkins’ expansion also announced it would benefit the public, with jobs and affordable housing. Fifteen years later, and in light of legislation demanding 1/3 affordable housing (both rental and ownership), no affordable ownership housing has been built. Instead, luxury townhomes for upward of $250,000 will be constructed next and more government subsidy was recently granted for building out a pizza restaurant in the first floor of Johns Hopkins student housing-(you ask, is this theatre or reality?)2016 Hopkins

This may all seem like a really bad mafia movie, one in which greed, wealth, and corruption rules the land in the form of a development gang gone awry (Mad Max gone corporate? comes to mind) and the poor remain hidden in bombed-out spaces, disinvested by the state. Unfortunately it is not a bad drama, or temporary theater of the macabre. It is life in Baltimore.Mad Max

What to do?

Well we voted a couple weeks ago, but for whom? Some changes on the city council and we’ll wait and see if they have any substantial action to support the words that got them into office. It looks like a new democratic mayor will be voted in in the fall, what will she do? In light of the lack of support by the city council for more equal sharing of economic power between the executive and legislative branch, it’s not clear that much will change with this new mayor. It’s like holding tickets for a show that had good and bad reviews: will we be happy with the performances?

We have been waiting on government for too long, even as they continuously neglect the most vulnerable amongst us, in favor of the rich. The surest path seems to be in our own two hands. When we organize and demand change and accountability and transparency to the people, when we protest and have sit-ins, when we “shut things down” we send a message: enough is enough. All that’s good but something is even more near, something we can do to send a strong message to Mr. Plank’s new Port Covet-a-ton deal before the city and state. Each of you advocating for change, send him a polite and personal message: ask him how much wealth is enough; AND stop wearing Under Armour clothing and buying the paraphernalia that sends the message that you support his continued exploitation of our city dollars.That’s right, boycott with your money and insist that the exploitation of the vulnerable and growing gap between the rich and the poor will not happen on our watch. Those of you who are U of Maryland-College Park student/staff/faculty and alumni (Mr. Plank’s alma mater) ask the university why someone who is willing to exploit our state and city would be invited to address graduating students at a commencement ceremony. And do smile as you stand up for justice!
________________

Draft of a letter to Mr. Plank:

Kevin Plank
kevin@underarmour.com
Sagamore Develoment
1000 E. Key Highway
Baltimore, MD 21230

Dear Mr. Plank,

We are happy that your headquarters for Under Armour is in Baltimore. We hope that your assets are sufficient to comfortably take care of your family and friends. In an attempt to prevent continued exploitation of our public assets, we politely request that you reconsider demanding such large tax breaks from our city. As you are aware, such public subsidies exploit the citizens of Baltimore by re-directing the funds that could serve our most vulnerable communities and widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Addressing the legacy of uneven development requires that we reconsider “business as usual” which grants the rich access to continued wealth accumulation while the needs of the less well-off are ignored. Growing the city toward sustainability and equity will assure everyone benefits, not just a few.

Sincerely,

Your Charm City sister/brother

Rebuilding Baltimore: How will we acknowledge and repair our history?

Today I was part of a panel discussion on the role of reparations in rebuilding communities (Marc Steiner Show, WEAA 88.9 FM); specifically Baltimore’s historic and currently dis-invested communities of color. There was a lot of wisdom on the panel, various suggestions. We acknowledged the historic structural racism that led to building chronic disinvested communities in many parts of Baltimore today. These are communities chronically disinvested in education, workforce development, social skills, transportation, health access, housing, recreation, and other core building blocks of healthy and thriving communities. Our conversation identified common threads which were consensual and built on each other. In summary we agreed that the 700 million Governor Hogan announced for demolition of vacant houses in historically abandoned communities should be:

1. secured and committed to this effort
2. used in accordance with a plan by impacted communities
3. used to rebuild Baltimore for existing residents and not only for the 10,000 being enticed to move here
4. used to create co-operatives and entrepeneural opportunities for impacted communities
5. distributed into organizations and projects working in cooperative and solidarity economics and worker-owned, and not the same neo-liberal non-profits who fill their pockets with dollars intended for impacted communities
6. used to build infrastructure to help communities organize themselves to be decision-makers
7. used to create opportunities to address the current social and health needs of impacted communities, instead of displacing these needs into other neighborhoods
8. used to build affordable housing for existing residents and new working class and middle class residents
9. used to create jobs for impacted communities, specifically for returning citizens, hire locally
10. used to ensure the people involved in rebuilding Baltimore are coming from a place of love to build a beloved revolution in our communities that would benefit all

Nothing here is new or unique to rebuilding communities. However, as a collective, such strategies would be new to Baltimore and acknowledge and begin to repair its history of race and class-based injustices. There has been one or two of these strategies used in past rebuilding efforts. But as a whole, a rebuilding plan incorporating such strategies would be revolutionary. In Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America, the last chapter provides a similar framework for rebuilding abandoned communities. The lessons came from the experience of a 2001 top-down, displacement-driven gentrification plan to accommodate the power of Johns Hopkins Medical complex in East Baltimore. This was a repetition of a similar plan in the 1950’s (Broadway Development Plan), the “highway to no-where” in 1970’s. There have been other urban renewal and “negro removal” strategies-serial forced displacement- since the early 1900’s in Baltimore and beyond. We know how to build inequitable communities.

Now, can we move in a direction of equitable community building? Can we get it right this time? Can we also come from a place of truth and acknowledge how white determination and superiority have dictated all aspects of community building? This truth drives and is embedded in how we have built and rebuilt communities of color, and white communities. This acknowledgement can begin the process of healing as we understand why we must take care to assure equity exists in process and outcome as we repair and rebuild impacted communities. For example, can we build on the model of the Gay Street 1 rebuilding project of the 1960’s in East Baltimore? In this majority African American and low income community, residents were surveyed for what they would like to see, housing was built to accommodate existing residents before their existing houses were demolished, residents organized and managed one of the housing developments (still standing today), residents planned for their high school. The parts missing from this community-driven plan was a robust social program and employment strategies for building employment training and opportunities. Ms. Lucille Gorham was a key community organizer and self-made planner for the community at that time. In later years she said she didn’t understand why vocational training schools was not incorporated in rebuilding communities: “not everyone wants to go to college”; and why social programs such as trash prevention and removal and housing rehabilitation and penalty to slumlords were not incorporated into these efforts. She saw these as basic rebuilding strategies for all communities. What was also missing was the competition from the powerful stakeholder of Johns Hopkins Medical Campus, encroaching on the land for gentrification. This allowed the city government to serve the needs of the public, and not the private giant. It was also a time of civil unrest after Dr. King’s assassination and the truth of racial injustice was glaring across the news and hearts of America. No doubt it affected government’s support of an African American-community-driven rebuilding plan. But what continued in community rebuilding in East Baltimore and elsewhere after the redevelopment was completed, was the same perceived superiority of white people and the inferiority of black-skinned people and the necessary segregation that this required. This truth was not acknowledged then, during the repair of the Gay Street 1 neighborhood. So the aftermath would naturally continue in line with inferior services and disinvestment in this majority African American community, with superior services provided in majority white communities.

We know what works and what doesn’t work to build equitable communities and inequitable communities. We first have to decide which we want to build. Let’s get it right this time and rebuild, repair, our Baltimore toward equity and sustainability! There are many issue-focused organizations on the ground already organizing toward equity: around community land trusts, affordable housing, living-wage, anti-grentrification, public housing, accessible health care, emotional healing/emancipation, transforming racism, transforming systemic police brutality, building worker-owned cooperatives, felony/returning citizen rights, environmental justice, mindfulness and social justice, arts and activism, and others. When we affirm the intersectionality of these issues and recognize how they all address building equitable and sustainable communities, we have the tools for transforming our communities. Can we find the space to see the interbeing nature of our struggles and connect across perceived boundaries? Acknowledging our historic struggle to address the human nature to hold one group superior to another, can begin to repair not only racial oppression. It will help us to dig out the root of the interconnection of all oppressions, our path to healing and liberating ourselves and our communities. Let’s rebuild Baltimore in a true and right way.

Two upcoming forums to continue this Beloved Revolution!

Community + Land + Trust: Tools For Development without Displacement
Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
UMD School of Social Work Auditorium
525 W Redwood St. Baltimore 21201
Questions? Contact and Rachel@unitedworkers.org

WORKER COOPERATIVE JUMPSTART
A One-Day Training to Help You & Your Community Start a Worker-Owned Cooperative Business or Convert an Existing Business into a Democratic Workplace!
Where: IMPACT HUB* 10 E. NORTH Ave
When: SATURDAY JANUARY 30 10AM — 5PM
RSVP: contact
SLIDING SCALE $1 — $25

Listening, so we can know what Baltimore is for!

As a long-time activist of Baltimore, I am tired of the same ole, same ole. I keep asking myself, “What keeps me here?” Will the racist and classist ways we rebuild our cities continue with a public transcript of “gentrification benefits everyone” even while rents continue to increase, pushing black people out Baltimore but the “creative class” is welcomed in with bike paths and a free circulator bus? Last night I heard a speech that inspired me.

Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA) convened its year-long series “Baltimore Rising: Summoning the Village” with keynote speaker Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, renowned social psychiatrist and author who has studied epidemics in poor communities for 30 years. She noted the many ways that racism and segregation are undermining our cities and our health. She told us about urbanists who have been tackling these problems in other American cities and who demonstrated “elements of urban restoration.”

Based on this vast body of research and analysis, her call to action to us in Baltimore was clear. We must: 1. keep the whole city in mind in our planning; 2. identify what we are for; 3: make our mark. These are the first three steps in bringing together a clear and participatory vision by those who plan to stay, one that includes all voices to assure we move away from the historic sorting and segregation that has built Baltimore-and this country.

While grateful for this current and urgent call to action, I started to ask myself questions, “How will we do this? Who should be at the table? Where will the money come from? Can we all put our egos aside long enough to move with humility and grace through this process?”

Dr. Fullilove said, “Start with three tasks. Walk the city, tell stories, and find the remarkable places.”

This made sense to me. We can begin this process by listening to everyone throughout the city: the folks on the corners, in the houses, offices, laundromats, clinics, courtrooms, prisons, jails, cafes, boardrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, exercise paths, car garages, parking lots, and bus stops; the grocery stores, under the bridges, the recreation centers, in the synagogues and the churches, the senior homes, the day cares, the recycling trucks, the taxis, the train stations, and the airports, behind the camera and in front of the camera and microphone, in the kiosks, in the long lines at the city departments, in the yoga and mediation studios. This citywide listening will help us “keep the whole city in mind.”

We will also be able to identify what connects us all, across all neighborhoods, understanding what matters to us. We will find out what we are FOR. Then we will be able to “make a mark,” and we will move with intention and skill toward rebuilding a Baltimore of inclusion not expulsion, of economic redistribution not hyper-profitability. Baltimore is resilient and Black Baltimore is strong. Thank you, BMHA and Dr. Fullilove, for calling us to task, and reminding us that it takes a village to rise up, with understanding and dignity.

Let’s do it! DSC_0209

Submitted July 24 2015 to the Baltimore Sun’s Letter to Editor/Op ED.

Role of public health institutions in public health justice

PDF of slides from talk at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
SPH2015march.2
__________________________________

MariselaGomez
…In these times of historical and current accounting of the effect of anchor institutions in community, at home and abroad, how do we speak truth to power and forge new alliances toward justice? As the field of public health grapples with the social, political, and economic determinants of health, how has a powerful institution like JHU been influential in determining neighborhood health in East Baltimore? Has the development of the institution (and others like it) contributed to the growing wealth and health gap in East Baltimore (and elsewhere)?

Come join us for a discussion with Dr. Marisela Gomez this Wednesday, April 1st at 12pm in Room E6159 for a challenging discussion critical to the past, present, and future of health equity in Baltimore and beyond.

The history of prestigious institutions and their power to exploit those most vulnerable to grow power is vast. To be truthful participants in changing this history we must account for this history and repair it. Transparency begins to hold accountable the past transgressions and find solutions beyond what our fragile human nature has succumbed to thus far. Inequitable health outcomes, arrest rates, educational achievement, income and housing value are symptoms of inequitable communities, of power and privilege. Bridging within and across all our systems-community and economic development, education, criminal, housing, recreation- of society is a large task. How do we forge a path towards equity, while assuring everyone is at the table, and contributing?

Establishing values of inclusivity, accountability, transparency,and reflection/reflexivity in all processes is important. These values must infuse and be embedded in the tools of planning/policy development, practice/praxis, evaluation, public relations/media. And most, most importantly, WE THE PEOPLE, must be involved in all steps of the process toward justice…

_______________

If interested in any slides of presentation, send a contact.

Contemplating peaceful and skillful means to justice,
Marisela

People matter: Human impacts of planned development

The one-day conference at MIT on Saturday September 13, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, EST will offer reflections and opportunities to shape the discussion and future of development, without displacement. symposium site

Offer comments to the the questions framing the day by linking to critical reflections from those doing the work. view questions and share comments

Historical Trauma, Colonizing Capitalism, and Systemic Racism: Addressing the Damage Caused by Serial Forced Displacement

Lawrence T. Brown
_____________________

This is how it’s done. When people are sitting on [stuff] that you want, you make ’em your enemy. Then you justify taking it.Jake Sully in Avatar

The problem of the 21st century is forced displacement. As capitalists and corporations march around the world grabbing real estate, resources, and rare earth minerals, the people of the Earth face the loss of their homes, neighborhoods, and livelihoods. Without land and the spaces to create and sustain viable cultures and communities, the people of the Earth shall perish.

In the United States, the colonization of land is at the heart of American history. Equipped with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, Europeans swept across the land, plundering and murdering from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, eventually colonizing the land and displacing several million American Indians and Alaskan Natives from nearly 2.3 billion of acres of land to only 96 million acres of land.1,2 In the midst of today’s immigration politics—which demonizes immigrants coming from Central and South American countries—it is worth noting: early Europeans were the first “illegal aliens.”

During British colonial period, the colonizers erected powerful educational institutions where certain scholars in the employ of slaveholding capitalists created pseudo-scientific racial categories.3 Schools such as Harvard and the College of William and Mary opened what were called Indian schools to “civilize” and Christianize the indigenous people.3 Eventually, Europeans assumed whiteness as identity and as a rationalization for racial hierarchy and land domination. American Indians were racialized by Europeans as the “Red Man” and “Redskin” to facilitate colonization and to demean and dehumanize indigenous peoples.4 Whites colonized what became known as the United States, displacing Native Americans from their property and erasing their histories. Disconnected from their lands, Native American tribal groups were and remain affected by historical trauma, genocide, and health disparities.5

The History of Serial Forced Displacement among Descendants of Enslaved Africans

Black people were also uprooted and disconnected from their West African homelands due to the European-led Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade after Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Approximately 12 million Africans were captured and packed on ships for the benefit of capitalists in the slave economy, i.e. slave traders, bankers, insurers, and plantation owners. Approximately 1.8 million captured Africans perished on African shores or in the ocean during the Middle Passage. Over 4.8 million Africans were shipped to Brazil alone. Another 4 million Africans were shipped to the Caribbean. About 400,000 African people were transported to the 13 emerging British colonies in the future United States.6

Before the Civil War in the United States, enslaved Africans had blackness imposed on them as a racial category and rationalization for dehumanization and rendering as property. By the beginning of the Civil War, Black people numbered 4.4 million strong.7 After the Civil War during a meeting, twenty Black leaders, led by Garrison Frazier, gave General William T. Sherman the reconstruction plan for the newly freed population of Black folks—every person should be given 40 acres and, later, a mule.8 Sherman then issued Special Field Order 15 which gave 400,000 acres of land to 40,000 Black people. As a sympathizer with the Confederacy, President Andrew Johnson overturned the Special Field Order 15 and confiscated most of the land back from the newly freed men and women.9

But in spite of the denial of reparations for enslavement and dehumanization, Black people would make a way out of no way. After Emancipation (1863) and Reconstruction (1865-1877), Black people built and created independent communities, universities, economic districts, and churches. They purchased millions of acres of farmland10 and constructed hundreds of neighborhoods11 throughout the heyday of Black Codes and Jim Crow Apartheid from 1878-1965.

But while valiant Black activists toiled, bled, and died to secure the civil rights victories of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, the majority of whites in government and the banking industry colluded to confiscate Black lands and colonize valuable Black Space. The USDA worked to dispossess rural Black farmers of their land.10 The Federal Housing Administration subsidized suburbs for whites and did not insure Black mortgages in the cities.12 Additionally, the Federal Housing Administration strongly enforced racial segregation via restrictive covenants.12 The Veterans Administration also engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices while administering educational and job training benefits in a racist manner.13 The Urban Renewal Administration partnered with white downtown business tycoons and historically segregated universities to displace Black residents.14 The Federal Highway Administration and Bureau of Public Roads partnered with the highway construction industry and local leaders to build highways through the middle of thriving Black neighborhoods.15 Altogether, over 1 million households were displaced from the late 1930’s to the early 1970’s by federally-sponsored actions,12 affecting at least 2 million Black people and hundreds of Black communities.11

In the private finance sector, white bankers engaged in redlining, denying mortgages to would-be Black homeowners, guided by the maps drawn by the federal Home Owners Loan Corporation.16 White terrorist mobs destroyed Black independent communities in Wilmington, NC in 1898 and Rosewood, FL in 1923 while murdering dozens of Black folk in Atlanta, GA in 1906 and bombing Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK in 1921. White lynchers—often led by terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan—lynched 3,000+ Black folks, sometimes stealing their lands as in the lynching of Isadore Banks in Crittenden County, AR in 1954.

Up through the early 1900s, the reign of violence instilled a justified fear that partially induced 6 million Black folks to leave the South during the Great Migration, starting in the 1910’s. During the Red Summer of 1919, whites violently raged against Black people in over 30 cities in cities such as St. Louis, MO, Washington DC, and Chicago, IL.17 Later in 1946 and 1947, white Chicagoans used violence to repel Black homeowners from living in segregated white neighborhoods Park Manor and Fernwood.18 But the reign of violence followed Blacks wherever they congregated and established collective wealth and economic security.

With the serial loss of Black farmland, homes, neighborhoods, and economic districts, the Black community has been and continues to be threatened by colonizing capitalism. I define colonizing capitalism in this essay as land-grabbing or “landjacking” for profit, using banking mechanisms, corporate development, or government legislation to displace less powerful people. The majority of Black people today are living in the New American Apartheid,19 characterized by systemic racism and colonizing capitalism that facilitate serial forced displacement.

The History of Colonizing Capitalism in Black Communities

Banks and financial institutions have historically operated and currently operate with a toxic combination of colonizing capitalism and discriminatory racism in Black neighborhoods. In some ways, it makes sense that banks and insurance companies operate in such a manner once we account for the fact that American slavery helps explain the rise of some of today’s banks (Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wachovia/Wells Fargo) and insurance companies (Aetna and New York Life).20 From the 1930s through the 1990s, banks and real estate agencies were allowed to practice a variety of mechanisms to damage the homeownership prospects of Black folk, including restrictive covenants, redlining, predatory lending, racial steering, and blockbusting. Leading up to the financial meltdown and Great Recession of 2008, banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Citigroup were the key culprits in targeting Blacks and Latinos for subprime mortgage lending, leading to mass foreclosures.21,22

Targeting Black communities for originating subprime mortgages is known as reverse redlining, 23 another financial tool that is being used to transfer home ownership from families back to banks. 24 Some Wells Fargo bank employees called their anti-Black subprime mortgages “ghetto loans.”25 Altogether, we can trace today’s banking practices to a recent time where banks did not let Black folks obtain mortgages due to residential restrictions and redlining at the behest of the federally-sponsored, eugenics-based, racially-demeaning, color-coded maps.26

The ultimate result of systemic racism and colonizing capitalism for many African Americans is historical trauma and serial forced displacement, through gentrification, mass foreclosures, eminent domain for private interests, and the dismantling of public housing. Since presidents and Congress members have been defunding the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and downsizing public housing over the past 40+ years, local public housing authorities have been selling their land holdings to private corporate developers so they can obtain valuable urban properties.27 HUD has utilized land disposition as a main tool of HOPE VI in the 1990s and 2000s to demolish public housing and is now using Choice Neighborhoods and RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) in the 2010s. With these methods, local housing authorities are selling public land to corporate developers for private profit.27 Often, local nonprofits and black municipal political leaders have partnered with local governments to facilitate this arrangement.28

What is certain is that millions of Black people have been forcibly displaced over the past 25 years. The analytic firm CoreLogic reported that since 2008, there have been approximately 3.4 million completed foreclosures (as of March 2012).29 Over 250,000 public housing units have been demolished with another 285,000 slated for demolition.27 Eminent domain was expanded by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London in 2005 and has been shown to primarily target areas occupied by Black and poor populations.30 The same is true for gentrification.31 Therefore, it is not unlikely that in the past 25 that at least another 2 million Black people have been forcibly displaced and hundreds of Black communities have been impacted.

The Health Effects of Sustained Historical Trauma

Disconnected from their homelands, farmland, coastal and waterfront properties32, independent communities, urban neighborhoods, and private homes, African Americans—similar to Native Americans—are affected by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement, both resulting in a disproportionate burden of health. The resulting root shock and the rising stress when attempting to cope with serial forced displacement is still sending shock waves through the bodies and spirits of those affected by the loss of their homes, communities, and identity.33 The ongoing damage caused by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement has resulted in sustained historical trauma in Black communities. Michael Sotero describes historical trauma as follows:

…historical trauma originates with the subjugation of a population by a dominant group. Successful subjugation requires at least four elements: (1) overwhelming physical and psychological violence, (2) segregation and/or displacement, (3) economic deprivation, and (4) cultural dispossession.34

Given the history described above and Sotero’s definition, it is clear that Black folks in the United States as a population are impacted by and victims of sustained historical trauma. The history described above for the Black population in the United States are the “elements of successful subjugation” described by Sotero as necessary for sustained historical trauma. To a varying degree, the same can be said for American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and undocumented immigrants from Central American nations.

Research is presenting more and more compelling evidence of what is known as the ‘transgenerational epigenetic inheritance’ that can provide the key pathway by which historical trauma exerts an influence on the health of affected populations.35,36 According to Alan Horsager, transgenerational epigenetic inheritance means that “…experiences and environmental exposures can change the way your DNA works (without changing the DNA itself) and this could be passed on to your offspring.”37 Thus, the impact of colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement in the past may be passed epigenetically from prior generations to present populations.

Since forced displacement is still taking place in many Black, Brown, and Red communities, the primary effects of historical trauma are still being experienced today in many ways. As Sotero explains:

Trauma response in primary generations may include PTSD, depression, self-destructive behaviors, severe anxiety, guilt, hostility, and chronic bereavement. Psychological and emotional disorders may well translate into physical disease, and vice versa.34

In response to an interview concerning diabetes among the White Mountain Apache posed by researcher Tennille Marley, a tribe member and elder Sharon stated:

Our people are descendants of ancestors that were here that did not have these types of disease before what we call ‘The Arrival.’ The ancestors did not have immunity against certain things that were brought over by the early Europeans—the Conquistadors and the colonizers. I believe that our problems with diabetes go back to those times.38

Elder Sharon’s response perfectly captures the sequelae of health conditions that began after the imposition of colonizing capitalism and forced displacement enacted by early Europeans. The elder continued:

…this historical trauma is handed down intergenerationally from our ancestors … even though our contemporary Apaches might not be aware of that. They will deny it … but they’re not aware that our parents, our grandparents, suffered from [it] and … how the mistreatment has brought these things down to us … Genocidal policies by the U.S. government and by the Conquistadors strongly affect our health now.38

Many Black people are also in denial about historical trauma. But the medical and health-related evidence is rising. Black people who have been displaced recently can experience negative health outcomes ranging from cardiovascular to mental health, including everything from heart failure to nervous breakdowns, from anxiety attacks to deep depression, and from loss of cultural identity to wrestling with suicide. In many ways, being forcibly displaced even today opens fresh wounds that have never healed.

Of course, the immediate stress imposed by an impending forced displacement poses a health risk that Mindy Fullilove brilliantly conceptualizes as ‘root shock’.33 But a broader conceptualization of stress can help explain how historical trauma remains such a visceral force in the lives of many Black people in the form of an ‘aftershock’. Due to what can be described as perseverative cognition, the victims of historical trauma might worry about history repeating itself or might ruminate on the devastation wrought by past forced displacements. Perseverative cognition is another key pathway by which historical trauma exerts an influence on the health of affected populations. Brosschot and colleagues describe perseverative cognition as the following:

Worry, rumination, and many related cognitive processes in the literature, such as anticipatory stress and cognitive intrusions, are conceptually close but are usually not equated with one another. … The core feature of these repetitive cognitions that is responsible for the effects on somatic [or physical] health is that they contain cognitive representations of a psychological problem, a difficulty, a crisis, or, in other words, a stressor. To refer to this central shared feature, we suggest the term perseverative cognition. Thus, we define perseverative cognition as the repeated or chronic activation of the cognitive representation of one or more psychological stressors.

This research indicates that the chronic activation of the cognitive representation of historical trauma can introduce a more chronic form of stress that simultaneously and negatively activates cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, and neurovisceral systems.39 Put simply, chronic stress derived from worrying about and ruminating over sustained historical trauma wears down the body’s systems.

Most Black folks are acutely aware of striking and sobering incidents that speak to the sufferings and struggles, the trials and tribulations that come with being Black in America. Thus, when due to this awareness, a Black person has experienced forced displacement in their lifetime, they may continue to worry or ruminate over lost land, lost homes, lost dreams, and lost opportunities long after the act of forced displacement itself, activating chronic stress. Because of serial forced displacement and other community injuries, Black folks know historical trauma can reemerge at any time. Due to ongoing systemic racism, they know that it often will.

Serial forced displacement is a lethal social determinant of health, one that reverberates as a series of aftershocks following the initial root shock.33 The damage wrought by historical trauma is passed epigenetically from former generations to current populations. Perseverative cognition concerning historical trauma can induce worry and rumination that prolongs stress. As loved ones die and communities are broken in the aftermath of forced displacement, people lose hope; they wither and are left to face the punishing fates. But the negative health outcomes are not due to fate, chance, or lack of personal character. Rather, it has often been the result of the societal design described above.

Addressing Sustained Historical Trauma

We need a movement to increase people’s education about the role of colonizing capitalism and systemic racism in leading to serial forced displacement, root shock, aftershocks, and long-lasting negative health outcomes. We need a movement to help medical practitioners and lay persons alike understand the health effects of sustained historical trauma, especially among those who have been forced to leave their homes recently or who have been victims of racist violence and incidents.

We need a movement that starts in Baltimore and activates 10,000 people and 100 organizations to divest their money from banks that offered subprime mortgages disproportionately to Black people just as the U.S. Presbyterian Church is divesting funds companies that enable Israeli occupation of Palestine.40 We need a movement where local Black churches and civil rights organizations align to create an anti-foreclosure fund to help people keep their homes, especially since some of them have worked hand-in-hand with the banking system to expose their parishioners and members to subprime mortgages.

We need a movement in the halls of power to pass new anti-displacement legislation, prevent banks from engaging in subprime lending, and enforce affordable housing a human right. In order to prevent the damage that is caused by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement, we need to infuse the curricula of our educational systems—from kindergarten to college—with the methods by which colonizing capitalism and systemic racism combine to cause death and destruction to Black, Brown, and Red people.

We need a movement to hold Black churches and civil rights organizations accountable for facilitating foreclosures by partnering with banks just as the Jesus of Scripture whipped the money changers in the Temple. American churches are in need of reform as they have accepted or condoned colonizing capitalism, serial forced displacement, and systemic racism. As Edward Blum describes Du Bois’ thinking on the matter:

…organized religion, at least in the western world, [has] failed miserably because it [has] been co-opted by big business and land-grabbing nations. The world of finance corrupted the world of faith, Du Bois proclaimed, and this created a world where demons disguised themselves as angels, bullies paraded as benefactors, and the blind claimed that those with eyes could not see.

Ultimately, in order to heal the damage that has already been caused, we need to address the physical and mental health symptoms existing in the Black populations today—especially among the descendants of enslaved African in the United States (DAEUS)—and prevent them from occurring in the future. To do so, we need to institute and implement land restitutions and reparations for those who have been harmed by serial forced displacement and sustained historical trauma. Only land restitutions and reparations will allow the Black community to restore and rebuild Black neighborhoods, independent communities, waterfront properties, and economic districts while reconnecting to farmland and land next to the waters that brought our ancestors over. If we decolonize our society and undo racism, we can reconnect to the land, articulate and maintain an empowered identity, walk in communion with our ancestors, address historical trauma, create sustainable ways of living, and be made whole.  

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