By Zerline Hughes
So, there are benefits to gentrification.
I’ve always been raised, schooled in diverse environments. That was one of the beauties of being raised in Los Angeles.
I lived in South Central, went to school in West L.A. and Santa Monica, and attended dance classes in mid-city and North Hollywood. Much like me, my parents drove everywhere to ensure my experiences were rich and diverse.
And so here I am continuing the tradition of the daily trek. We live in “far northeast” D.C., attend school in upper northwest and waaaay out in Montgomery County, Maryland, take violin lessons in Shaw near Howard University, swim in Takoma (on the D.C./Maryland line), take karate lessons in Prince George’s County, Maryland and … you get it.
Our home base is the least diverse of all those places. Well, it used to be. A historically Black neighborhood where many families built their own homes and settled in the early 1900s, Eastland Gardens is located in Ward 7, one exit before entering Prince George’s County. African-American architects, many of which attended my alma mater, Howard University, were commissioned to build the homes for families – homes that continue to stand in our small neighborhood.
Today, our neighborhood is a mix of lower, middle, and upper-class families who’s parents and parents’ parents first settled here. There are many seniors and several 40-somethings who have either maintained their parents homes or returned to settle down after their parents’ passing.
And now, there’s a few families that fit into the category of gentrifiers. First, I must admit, that based on the definition, I am a gentrifier because 1.) I’m not originally from the area, and 2.) my education level and class status differs from many of the original residents of the community. But when most of us think about gentrification, we think of 1 and 2 and add on race.
So there’s now a few White families in our ‘hood now. I explain to the kids, who I always remind of the rich history of our Black community, that it’s a definite culture change – and shock – for many of us. I also tell them that gentrification, in many cases, is a gift , despite the history, backdrop and sentiment.
One of those blessings is to be able to share culture and diversity. We get to share our perspectives and experiences and, in turn, so do our new neighbors. A case in point: skiing. My kids – and I – just recently, were exposed to snowshoeing and skiing – and right in our neighborhood. And it was all thanks to our new, White neighbors.
Knowing they loved winter sports and hearing about their winter activities in the ‘hood last year, we were intrigued by the thought of skiing in the streets of Ward 7.
And it was actually pretty cool. (I’m sure the rest of my neighbors looked in wonderment out their windows.)
It’s all about exposure and these two are not going to get all the exposure they need in homogenous environments. Exposure to arts, leisure activities, urban and rural environments, sports – including the lesser-known ones in our community like lacrosse, rugby, swimming and horseback riding, is what will keep them open-minded and interested in new experiences that are outside of the box. It also helps with feelings of inclusion, and positively impacts standardized test scores, in addition to feelings of meaning and purpose.
There’s still much more to advocate for as it relates to gentrification and its impact on historic, but disappearing communities and long-time neighbors. In the same vein, we must also welcome our new neighbors and share what makes our communities special, how to keep our original charm and history, while building onto our various legacies.