Poem: “Gentrification”

Man with a cane stands at the top of set of stairs in a park.
“At the top of the stairs,” Meridian Hill (Malcolm X) Park. Photo by Victoria Pickering via flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I have seen a neighborhood eat itself for dinner
look at its vibrant culture and call it a meal
when the food ran out
they opened a starbucks and called it community transformation
repeated the  process until property prices popped
suddenly every face on the block looked like it belonged in a Even Stevens episode
When years ago they were afraid to walk it

So here we are
The long awaited sequel to white flight
white return

I remember when they started calling my home theirs
and every story my father used to tell me about
these city streets started flying south for the winter
Along with the families forced into Maryland
I remember turning onto Georgia Ave but for a second I thought I was in Georgetown
a place where the food is expensive but the concerned stares are free
I remember when the people in the hood grew up so close they called each other cousin
When my grandmother became everybody’s grandmother
These are the kinds of people whose stories I tell
People who have lived here for so long the breeze remembers their names
And how they are beginning to vanish into thin air
I open my mouth
and they redline my voice to silence
Which is to say deny it rent based on race
And then have the audacity to
Name me visitor in a city I was born in

And there is such power in a name
The way they changed New York Ave into NoMa
And no one seems to actually knows what that means
The way they turn public schools like Spingarn into dust then watch the scattered students choke
The way they changed displacement into renovation
And black into impoverished
And impoverished into forgotten

I’m from Brookland, NE
Not Brooklyn, New York
I’m from 1.75 is all you ever needed on your smart trip
I’m from late nights in gallery place darting under the street lights
I’m from calling Malcolm X park, Malcolm X park
even though the city renamed it Meridian Hill

I’m from Southeast Benning Road
I’m from me and my niggas don’t pay for the metro
I’m from always walking distance to the white house but still never met the president
I’m from calling Malcolm X park Malcolm X park even though the city renamed it Meridian Hill
And we always have to repeat it

And people who aren’t from my city still ask me what the problem is
What this is
this is landlords raising prices till the poor fall through
this is investors promising to bring back residents after construction then going back on their word
this is city council members selling out on morals
This is college students benefiting from a community but giving nothing back
this is Brookland Manor
Columbia Heights
Georgia Ave
Barry Farms
North Oakland
Rockridge
Bayview

this is how even with all the love for my city
all the anger up in the crook of my mouth
I could come back to my home and become a part of the problem
My money the smoking gun to the bullet in my chest
move in and move out my mans and them

So when the suburban settlers begin to tell you what this city means
Of how they’ve translated your urban into something that can plymouth rock on their tongues
I hope I tell them
This is my home
born and raised in
I live on these blocks
Found First purpose
drew first blood
left my genes in the cracks of the sidewalk
this soil knows my story
I learned its face with my finger tips
I’ve got its pulse stuck in my palms

Here, we are the monuments
With cherry blossom hearts
Cut us down and watch this city lose its soul

the struggle, the way we overcame
The way we overcome
The future, the past, the way we move
And refuse to be moved
and really
I just don’t wanna lose my home

5 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a national story/tragic/conspiracy
    Capitalism rampant forever
    Division into those with and those without

    Your poem embraces all of it

    Thank you

  2. My Brothers . . . you’ve Embraced what every “homegrown” man and woman of this beautiful city feels . . . Excellent work! from your lips and fingertips to God’s ear! Blessings!

  3. This is beautiful. LOVE all of it but this stanza especially:

    Here, we are the monuments
    With cherry blossom hearts
    Cut us down and watch this city lose its soul

    Thanks!

  4. You are amazing, you.
    You make me stop and SEE you.
    You help me remember and respect your struggle; past, present and future, you.
    You make me a better person, you.
    And, I thank you.

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