Behind the Walls 

The city revitalization underway is being held up as bold and inclusive. But for whom? It looks like the same ole bait and switch with the disaffected getting the short end of the proverbial stick.

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Scott Elmquist

The historic birthplace of legendary Charles S. Gilpin is my home. It's called Gilpin Court. I am proud to live among my neighbors, crime or no crime. It's one of the city's public housing communities that Mark Holmberg calls "racist concentration camps" in his recent Back Page essay called "Modern Day Horror." Gilpin Court has its challenges, but what neighborhood does not?

Let me tell you what the "Modern Day Horror" really is: It's the way in which we continue to jump completely over the ongoing war on the black family while decrying the existence of public housing communities.

It's the systematic destruction of that black family's nucleus — yes, public housing — for the sake of economic development without any effort to develop and sustain the human capital of public housing residents in the process.

It's deliberate economic and racial discrimination, decades of poor city leadership and the systemic reduction of opportunity to people in public housing. Limited opportunity equals limited choices, and some of those choices will be deemed poor by those still operating under the illusion that we're all playing on a level playing field. That's the reality surrounding public housing and the life of public housing residents that no one wants to admit having a hand in.

Holmberg makes the assumption made by so many: that the destruction of public housing is of benefit to all. But what he suggests is the easy answer to a complex problem, and it addresses none of these other very real obstacles.

Disinvestment and some mo stuff led us to this modern day blight. Suffice it to say, the only solution to poverty elimination is appropriation of resources, pure and simple. In the absence of that provision, arrested development surely occurs. As for who's to blame, I'm not interested in affixing blame. What I am interested in is holding all accountable to solutions, including myself.

Holmberg suggests blended Section 8 housing, and the city of Richmond is moving ahead with plans to turn public housing into mixed-use communities in which 30 percent of the housing is set aside for current residents. But tell me how this solution has solved anything substantively for the vast majority of public housing residents in the cities of New Orleans, Atlanta and Chicago? Who has truly benefited from this rush to reward developers with tax credits — padding their bank accounts with extra millions? Where is 30 percent a success story or a model of achievement in any capitalist equation?

Thirty percent is not even a high F in the world of academia! When has there been sincere implementation of life-affirming, quality-of-life changing community transformation benefiting large percentages of our population?

I dare say nowhere in the United States of America, not even under the African American president whom I love dearly.

The economic and social warfare against the African American family, women and gender identity continues to play out, and laws are still being created to keep that disconnection running on autopilot — the Matrix if you will. We have turned a blind eye to the many deliberate public policies designed to rip the African American family apart, including the drug war, the refusal to restore civil rights for ex-felons after their debt has been paid to society, refusal to allow those same individuals to be reunited with their families in public housing and the general refusal to allow men to live with their partners and children in the public housing communities.

That sets the stage for those female-headed households that have become vulnerable to the pathologies associated with removing the head of the family from the family. Let me not forget to mention the dehumanizing aspect of dealing with social services and the child-support enforcement process that keeps the economic liberation just short of accomplishment for the family nucleus.

The intentional, racially discriminatory public policy that set the stage for what's happened to black families in public housing communities borders on criminal misconduct. The city revitalization underway is being held up as bold and inclusive — but for whom? It looks like the same ole bait and switch with the disaffected getting the short end of the proverbial stick — if we get any of the stick at all.

The new routes established by the temporary GRTC transfer station made sure that I didn't show my public housing self anywhere near the good tourists of Richmond, Virginia, when I caught the bus to attend Virginia Poverty Law Center's Anti-Hunger conference April 30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street. The Ginter Park 32 new route hijacked my azz down Marshall Street and wouldn't let me off until I was safely beyond the Marriott Hotel and Greater Richmond Convention Center.

We've endured a hand-me-down education from which we are still breaking free. And people wonder how and why in almost every city and state we find so many African Americans being uneducated and unemployed, housed unsafely and denied opportunity for a living-wage job and the opportunity to create that job through entrepreneurship. This is deliberate sabotage.

We have before us a real coalition — a profound diverse group of folks who love, don't like but respect each other, and are 100-percent committed to working through our differences together for the betterment of our entire society. Today, we are the modern day accountability. Look for us in the community! S


Lillie A. Estes is a community strategist who served on the Mayor's Anti-Poverty Commission and the citizen's advisory board to the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.



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