Great in theory, revitalization threatens historic black culture

September 1, 2013 

I grew up in the East End, got in trouble there and turned my life around. Now, I work to improve life in the area, particularly to help young people turn away from a life of crime.

As president of COOL (Community Organizers of Lexington) I've worked with others to uplift the East End without uprooting longtime residents. COOL played a key role in saving the Charles Young Center by having a rally and presenting over 1,000 signatures to the city council.

We also worked to get lower rental rates at the Lyric for East End residents to make that facility more accessible to them.

I've studied the East End Small Area Plan, and it is a great plan in theory. However, the implementation of it has raised several issues and is a major concern to many longtime residents, because they had extremely limited involvement in the decision-making process.

When you look at what is being discussed you will realize the plan is not about improving the quality of life in East End, it's about finding ways to make money off of some of the poorest people in the city.

Gentrification is the primary concern of East End residents. The first historically black neighborhood in Lexington is being diversified due to its close proximity to downtown. The housing is said to be affordable, but residents aren't the ones who can afford the new homes being built. So who is it really for?

The EESAP specifically recommends diversifying the area, but why start with East End, why doesn't the city government want to diversify Hartland, Firebrook, Andover and similar neighborhoods with a less diverse population?

East End is said to be a food desert, so nonprofits are looking to implement food trucks and force convenience-store owners to sell produce, without realizing East End residents go grocery shopping at big-box stores like everyone else. The area is not a food desert and is only labeled as such so people can push their agenda and profit off the poor.

The area plan calls for forming a neighborhood watch to help reduce crime in the area, but the same individuals are forming the community development corporation and focusing on commercial development, so safety is never addressed. They want to bring in wealthy investors to clean up the community and hire people, but haven't considered that the people in the community could be the business owners if they were given an opportunity.

Ownership would raise the household income and reduce poverty, which eventually would reduce crime. But they would rather bring in a group of investors to suck even more money out of the community. Even if they employ community residents, if they don't pay a living wage the employees will be working full-time and still be living in poverty.

COOL programs have helped area residents start lawn-care and floor-refinishing services and gain training to work on air-conditioning systems — all efforts that can build wealth within the community.

With gentrification also come social issues. Black and white cultures are different, and since more whites are moving into the area they want to make changes that suit their culture. East End used to be a big family, where everyone knew everyone, now neighbors no longer socialize as much due to racial barriers. The sense of community is suffering as a result.

Blacks are beginning to be considered outsiders in their own community, and the presence of whites in the area is making many residents uncomfortable.

White residents that aren't familiar with the culture are afraid of the youth in the area based on negative stereotypes reinforced by the news media, and what older residents consider normal behavior the newcomers consider suspicious activity. They actually call the police on children for nothing more that socializing in groups.

So, basically many East End residents are afraid that in 10 years this historically black neighborhood will be a predominantly white community due to gentrification.

Investors can be brought in to develop the Third and Race street corridors, but it won't benefit the residents to be employed by those investors, if they aren't paying a living wage.

And if whites are going to continue to move into the area, we are going to need to find a way to introduce the old and the new, otherwise the next Trayvon Martin shooting could happen right here in Lexington's East End.

Looks like we have some work to do.

Former East End resident Corey Dunn works to improve life there.

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