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On Gentrification: F*** Your Bike Lane And Your Brewery

I learned more about life, forgiveness, responsibility, teamwork and being bold from summers at my grandmother’s house than anywhere else. 6115 Seneca is where I learned to fight for myself and others, say ‘no’ and mean it, be a leader, be fearless and to use every ounce of my imagination.

In those summers, my cousins and I would walk to a local “grocery” store called Kit Kat. It was a rites of passage to be sent with money from my grandma to walk across the “bridge” (a freeway overpass) and get bread, bologna and whatever snacks our little hearts desired. We’d pass Tammy’s house on the corner, make a right, head over the bridge and end up on the other side near a house with crazy dogs and kids who never had their hair combed — -and then walked (sometimes run if the dogs started barking) the rest of the way to the store. It was amazing. I felt grown-up. Responsible. Iman, Queen of the Eastside of Detroit. First of her name. Lord of grandma’s correct change. Royal Duchess of making sure we all held hands, looked both ways and all got back together.

Then there was the park. If you lived anywhere near Seneca and Gratiot — -the park was lit! Basketball tournaments, talent shows (which my cousins and I won by doing a dance to Jagged Edge’s “Where the Party At” while wearing matching Puma outfits — -don’t trip, my baby) and a general safe space to play, fight and have your first kiss. It was the one place my grandmother allowed us to stay after the streetlights came on as long as we came to check in.

And, of course, inside my grandmother’s house. We’d do everything from locking my youngest cousin in the cabinets of the coffee table (sorry KiKi, I love you) to rollerskate in the fully concrete basement. Play football with old shoes from the attic (which was scary as hell) and then have to line up to get whoopings one-by-one for breaking a window during the game. Sometimes, my grandmother would wake us all up from our sleep, order pizza and blast “My Eyes Don’t Cry No More” while we danced and laughed ourselves silly — -I always fell asleep before the pizza came (and no one ever saved me a slice!). And if you know Christine — -you know if one person gets into a fight outside of the house everybody is fighting. You stand up for each other. That’s what family does.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized Kit Kat wasn’t at all a grocery store and my grandmother was the victim of a food desert. Meaning she had nowhere to get fresh fruits, vegetables and other wholesome foods within a mile of her home. For my grandmother that was especially tough because she never had a car. So a glorified liquor store was her best bet to keep us all fed (and from running in and out of her refrigerator — -if you have a Black granny you know this is a sin) on those summer days spent at her house.

What about the park? Well, I remember how it slowly declined. The grass stopped being cut. The rims didn’t get replaced and the concrete was uneven. The people in the community couldn’t keep it up alone and the city didn’t care about saving it. There were no more tournaments. No more dance competitions to bring home awards for my grandmother’s mantle. It was no longer that safe space.

And my grandmother’s house.

We started to become concerned with her living there after awhile. So many of the surrounding homes were vacant — -some abandoned, others being used for God knows what. Her neighbors left the deteriorating block making Christine one of the few original matriarchs left. But who wants their 70-year-old grandmother alone in an area where salt trucks don’t even come in the winter months?

See the issue with gentrification is not that you, your buddies and your breweries are moving in to historically Black cities. The issue is that gentrification starts way before you begin your research on where to sail next and plant your flag. It starts even before you decide *insert name of city that Black people made cool* is the new Brooklyn and find ways to get grants to build your bike lanes. It starts when a 60 year old woman has to get on a bus and travel 30 minutes to get fresh food and when a grocery store finally opens closer to her home — it’s a Whole Foods — -a place she can’t afford. It starts when the lady who braids hair on the corner has her house broken into and the police never show up. It starts when money is drained from the public school districts for state officials to afford lavish vacations leaving classrooms without the proper books and technology to help students perform at the highest levels. It starts when that same school district closes over 20 schools, leaving classrooms with 30+ children to every one teacher. It starts when parks aren’t safe. And water is poisoned. And “the murder capital of the world” is what people call the city where you met your closest friends while they fail to understand the hopelessness that settles in when your childhood memories are replaced with boarded up windows and graffiti-marked walls.

One day, I’ll ride around Detroit with my son or daughter trying to summon ghosts of my past and paint pictures of the city I love into their minds. I won’t be able to show them my middle school, my high school or the place where my father and I would buy books. My grandmother’s house where my cousins and I stayed up giggling until we couldn’t hold our eyes open anymore — -won’t be a cherished family heirloom — -it’ll be gone.

But…enjoy your coffee shop.

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