The house was worn down for generations. The paint on the outside peeled decades ago and there was no disposable income available to repaint.
The tenants moved in and out but the conditions rarely changed. The landlord advertised that there would be upgrades but they never came.
There was prayer, oil, Holy Water, and incense moving through the air no matter who lived inside. The house was beloved. It was familiar. It was better than anything the tenants had before but it wasn’t what their ancestors dreamed for them.
Three miles away the lawns were manicured. The quality of the schools were incomparable. The median income was above average and it made you believe there really was an American Dream.
No matter what, if you lived in the house with the peeling paint, it was likely your income would never surpass that of your parents. Economic mobility belonged to the children three blocks away. Then, in a flick of a moment, a fire was ignited.
Working their second and third shifts, the tenants of the peeling painted house weren’t home.
They arrived to find the fire department frantically fanning the flames but it was too late. Though this fire appeared like others they’d managed — it was different.
This fire had an anger to it. It seemed as if there was lighter fluid that had been hidden in the basement for years that strengthened the flames.
The landlord was enraged. He’d traveled three miles from the neighboring community to find his investment in shambles. He called other landlords who owned the adjacent homes. None of them lived on the street.
They blamed the tenants for negligence. They demanded the houses be kept in better condition. In their rage, the landlords didn’t see the opportunity the tenants did.
When a house burns down it is rebuilt to be stronger.
The floor board that used to creak is replaced. The electrical wiring that was dangerous is destroyed and what takes its place finally meets the inspector’s code.
As people of color, we have been living in a dilapidated house since we came from our mother’s womb. Some of our ancestors had this home stolen from them, others moved into it against their will, and others were vilified for traveling thousands of miles to lay their head under the safety of this roof.
America, as we know it, has not been the house we deserve.
We have prayed about it, worried about it, worked harder to make small changes to it, and we continue to be unsafe.
Then a fire happened.
It doesn’t matter who started the fire, or whether they were one of us or one of them. What matters is that we were not in the house when it burned. Now that nothing is left but ashes we can rebuild a structure that works for us to live in. My belief is that if we care less about the property damage, and more about the people who live inside, we can build a house that everyone deserves.