Original residents of Jefferson Street get no respect

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Jefferson Street, like Five Points in East Nashville and the Gulch in South Nashville, is booming economically with condos, apartments, houses and businesses springing up like new grass in an area weeded and heavily fertilized. Growth can be good if it is jointly shared and all concerned benefit. Unfortunately, gentrification is not without causalities, i.e., the original inhabitants of Jefferson Street and the surrounding community. We are talking about original inhabitants who have been bought out or relocated because of their inability to financially afford to stay in the area.

Decisions are being made (whether good or bad) without open community meetings asking for feedback or confirmation from the community as a whole. All too often, business and economic plans involving the area are achieved with little if any feedback from the surrounding community. This is a flagrant display of disrespect. Sometimes an open community forum may be held just as a formality to offer the community an opportunity to vent. But businesses usually go on as planned. Some would consider this the epitome of disrespect, showing no regard for the wishes or opinions of the original stakeholders. In predominately Black neighborhoods this is nothing new—but it doesn’t make it right.

Maybe the biggest culprits in most cases involving gentrification are the inhabitants themselves, electing people in the know who don’t have their best interests at heart. We are talking about people who have been presented as community leaders who may be complicit with esoteric parties with self-serving agendas. We are talking about those who are knowledgeable about what is proposed for an area refusing to educate all the community until it appears too late to counteract.

I don’t think anyone is against progress benefiting the community as a whole, but it should be transparent with input from all parties involved. All too often, diversity is used as a tool promoting change. But in the end, it seems the major parties benefiting are middle and upper class Whites. It only makes one aware of the unequal distribution of wealth, especially when it comes to good paying jobs. Why do you have such a disproportionate number of Whites able to live in these areas undergoing gentrification? The cost of living in such areas is often out of the financial ballpark for many Blacks and other minorities.

Banks and financial institutions don’t help by denying loans to Blacks adamantly seeking ownership to homes and businesses in areas undergoing gentrification. It is all about making things accessible and accommodating to all the people in the community. Accommodating a community is only made more prevalent when the community is predominately White, which many Blacks find decimating and racist. It seems that when Whites seek to take over historically Black neighborhoods through gentrification, nothing is too grand to appease the new population.

Jefferson Street is the latest victim of gentrification of what some see as blatant manifestation of discriminatory practices. Many Jefferson Street supporters are hoping it is not too late to right a wrong by allowing the remaining original occupants of the Jefferson Street community to have a say so or an opportunity to invest in their once indigenous neighborhood. This would include affordable housing and a percentage of the new businesses on Jefferson Street and surrounding area being owned by Blacks. The Jefferson Street community should also have a say so in the major buildings and projects on the street such as the proposed Police headquarters. Of course, this should be a no brainer for those who really respect the rights and feelings of Blacks in this community. Maybe this is meant to show who the real supporters and friends of Jefferson Street are.

Making decisions affecting the scenery of Jefferson Street should benefit all involved, not just a selected group. Anything less is a blatant display of disrespect for historically Black Jefferson Street and the surrounding community—or as some are saying, an insensitive take over, based on greed and a self-serving agenda. An agenda, deflating or negating involvement of African Americans in the future growth of Jefferson Street and its surrounding community shouldn’t be debatable.