On the Interdependence of Urban and Rural Black Folk

This Article is first in a series discussing race, history, rural and urban life and their intersections

The Interdependence of Urban and Rural Black Folk

I just finished watching Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of Levee moved the shit out of me. Set during the 1920’s, the film is an adaptation of August Wilson’s play of the same name. It follows blues singer Ma Rainey as she navigates her agency while recording of music for white record executives.

The film references black people moving from the South into the North and it made me think about some of the work we are doing today in agriculture. There is a monologue that Chadwick delivers so resonantly that talks about his fathers land, his mother’s rape and the what his fathers response to the act taught him about interacting with white folks. This scene was powerful. So much so that it made me want to write about the Great Migration.

The Great Migration is a term used to describe the mass exodus of black people from out of the black belt south after slavery. From 1910 to 1970 it is estimated that at least 6 million African American left the South for Northern states. Sometimes broken down into waves, the Great Migration can be chronicled by US Census Data with the first wave being from 1910-1940 and the second wave from 1940-1970.

Obviously the question we first gotta deal with is why were black people leaving the rural South? The obvious answer was living in the rural South was hell for black people. Slavery had taken on a new name in the post Civil War South and despite the Union having won the battle – racism / white supremacy had won the war. Convict leasing, sharecropping, Jim Crow, racial terrorism and lack of protections for Africans in America by county, state or federal government equated to poor living conditions for our ancestors.

Often people talk about the Reconstruction era being this amazing boom for Black people in the US with hundreds of Africans in America holding public office across the South including over a dozen House Representatives. This is true. Also true was the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments that ended chattel slavery but not slavery altogether, granted African Americans American citizenship even though there was no consensus of whether that is what all Africans in America wanted at that time and said black men could vote but not black women nor did it protect their capacity to vote.

What is also true is that immediately after the civil war many Africans had seized the plantations that they had been held in bondage. Despite the 40 acres and mule promise, President Andrew Jackson took the land from them and gave it back to the plantation owners. He also turned his back on protecting our formerly enslaved ancestors as white racists literally went on killing sprees massacring African people throughout the South. I guess they were mad the South lost the war or something.

Wilmington NC Race Riot of 1898

It might help drive the point of how savage wild and murderous white people were in the wake of the losing the Civil War in the South. In Wilmington N.C. in 1898, a coalition black and white politicians were elected in what was called the Fusion party. Significant numbers of the party members were black and enough of were elected to office to trigger the white folks to form a mob, murder over 300 black folks and even bring out a Gatling gun to do it. 2000 black people were displaced as a result of the coup d’etat by white supremacists. The government did nothing. Not on a local level, state level or federal level and it was all over the newspapers at the time.

Black Men On a Chain Gang in the South

At the same time, the dominant system run by white people were enthralled by the concept of black people working for them instead of working for themselves. Convict leasing and sharecropping acted as two institutional techniques that white business owners kept themselves rich at the expense of black people. While chattel slavery was outlawed – Black Codes and Jim Crow laws perpetuates the continuation of slavery in the form of locking black people up for as many reasons as possible. Vagrancy laws – meaning if you didn’t have a job and were just out in the world could get one locked up. Once incarcerated, ones labor was sold to whoever needed it including prison plantations and to build out the railroad system across the country. In most instances there was no recourse and many Africans were worked to death.

White folks considered lynchings as a form of entertainment and sold pictures as postcards

Keep in mind the racial terrorism of Lynch mobs and the lynching of African Americans as entertainment for white people in the South was commonplace. So common, pictures of lynched Africans were sold as postcards, severed body parts sold as souvenirs and decorations that were hung in homes of white people. Sexual violence against African American women were considered a coming of age moment for white men. The scene in Wilmington, NC was no anomaly; African people being ambitious and successful were deemed as forbidden. The racial terrorism was used to inhibit black people from becoming independent and developing parity with whites.

The wild part about it though is that despite how much white folks said through their actions that they hated black people – they did everything in their power to try to keep black folks from leaving the South. White folks blamed communists and communism for recruiting black folks out of the south to go to the North. In reality; as a result of the industrial growth of World War 1, Northern Industries were desperate for war labor and of course because of the war – European immigrants weren’t coming over to the US at the rates they were before. Black people saw the opportunity to renegotiate their lives experience in this country by moving to all points North of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Today, we hear many that advocate for the return to the black rural agrarian society that our ancestors of generations past were rooted in. I agree, we must return back to the land, especially by owning and controlling because it is through land that we find independence as a people. At the same time, it is important to remember why we left the South in droves and ensure that we create interdependent bridges and systems that support the connection between our work in the rural county and the urban city.

As it pertains to agricultural systems; the city has the mass of our black populations in many cases across the South. According to the census the majority of black people in this country STILL live in the south despite 98% of rural farmland being owned by white people. Connecting supply chains, distribution and processing infrastructure and most importantly markets that can ensure that jobs that pay can be created to support the quality of life and lived experience that we left the South looking for in the first place us essential.

Now this is not to say that moving up North turned out to be some utopia filled with bliss and racial harmony. Of course not. Studies showed that moving to the North resulted in black folk dying faster than their counterparts in the South.  Black people experienced housing, wage and racial violence in the North as well. Jim Crow didn’t just live below the Mason Dixon line. In all reality, things were just as racist in the Northern ghetto as it was in the South just in different ways some less overt and more covert – some still in your face and blatant. Irrespective of either Northern racism or Southern, black people have worked tirelessly generation after generation negotiating our freedom on our own terms within the ever constricting and reflexing boundaries of America or wherever you might find black folks wrestling against white supremacy. It’s not about where we are from as black people, as much as it is where we are going as black people and whether that is back to the country, reclaiming the quickly gentrifying city or even back to Afrika – we all gonna get there together because if one of us ain’t free ain’t none of us free.

Duron Chavis is the founder of Happily Natural Day; a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to holistic health, culture and social change.

Why Does Black Space Matter?

Why Does Black Space Matter?
Duron Chavis

Two years ago I had the pleasure of taking a garden tour with several amazing colleagues. The tour was unique in that we went to Reveille Church in the West End of Richmond, Virginia.

Reveille Church is one of the oldest churches in the city, and it is also one of the wealthiest. The tour guide narrated the history of the church, walked us through its gardens, and told us the story of the oldest house on the church’s campus, which is also one of the oldest houses in the city.

The house is as old as the enslavement of my ancestors in the country. The other tour participants were predominantly white, older women, all of whom I am sure weren’t experiencing the tour in the same way I experienced it. As the tour guide told the history of this space, all I could think of was how my African ancestors experienced this place. What stories they would tell. What terrors they faced. What their lives were like as they were forced to work the landscape, the kitchens, and the farms of one of Richmond’s oldest religious institutions. I distinctly remember the separate door for the help.

Alongside my own ancestral evocations, one of the most poignant aspects of the tour was the story of how the land came to be held by these early Virginia colonists. As we walked up the steps of the house, the tour guide explained that King George had granted an astounding 50,000 acres to them. I thought, 50,000 acres? The guide said this from the top of the steps, explaining that the land stretched from these steps, only blocks from Willow Lawn, to the James River; the entirety of that expanse was given to these white people in complete disregard of the indigenous people who lived there.

I tell this story to help you understand the root of why Black Spaces Matters. The story of people of European ancestry and western imperialism, specifically the story of the Americas, is the story of space: white people having it and the power of it to do what they want and create the life they desire upon it.

The genocide, forced removal, and marginalization on reservations of indigenous people; the enslavement, discrimination, and marginalization of African people; the marginalization of Asian communities; the exploitation of so-called Latino people (because before a Spanish person colonized this hemisphere, the people we say are Latino or Hispanic didn’t call themselves that) are all wrapped up in the people of European ancestry doing wrong to every other ethnicity on the planet using the false construct of race as a justification and a hierarchy of human value that places themselves at the top and everyone else beneath them.

Food, Climate, and Racial Justice require Land Justice. As an urban farmer, one of the most tenacious issues I have faced has been that of land tenure. Finding places to grow has been hard work, often harder than the growth itself. After years of growing on land, I have seen landowners decide to change terms, sell their property, or develop urban farms we have grown on into something else. In order to fully practice self-determination, people of African ancestry have to have land that they control, without worry that it will be taken away.

The phenomenon we experience today is that predominately white-led urban agriculture profiteers colonize our rapidly gentrifying Black and brown communities in Richmond and across the country. Instead of investing in the preexisting community, these organizations access their circles of wealth and resources to fund salaries, programs, and organizations that hardly ever put our communities in leadership positions. We aren’t ever given the title to the land nor the title of leadership. These organizations rarely if ever use their power and privilege to disrupt patterns of systemic racism.

When we do work explaining why communities do not have access to healthy food, we tell the story of how communities of color were redlined—denied mortgages and financing based on race—in the 1950s by the Federal Housing Administration. We tell the tale of how African American neighborhoods were destroyed by the creation of the interstate highway system. We tell the story of how Black farmers were discriminated against and denied loans and other services by the USDA, plus how their land was stolen by members of the white community operating on local and state levels across the country. We tell the story of how black farmers have had twelve million acres of land stolen in the last century. That 98% of agricultural land is owned by white people. We always explain that lack of food access is always about power and how systems were established to deny people of color of theirs.

Black Space Matters because it is the one thing we have lacked. Agency over space has been denied to people of color by people of European ancestry since the first piece of land was granted to a colonist, whether it be in the Americas, Africa, the so-called Middle East, Australia, or Asia. The navigation of space, or land; its equitable redistribution; its potential for use and what happens on it are the final frontier for all those who aspire to social justice.

The Resiliency Garden is a reimagining of space and an example of what can happen when Black people take control of space and regenerate it as a catalyst for freedom, healing, and liberation. The space lives at the intersection of food, climate, and racial justice and is an homage to a future that serves us all, not just a select few.

Why a Community Land Trust?

(A Long but necessary read to imagine black futures that are inclusive of black people having and owning homes and food to eat)

You might ask what the hell is a community land trust? Let me put you on real quick cuz most folks I know have no idea what the hell a community land trust (CLT) is in the first place.

A community land trust is a non profit land holding entity that owns and stewards land for community benefit. They are used for many types of development. Most commonly they are used to develop affordable housing, and often times agriculture, public green space or community gardens things like that.

The origin of community land trusts is blackety black. During the 1960s the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizes in the Deep South primarily targeting and working with black farming communities. Who you think these activists stayed with when they went down south? How did they eat? You think SNCC organizers were living off grants and fundraising during the Civil Rights movement? Staying in hotels and shit like that? Sleeping in they cars in the middle of the racist ass black belt? SNCC organizers lived with the people and predominantly they people were small black farmers and other rural black folk.

In Georgia; Charles Sherod (who was raised in Petersburg VA and went to Virginia Union btw) is one SNCC’S first field secretaries in Albany GA. He does all the things but especially voter registration and protesting. He meets and marries a Shirley Sherod, who was from Georgia and knew first hand about the racial terrorism black farmers experienced. Her father was shot and killed by another white farmer in a dispute over livestock. She meets Charles while working for SNCC as a student at Albany State University. They organize together and I like to imagine they fell in love working for the people together.

Black farmers in the south experienced all types of racial terrorism but economic violence is one aspect that folks often don’t talk about. Farmers owning their land were able to offer protection, shelter and food for SNCC organizers. Once SNCC and other forms of civil rights struggle evolved into calls for Black Liberation – much of the attention that was focused in the South with the sit ins and marches and the passage of the Voting Rights Act went away. Those same farmers that gave refuge to SNCC organizers faced repercussions from the system in the form of being denied loans from the USDA to upgrade their farms, having land stolen from them by county officials and basically being locked out of the food system that was and still is controlled by white people. The work of the Sherods evolved to address the system persecuting black farmers who had been registering to vote. When SNCC evolved toward more of a black power stance, and as much of the attention around Civil Rights dissipates and evolves into the struggle for black liberation Charles Sherod retires from SNCC.

You might ask what does all this have to do with community land trusts? Well in 1969, 5 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act – the Sherods start a nonprofit called New Communities Inc. See while all the attention on the South moved on the Sherods stayed planted in Georgia working with the farmers that had been the bedrock and catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. New Communities’s mission was to provide housing and farmland to the farmers who were having their land stolen from them by the racist whites who controlled the county and state systems in Southwest GA. As a nonprofit farm cooperative in the beginning they were able to acquire close to 6000 acres of land in GA. They envisioned themselves as taking on the next stage of the civil rights struggle, that of economic development using agriculture as the base. At the time this endeavor was the largest black land owned operation in the country. New Communities was the first model for community land trust in the country ever, and was explicitly founded to provide affordable housing and farmland intentionally for black people.

The racist system did not stop and the Governor of GA blocked funding for their effort. The USDA also discriminated and denied loans. They were forced to sell land and later went into foreclosure. Even later they would file a claim in the black farmer case Pigfore V. glickman (largest class action suit in US history) and were awarded 12 million dollars. They recently purchased a pecan farm of some 1600 acres in size and are still doing the work.

What can a community land trust do?

Depending on how it is set up in its bylaws, a community land trust can do a bunch of things but most often it buys land and keeps ownership of that land, stewarding and preserving it for as long as the community land trust exists. Most CLTs across the country iterate themselves as nonprofit land holders explicitly to develop affordable housing. Some do explicitly farmland. Some do both.

For the affordable housing piece; the CLT purchases land or otherwise acquires it (perhaps as a city, county or regional land bank) and then works to develop above ground homes that can be sold affordably to community members. The land that is acquired by the CLT is taken off the speculative, home flip, gentrification market that is exploited by real estate developers especially in formerly redlined communities. The homes that are built on CLT land are as a result more affordable for home buyers because the home buyer is not buying the land underneath the home which knocks the price down significantly. In many (read most) instances, black people especially and poor people in general don’t have the capital (or credit) needed to just outright purchase a home. By putting the land in a community land trust – the purchase of the above ground improvements – I.e the home itself is an easier way for folks to purchase their first home thereby putting them on a path towards building equity. When they sell the home (in the instance of the MWCLT) a portion of that equity is paid forward to the next buyer of the home keeping the home permanently affordable. The remaining equity is theirs to do what they will with it.

The reason this could be an attractive option for someone is because as neighborhoods rapidly gentrify – the land in those neighborhoods become more and more scarce and as a result the values of the land and the home goes up. CLT’s often have explicit guidelines regarding who is eligible to purchase their homes related to income and housing size. For the cost of what one someone making less than 60k with a household of three might pay in renting, by working with a community land trust, they could actually build wealth through their mortgage payment and do what white folks have done for generations – take the equity that has been built into their home over time as the value for their homes goes up – building wealth through the equity that have accrued through the home value. This plus their purchase of the home through the CLT keeps housing stock affordable within communities that more and more black folk are being pushed out of due to gentrification.

This process not only works for homes it also can work for commercial properties. In the case of the Maggie Walker CLT, the secondary work is that of securing land for urban greening and urban agriculture. Again land is hard to access within cities for the same reason affordable housing is hard to find. Developers with money usually call first dibs on land tracts making it harder and harder for public greenspace, community gardens or urban farms to evolve in cities across the country. CLT’s have the capacity to make acquire land explicitly for this purpose and more importantly the better CLT’s in their efforts to create affordable housing also recognize the importance of building sustainable and resilient communities that include access to healthy food, that are walkable, have access to greenspace and also recognize the importance of communities have control over their local food system as an essential component of racial equity just as the Sherods did in the 70s with their development of New Communities Inc.

The lack of healthy food is ever present in predominantly black communities across the country. As a result, research has consistently correlated that lack with chronic diet related disease that disproportionately impacts black communities. Climate change is disproportionately impacting black communities through formerly redlined neighborhoods being hotter and higher instances of heat related illness due to the pervasiveness of impervious surface and lack of green infrastructure in black communities. The intersection of these issues cross at who controls and has access to land to develop greenspaces, urban farms, community gardens, walkable neighborhoods that manage storm water effectively with green infrastructure or even begin to mitigate urban heat island effect through the increase of urban tree canopy. CLT’s in some cities are developing agrihoods- housing development that include urban farms as an amenity for community residents that can foster circular, cooperative and solidarity economies. Others make acquisitions that include parks and greenspace that can help ameliorate these systemic killers of black people that choke us out in the built environment.

The only thing that jacks up the capacity of Community Land Trusts to be a tool for racial equity and social justice is how connected and committed they are to the communities they are designed to serve. Just like every other space in our society, white domination, lack of inclusion, Lack of impacted community leadership, the non profit industrial complex can infect this particular structure. The lack of understanding of community land trusts by community members, especially black community members who may not know the origins of CLT’s and their connection to our struggle and the lack of awareness of them as a wealth building tool can also negate their relevance for the people that they are designed to be of service to.

The other aspect of this that gets in the way is our societies focus on individual wealth building and lack of strategies to build wealth collectively and safeguard wealth as community. Land is the basis of independence and wealth. A wise man told me they aren’t making any more land. The indigenous communities of this country understood that land must be everyone’s, that no person can own the land. Settler colonialism has imposed this private land ownership paradigm upon us and it is indubitably going to be struggle for us to shake those shackles off. Given the current conditions, as I understand them, particularly with the looming eviction crisis and increasing lack of access to healthy food that our communities face? Community land trusts need to be higher on our list of weaponry to address these issues holistically.

Peace? Everybody Seem to Want a Piece of Mines

People say they respect non-violence up to the point that someone got a pistol pointed at they loved one.

Reality is you don’t really respect peace cuz you never seen it. Its all imagination. Just cuz I aint swinging a bat at your car windshield dont mean I can’t strangle your money with procedures and suffocate your success with policies. What you seen as a person of color for the last 500 years is war, from overt to covert.

But thats the thing.

How can you be peaceful when somebody thugging you to live in a ghetto? How can you be kumbaya when somebody strong arm robbing you of your education system? What does peace even look like when your neighborhood is built on top of a landfill?

At some point you say, well I love myself more than I am willing to let you keep me in this predicament.

Change is disruptive. It is as alarming as a gunshot letting off in the silence of the status quo. Its flipping over tables because sometimes, the people on the other side of the table really do want to exploit you. Sometimes they dont want to be cool unless they can rape you. Sometimes they feel that you should get pleasure out of them sucking every last piece of your humanity away.

In the presence of that beast, you say we need to be peaceful? That we need to just hug it out? I am sorry. Corruption and greed besieges all man no deference to race color or creed. Those who seek to oppress have no qualms about it. They just want green. Or power. Or to feel superior. Or whatever, they just have no recognition of your life mattering.

So my question is; when do we stop trying to make peace with a system that is content with our extermination?

Thoughts on Being Vulnerable

Vulnerability, the ability to allow your weakness and flaw to be exposed without refrain of shame or casigation. We rarely let our guard down and allow out authentic selves to be revealed to others let alone the world.

Why not? Lack of trust, fear of reprisal, relinquishing power to someone, trepidation from possibility of being misconceived and looked at funny?

The interesting thing is when we look in the mirror who have we allowed to be vulnerable to us? Have we violated someones trust when they showed us their weakspot?

How high are the walls we have built between ourselves and others? Only when we can be truly ourselves without fear can we truly be free. It takes time. Trust is gained experience by experience. We learn that we can peel back layers and show others our true selves ocer bridges of empathy.

When we are surrounded by those who affirm our purpose and lift us up when we are down, those who we share our true selves with, then we operate in a space of unstoppable force, invulnerable from penetration. We steadily build the circle of trust with each experience, building community around authenticity and transparency.

Thoughts on Exclusion and Erasure

** In order to be politically correct the names have been removed from this status update.

It is highly problematic to work in the community without acknowledgment and affirmation of that community context and historical narrative. On three separate occasions on two opposite ends of the spectrum, I have seen organizations attempt to step into communities to do urban agriculture work by either erasing the macro history of that community or the microhistory. Both ends of the spectrum speak to a moral and/or ethical issue and I want to explain why by explaining what I saw and what problems it caused.

The first example: organization does work in the community. Works primarily in predominantly african american neighborhoods and purports ita work to be an intervention that will help that community. However, the organization does not hire African americans from the communities in which it works nor does it have in its programming any culturally relevant themes that speak specifically to race, class or the racism that was perpetuated that makes the interventions the org interjects into the community necessary. This is an example of erasing the macro history of a community. By removing race, an approaching the community with a color-blind approach – the community is treated as an ahistorical entity that just appeared with these problems out of thin air and that the intervention the org purports as a solution is one size fits all. Nothing could be further than the truth and nothing is more disrespectful. Communities are not ahistorical. How they come into existence and the stories are woven into are their heartbeat.

The second example: Organization doing work in a community evolves swiftly due to the passionate leadership of a small volunteer group. Circumstances change. The small passionate group has to move on to other opportunities. The organization doing work in a community has a leadership change. Instead of engaging the small passionate group that has built the community relationships and trust on the ground – the new leadership decides to start over – while still working in the communities that the small passionate group built trust in. When the small passionate group is brought up by the community – the new leadership dismisses the conversation and in some instances castigates the small passionate group. The new leadership pretends as though the work that came before them was done by them unto folks not familiar with the organizational history. The community then does not trust the new leadership of the organization. This is an erasing of the micro history of a community. The narrative of how the work got to that point is important. To dismiss the contributions of those who came before is dishonest and unethical.

Thoughts on Housing Discrimination

If one were desirous of explaining the difference yet the inextricable link between individual racism and institutional racism one would need to look no further than the topic of housing discrimination which in my opinion tells the second chapter of the African holocaust in this country with the first chapter being the enslavement of African people. It is through a conversation about housing we find the implementation of racist policies that built and then cordoned African people to ghettos throughout this country.

The politician was a white supremacist that created the laws that governed black people into the ghettos, the developer was racist and he wanted black people far from white people, the real estate agent was a racist who wanted to prevent miscegenation, the loan folks at the bank said no loans for black neighborhoods, the federal government wasn’t backing any mortgages for black folks, white dude if he got a loan for a home in a white neighborhood – if he subleased his home to a black person – he would get penalized, the black neighborhood was zoned so a toxic waste dump could be next to it or liquor store in it, white neighborhood was zoned so not even an apartment could be built in it.

Synergistic to this institutionalized racism we find individual racists who wrote the policies and implemented them. The individuals who were the politicians, the mayors, the city councilmen, the developers, the real estate agents, the loan officers, the insurance agents, the housing association members were either a) hated blacks and believed whites were superior or b) knew the policies were wrong yet did not actively rebel against those policies to create equity. Without those individual racists and racism tolerators, we would not have seen the creation and implementation of policies that created the systemic racism we are still festering in the aftereffects of today.

Internalized Racism: Another Elephant In the Room

The elephant in the room regarding racial healing and reconciliation is: internalized racism. It is concurrent, a precursor and an after effect of racial healing work. In a shoot – out; if you already shot – you cant really heal like for real – you trying to survive the shoot – out. Same as everybody else. Communities of color are working to address internalized racism while working to stop the ongoing oppression that they face. It is some of the hardest work – dealing with the demons that have been implanted into the consciousness as a result of the myth of white racial superiority. The layers of that onion get more and more potent as you peel them back.

Since it is fact that communities of color can and do internalize racism and this results in stressors, behaviors and conditioning that harm – one must concede that white folks have detoxing to do as well. So there is healing needed across the spectrum. Truth is healing is available for those who want it before those who need it. You might need it and not want it. That is across the spectrum. First thing to do is acknowledge you have a problem. The question of identity – who are you if racism disappeared today. Is your identity predicated upon the othering of another?

Beetlejuice: A Metaphor for Gentrification

Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice

The movie Beetlejuice can serve as a metaphor for gentrification. The Deetz are gentrifiers, moving into the former home of the Maitlands. In the opening scene, Mrs. Maitland is approached by her neighbor coaxing her to help her sell her home and that she saw someone willing to buy it for over 250k. Later the Maitlands die and their home gets sold to the Deetz who start the rehabilitation of the home.  Even though deceased, the Maitlands want to stay in their home. Seeing all the changes that the Deetz are making they try to scare the Deetz away but the Deetz dont even see them. The Maitlands invisibility is an allegory to the invisibility of communities of color pre-exisiting in neighborhoods that are under gentrification.

Oblivious to the Maitlands, the Deetz are representative of a class of developers. While the wife is an artist, the husband is scheming on other properties around the city and desires to pitch projects to investors. The daughter is despondent to all of this, and can actually see the Maitlands. Much like the younger progeny of those who gentrify are forced to engage with the indigenous communities in which they find themselves among. Her goth attire perhaps represents the anarchists, radical left ethos of many who accompany the gentrification, poor working class whites who are against the system as well but find themselves enmeshed and entrenched in it still.

The true hero of the movie Beetlejuice, is Beetlejuice himself. He represents the unfettered true to who he is, pathologies and all – the dead. While he is not native to the Maitlands neighborhood – he specializes in getting gentrifiers (the living) out of newly deceased folks homes. The Maitlands being oblivious as to what to do to retain their home and not be displaced. When they learn a few insights on how, and try their hand at scaring the Deetz out – the effort is seen as a performance and the Deetz then try to capitalize on their presence and attempt to market them as an element of their  new home.

Does any of that sound familiar? How about the nonprofit organization that pops up in the community of color to work with underprivileged youth but doesn’t have any staff from said community on its board/staff? You know how they take the picture of the little black kids during xmas time and send it to potential donors? Perhaps even the co-opting of token blacks into their organizations and using them to pretend they are inclusive and diverse? In both instances, their is no recognition that their presence is a form of colonization and an act of displacement in the communities in which the gentrifiers find themselves.

Upon realization that their efforts are not enough to get the Deetz out their house, (the popular Banana Boat Song and dance routine) the Maitlands call Beetlejuice. Remember they are warned by their caseworker in the afterlife department that Beetlejuice USED to work for the afterlife department but he was too dangerous. They also get shown that the dead who get exorcised just drift in the void – perhaps a metaphor for those who are displaced by gentrification. They dead dead. (As an aside Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars in our galaxy, noted to be on the verge of supernova as in it is about to die in a million years) Beetlejuice is crass, disheveled, impolite, total non status quo, kinda like the drunk uncle at your family reunion. When they realize he might hurt the Deetz instead of just scaring them off – the Maitlands back out and reign Beetlejuice back in.

The Maitlands decision to resign on having Beetlejuice do his work is a metaphor for what happens when the gentrifiers and the folks who are being gentrified find those key individuals who are indigenous but are ok with the gentrification happening. Maybe they dont mind the taxes going up, other indigenous residents being pushed out, they might not be thinking of the long term implications of displacement, or the stress it causes and how many indigenous community members are at risk to lose their homes. The indigenous activist community that is anti gentrification could be allegorical to Beetlejuice in that they have not sold out on the idea that gentrification is a good thing.

Shaken not stirred by the encounter with “ghost with the most”, the Deetz deepen their resolve of marketing their property as having ghosts (cough) blacks (cough). The absolutely loved the Banana Boat dance thing. One of their associates Otho; got his hands on a handbook of spells for the newly dead and decides to rise the Maitlands from the dead for amusement of the guests and to attract investors for their further development of the town. I think we have seen those parties where black/brown people are put on display to perform for the wealthy and white. The Maitlands dont want to kill the Deetz, and have grown fond of their daughter and decide they want to try to share their space with them.

The young goth anarchist daughter seeing the pain and demise of the Maitlands happening (Otho apparently was about to make them dead dead with his spell) calls upon Beetlejuice who says he kind of an illegal immigrant he can only stay if he gets married to her. She agrees. He comes. The idea of indigenous community activists forming collaboration with anarchist relatives of the gentrifiers has to be noted. What if that happened? Could indigenous activists be blocked from meetings? Would threats to have police called on them be successful? Beetlejuice knocks the developers thru the roof. Saves the Maitlands. Tries to marry the girl as agreed to but gets reigned back in by the Maitlands at the last minute. Beetlejuice gets sent back to the afterlife department. Movies goes off with Maitland and Deetz living in purported harmony. The entire ending is problematic because they dance to the Banana Boat Song with ghost football players or whatever.

The point is they (the Maitlands) only stayed the inevitable. The jewel in the movie is the marriage of interests with the Maitlands and the young goth anarchist girl who we infer that them – the co-opted ndigenous community and her – could find a bond and realize a way in which everyone could live together in peace. Mr. Deetz is even seen reading a book about cohabitation with the undead.

An entire arguement can be made about horror movies are metaphors for social issues in our community. The zombie movie represents the poor working class rising up and taking over. The haunted house as a metaphor for gentrification. The slasher film for the sins of sex without marriage. What are some other examples of movies you have seen that have correlations to issues in contemporary society?

Toxic Masculinity Incubated R.Kelly and We As Men Are Complicit

I was raised as a black male in Southside Richmond. As a teenager I was taught by my peers that if I was a virgin there was something wrong with me. Manhood was equated to being sexually active. The more sex you had the more of a man you were. As a result, many of my peers early interactions with girls were in pursuit of sex. My peer group treated girls as sex objects.

I am sure the idea of “having game” was equated with how well you could manipulate a girl to have sex with you. If you were still a virgin you were seen as being lame, wack and not having no game. This toxic perspective on male female relationships I am sure led to many women being emotionally coerced and “talked” into sexual relations with boys who did not care about them sincerely. Early in our teenage years we were taught to lie to girls, tell them how much we loved them, we would be together forever, all of these embellishments in order to get sexual gratification. Many of my peer group were latch key kids. After school and skipping school provided many opportunities to explore urges and do things that our parents knew nothing about.

The idea that the girls in the R.Kelly incidents were at fault in any way is so disgusting because you have a grown man – manipulating girls like we were taught to do as boys. What we were taught was and is toxic and had to be unlearned. We weren’t surrounded by healthy Male examples who demonstrated and explained that manhood was not equated to how sexually active you were. This is not an excuse for the manipulation and toxicity that was experienced by the girls who encountered us. I apologize for us because it was wrong and I know women who weren’t sexually assaulted but were emotionally damaged by boys who lied to them to get them to let their guard down so they could have a sexual experience. I know boys who still practice that as older males. I see elements of that behavior manifesting itself in people commenting and blaming the girls and it’s crazy because it speaks to the culture of rape, objectification and misogyny that girls have to grow up and navigate thru and then survive as women within.

As men, R.Kelly is all our fault. Yes. We live in a white supremacist society that locks us up first. We live under a government that pumped crack in our community. Both of those combined realities plus the myriad of other intersectionalities literally snatched generations of black men from our community in mass. Despite all that, we dance to R.Kelly music. Many of us played the songs and whispered sweet nothings in the ears of girls when we were teens and were straight running game trying to get some.

This pathologic behavior is part of what they call toxic masculinity. We all ain’t fall into the gradient and become predators of under age girls but if you ever lied or even embellished how you felt about a girl so you could get her to have sex no matter how old you were, you were/are wrong too. We gotta do better.



Even when the urban guerrilla applies proper tactics and abides by its security rules, he can still be vulnerable to errors. There is no perfect urban guerrilla. The most he can do is make every effort to diminish the margin of error, since he cannot be perfect. One of the means we should use to diminish the possibility of error is to know thoroughly the seven deadly sins of the urban guerrilla and try to avoid them.

The first sin of the guerrilla is inexperience. The urban guerrilla, blinded by this sin, thinks the enemy is stupid, underestimates the enemy’s intelligence, thinks everything is easy and, as a result, leaves evidence that can lead to disaster. Because of his inexperience, the urban guerrilla may also overestimate the forces of the enemy, believing them to be stronger than they really are. Allowing himself to be fooled by this presumption, the urban guerrilla becomes intimidated and remains insecure and indecisive, paralyzed and lacking in audacity.

The second sin of the urban guerrilla is to boast about the actions he has undertaken and to broadcast them to the four winds.

The third sin of the urban guerrilla is vanity. The guerrilla who suffers from this sin tries to solve the problems of the revolution by actions in the city, but without bothering about the beginnings and survival of other guerrillas in other areas. Blinded by success, he winds up organizing an action that he considers decisive and that puts into play the entire resources of the organization. Since we cannot afford to break the guerrilla struggle in the cities while rural guerrilla warfare has not yet erupted, we always run the risk of allowing the enemy to attack us with decisive blows.

The fourth sin of the urban guerrilla is to exaggerate his strength and to undertake actions for which he, as yet, lacks sufficient forces and the required infrastructure.

The fifth sin of the urban guerrilla is rash action. The guerrilla who commits this sin loses patience, suffers an attack of nerves, does not wait for anything, and impetuously throws himself into action, suffering untold defeats.

The sixth sin of the urban guerrilla is to attack the enemy when they are most angry.

The seventh sin of the urban guerrilla is to fail to plan things, and to act spontaneously.

Carlos Marighella

Thoughts on Adaptive Leadership

Over the past year; I have embraced the idea of adaptive leadership. Our traditional conditioning teaches us that leaders are the ones with the instructions, they tell us what to do and we follow them to the end goal. I believe that traditional leadership models are archaic and inept at solving the problems that our world faces. In the place of the traditional leader/follower leadership model; I concede that adaptive leadership is necessary. Where the role of follower and leader are interchangeable – adaptive to the scenario at hand.

Within each of us, there are human personality characteristics that serve different situations better than another person. For example; I may be extremely nimble in my ability to react to swiftly changing situations and prioritize the best course of action to achieve big-picture goals. You, on the other hand, may be extremely detailed oriented and need a plan for each and every 15-minute interval of the day’s activities. Neither of these modes of thought is exclusively better than the other. They both are necessarily dependent on their context.

Adaptive leadership allows for the ebb and flow of these ever-changing dynamics to regulate one’s role as a leader or a follower. It does not absolve one of accountability. However, it creates an atmosphere of shared accountability across teams, groups, and communities that is mandatory if we are to share the weight of our communities problems and the weight of solving those problems.