Cathedral of St. John the Divine Blog

An Open Letter on Gentrification MIA MICHELSON-BARTLETT MARCH 2, 2016

Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights, for facilities to get better? –Spike Lee at the Pratt Institute, 2013

The following letter was drafted during a visit to The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet and addresses gentrification in the South Bronx. The author, a junior from The Calhoun School, has allowed us to share it with our readership.

Dear Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand,

My name is Xiomara, I'm 16 years old attending The Calhoun School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and living in the South Bronx. I've gone to a primarily white independent school all my life. For the past 12 years I've spent my days being one of the only black children at school and going back home to a black family. I've lived in my neighborhood since the age of 7. My parents are landlords and purchased our apartment building in the summer of 2004. It was primarily an African-American and Hispanic community then. Eleven years later I remember what the neighborhood used to be and all the changes it's gone through. Then I also think about the changes that could be in the next 11 years. Gentrification, I see it now in Hunts Point, two stops from where I get off on Elder. I see white people get off in hopes of buying brownstones and newly developed properties at a cheaper price.

Moments like these reveal the structural racism implanted in our society, in New York City. Why does it take an influx of white people to make a neighborhood better? For food deserts to diminish and restorations on the old brownstones to occur? This is all created by capitalism's urban land markets and policies. The rising property values push out low income and working-class households, causing eviction, personal displacement and homelessness. Gentrification is something that should be stopped and that you should stop. The cycle is only becoming worse with inflation and an increase in the wealth gap. As an American citizen and as a New Yorker I demand that gentrification stop and the systematic displacement people of color be addressed. I ask that in doing so you acknowledge your privilege and how it oppresses people of color.

With Hope,


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