MIAMI – Gentrification.
The American Heritage Dictionary classifies that word as a noun, and describes it as the “restoration of deteriorated urban property in working-class neighborhoods by the middle and upper classes.’’
When applying that definition to Liberty City or Overtown, some people may see the erection of tall office buildings and condos as progress, but others on the ground floor view it as a threat to their economic well-being and quality of life.
This week, more than 100 people unified across the African Diaspora to address similar issues.
They gathered at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City to discuss what they called the “Movements of People of Color.’’
As part of a national campaign, the group placed the effects of migration and gentrification under a microscope.
“This is a discussion of how we as people of color are being displaced from our countries of origin and the neighborhoods we live in,” said Sushma Sheth, policy and communications director for the Miami Workers Center, which develops strategies with grassroots organizations to end poverty.
Sheth has fought for the preservation of neighborhoods and to stop gentrification for the past nine years.
“Why are interstates going through black neighborhoods? Why are art galleries going up and taking over Puerto Rican neighborhoods?” Sheth wondered aloud. “There aren’t those kinds of attacks in Coral Gables or Miami Shores.”
In the audience sat representatives from community organizations with similar interests.
There was one group known as PowerU, supported by about 10 people. Sporting T-shirts that read, “Fighting for our land, our people, our community,” members of the Overtown association made their presence known.
“Developers are coming into our neighborhoods and taking our land and moving us away,” said Joann Love, 59, who lives in Overtown. “We can’t even afford the condos that they are building. We need grocery stores, a shopping mall, a Winn Dixie or a small Publix. Instead of giving us what we need, they want to run us away.”
Love’s complaints validate Sheth’s mission. It is why Sheth and three other community activists took to the stage at the meeting to give passionate accounts of their struggles and to inform and garner support for their specific causes.
“The real problem is not segregation or gentrification,” said activist Max Rameau of the Take Back the Land organization, part of the Center for Pan-African Development. “The problem that we face locally and nationally is we don’t control the land on which we sit. If we don’t deal with the root issue, we’re going to find ourselves fighting for land again.’’
He continued: “The reason that you hear about Zimbabwe is because they took land from white people. There are things happening in Mozambique and other African nations, but you don’t hear about those countries.’’
The disparities cut across the African Diaspora throughout the world, several activists at the meeting said.
Marleine Bastien, founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM) or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc., came to the meeting to discuss the plight of her native country, Haiti. From immigration to a national food shortage, the vocal agent of change outlined decades of problems and disparities facing her people.
“Haitians are the only group detained indefinitely,” she said, referring to the interdiction of Haitians at sea and after they arrive on the shores of the United States. “In the early 1980s, they were economic refugees, not political refugees. In the ‘90s, it was said that Haitians had HIV/AIDS. Then, John Ashcroft (the former U.S. Attorney General) said that Haitians were a national threat to the U.S.”
Bastien listed one barrier after the next. She touched upon the debt crisis plaguing her country and many other third-world nations. It was an argument that carried into another discussion by panelist Briggs Bomba.
“Countries are not able to buy medical supplies for AIDS because they are busy paying the debt that is owed,” said Bomba, who is originally from Zimbabwe and now lives in Washington D.C. “How did Africa become trapped in the debt crisis in the first place?’’
Bomba, a program associate with the Washington D.C.-based Africa Action, contends that the debt owed by countries around the world is like quick sand, and the heads of governments need someone to throw them a life line.
“The interest rates on these loans are impossible to pay back,” said Bomba. “It is not enough to cancel the debt. You need to restructure the economy.”
The question of whether the U.S. should forgive loans to impoverished countries was debated on Capitol Hill this week. The Jubilee Act (H.R. 2634/S. 2166) was in front of Congress, awaiting approval on Wednesday morning.
“Congressman Alcee Hastings and Congressman Kendrick Meek are on board,” said Bastien, referring to the passage of the Jubilee Act. “Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is now on board. We have been calling Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, but we have not heard from them.”
By late Wednesday afternoon, the Jubilee Act passed by a 285-132 vote.
With four different agendas from four determined activists, a lot of work remains to heighten the awareness of the Movement of People of Color, the activists said. The change agents in the room recognized that they must organize and mobilize to spread their message.
“This is the time to really seize the moment and act,” said Bomba. “We need to continue this dialogue because the same poor and impoverished people in other countries are the same as the poor and impoverished people here.”
AT A GLANCE:
In keeping with the gentrification meeting’s theme, the Partnership for New Hope, a project of the Miami Workers Center, and the United States Green Building Council, will host a design competition. Green designers from across Florida will re-design the demolished Scott-Carver Homes in Liberty City with community and environmental health as a priority. Residents will share their ideas about what they want to see developed at Scott-Carver.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Marleine Bastien
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Designing Green Competition Kickoff (free food, children’s activities & DJs)
WHEN: Saturday, April 26, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
WHERE: Gwen Cherry Park, 2591 NW 71 Street
CONTACT: Miami Workers Center, (305) 759-8717 ext. 1019, firstname.lastname@example.org