YEA explores gentrification in Detroit during youth-led conversation in July

August 23, 2012

DETROIT – Over 60 Detroit residents gathered in McCollester Hall of the Cass Corridor Commons on July 12 for a special youth-led community conversation on the subject of gentrification. The conversation was hosted and facilitated by members of EMEAC's youth advocacy program, the Young Educators Alliance (YEA), which is a part of EMEAC's policy program StandUp!SpeakOut (SUSO)!

“It is a powerful experience for adults to be led in an important community conversation by teens and young adults,” said EMEAC Youth Coordinator Will Copeland. “Sometimes it forces people to ask 'Why aren't we talking about this more?' which is good for the resilience of the community. YEA is going to continue to raise awareness about gentrification through the rest of 2012. I hope that it goes beyond this because the struggle for community self-determination is a long term struggle.”

YEA Teamers Roger Boyd, Noelle Frye and Rayven Roberts

Copeland, YEA Team Leader Siwatu Salama Ra and YEA Team members: Noelle Frye, Rayven Roberts, Roger Boyd and Anthony Grimmett began the discussion by each relaying their thoughts and experiences on the gentrification process taking place currently in the city. The group then opened up the discussion to those in attendance. 

“It was interesting for YEA to share their perspectives as a youth environmental justice group about the different experiences that are common in Mid-Town itself,” said Ra. “That ties directly into gentrification and that's the whole reason of us doing this gentrification work period. YEA has been witnessing different things and they are able to say, 'That is not right but that is not uncommon.' We want to do something about it.”

Community members shared a range of perspectives and opinions such as Andrew Newton of Peoples Kitchen Detroit's in depth historical perspective as a bi-racial youth growing up in the city while witnessing the current changes, to Mt. Elliott Makerspace's Jeff Sturges who identified as a gentrifier working out of the Church of the Messiah on Detroit's East Side and Ms. Rekiba Brown of Occupy Detroit who spoke of biases against community residents in land use policies in the city.

“There was a good mix of people in the room,” Ra said. “You had people coming out and saying, 'Hey, I might be known as a gentrifier. Then you had people from the community who were saying they've been affected by gentrification and people moving into the city. 

“It was a good for people to come together on both sides of the ball park to come together and talk about how they felt about how the city was changing and who will be affected by these changes and who will have access to these new things and who will not.

“It was also interesting hearing about the history. It was interesting hearing people say, 'My family came from the south. We migrated here and the reason why we came was because we weren't wanted down there. Now we come here and it seems history is repeating itself.”

The July conversation on gentrification was the third YEA has been involved with. Ra represented EMEAC during a December gentrification conversation sponsored by Model D. Copeland, Roberts, and former EMEAC Associate Director Ahmina Maxey took part in a gentrification discussion earlier this year at the Hush House Museum of Black History with Hush House founder Charles Simmons and Zone 8 activist Yusef Shakur. 

Although gentrification is a difficult subject to engage in public discourse, YEA Team members plan to continue to explore the topic and advocate for community voice. 

“Gentrification is such a touchy subject. It's like talking about religion,” Ra said. “It was interesting too see people step out of their comfort zone, which was a challenge. YEA had to step up and bring this to the space because few of our community leaders or allies were available, and they did it.”
Copeland agreed and said YEA plans similar events going forward by going into neighborhoods and gathering more perspectives from native Detroiters. 

“In the fall we will raise the question 'How is gentrification an environmental injustice?' YEA participated in the Building Movement conference which looked at land use in the city of Detroit, absentee and out-of-state landowners, and mapping for community power. (EMEAC Executive Director) Diana (Copeland) is very passionate about challenging slumlords so this is something we can incorporate in our work. We can draw connections between the residential land grabs taking place in the neighborhoods and the gentrification taking place in the business and entertainment districts.

“Lastly YEA is working with ReMedia to make a media project on gentrification. We have completed some interviews with community members and are compiling other footage. This project has a lot of potential to create a bold, new statement that is very appropriate for our times.”