BLACK VOICES

Poet Breaks Down Gentrification And Its Ripple Effect On Black Lives

"My people are leaving."

Rent hikes and overpriced coffee shops are synonymous with gentrification, but it's so much more than that.  It's also about the burden many black people with lower income face when they can no longer afford to live in areas they once dominated -- and are eventually forced to succumb to its effects or leave. 

Poet Roya Marsh is infuriated by this reality and wrote a poem called “Gentry-Phi-Cation” to express her frustration.

The poem --  which was performed at the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam and won 2nd place -- kicks off with Marsh singing "I'm Building Me A Home," a song that was featured in Spike Lee's 1988 film "School Daze.” It compares one of the movie's main character's conflict of having to compromise part of his identity or integrity to join a fraternity to the fight black people in these gentrifying communities face of whether to stand up against it or become a product of it. 

After reciting the lyrics, Marsh leads into the first lines of her poem: 

"Good evening almighty big sister Uncle Tom, ma’am. I solemnly swear to uphold the mission of restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property, often resulting in the displacement of lower income people," Marsh says as her words flow into a quickened cadence. 

 

“I get what you meant by projects. You move me in, stigmatize me, raise rent, kick me out, then whitewash my hood with some hipsters and coke bottle glasses and chewed up converse that will clutch their purse when I walk by tighter than a church mother holds their Bible.” Roya Marsh

Like Marsh, people of color around the country are being affected by gentrification. This is especially true for black families who on average earn $34,958, which is $16,981 less than the national average, according to a U.S. Census report. Property value in historically black neighborhoods is increasing, making it harder for black people to stay in these neighborhoods.

"My people are leaving," Marsh said. "Call it reverse migration, institutionalization, incarceration or just plain murder, in any case, something dies."

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