BFS
Getting Ready for 2018-19

Ask a 9th Grader about Gentrification

Students in our inaugural 9th grade Service & Justice Seminar: Understanding Identity, Power, and Privilege engaged in an Immersive Exploration of Gentrification, which was held May 2nd-4th. Throughout April, students researched gentrification in their Design & Technology class and designed websites focused on the impact of gentrification in neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn. During the first week of May, they learned more context about the history of gentrification in Brooklyn, and they engaged with community partners doing meaningful work related to gentrification. We connected our students with Brooklyn-based community organizers, artists, and activists in order to learn from them and support their efforts. In partnership with the Office of Service Learning & Civic Engagement, the 9th grade advising team joined students to help chaperone these experiences.

Students visited the Weeksville Heritage Center on Wednesday, May 2nd, Equality for Flatbush on Thursday, May 3rd, and El Puente Global Justice Institute on Friday, May 4th. They watched two documentaries on gentrification — My Brooklyn and Living Los Sures — and engaged in a discussion with Living Los Sures film director Christopher Allen. Each student also participated in a workshop with either hip hop artist/educator Farbeon or intergenerational theater organizer Craig Bannister from Spectrum Arts to creatively represent their learning and experience with gentrification.

 

As one 9th grade student reflected, “songs and poetry can be used to spread awareness about gentrification and other issues plaguing our society.” Included here is one of the hip hop pieces written and performed by a group of students during their session with Farbeon:

 

What’s the fixation on price inflation?

Twenty dollar coffee’s got total domination

Feel the sensation, feel the frustration

Feel the ruination of the people’s foundation

Affordable homes are hard to get,

When without knowing, zoning lines are set

Gentrification, it isn’t pretty,

But it’s here now, it’s in our city.

We’re asked now what we would change,

Needless to say, I find that strange.

It’s our city they’re re-arranging.

In the end, we ain’t doin’ the changing.

Feel the sensation, feel the frustration

Feel the ruination of the people’s foundation

Gentrification kinda sucks

It’s like every brownstone costs a billion bucks

On every block, a fancy coffee store

Like no one on the street knows each other anymore

Local businesses forced out of town,

Being bought, and then shut right down

Oh! Here comes the construction dudes,

Pulling up to build another Whole Foods.

What’s the fixation on price inflation?

Twenty dollar coffee’s got total domination

Feel the sensation, feel the frustration

Feel the ruination of the people’s foundation

Werd

Following the experience, students engaged in reflection on the following five Creativity Activity Service (C.A.S.) learning outcomes:

  • Identify an awareness of one’s own strengths and develop areas for growth
  • Undertake new challenges and develop new skills
  • Work collaboratively with others
  • Engage with issues of global importance
  • Consider the ethical implications of one’s choices and actions

Student reflections included:

After watching My Brooklyn we talked more about the gentrification of my neighborhood. This really made me think about my role in the gentrification of my neighborhood which was a challenging idea to grasp… In my neighborhood stores are always changing and people are always having to leave. It’s gotten to be very expensive and it’s even hard for my parents to have us living here… I want to talk to people in my neighborhood who own bodegas and other small businesses about what they’ve faced because of gentrification so that I can speak up more. I want to use my voice and when I’m old enough to vote I want to use my vote to make a positive change.”  

On Thursday, during our immersive exploration of gentrification, I gained new perspective on how great the importance of grassroots organizing is on stopping gentrification. When we went on our tour of Flatbush with Imani Henry, seeing the positive relationships he had built with community members and some of the businesses owned by black families which his organization had the opportunity to save was extremely powerful. Furthermore, visiting Flatbush, a neighborhood currently in the process of being gentrified, made me see gentrification as more present and more problematic than I had viewed it before the immersion experience.”  

An experience that allowed me to understand gentrification more is when we were doing the theatre workshop. The woman told us to make gentrification with our bodies. It was a lot of fun to see all of my peers’ ideas. Some people were buildings and some people were Starbucks stores. Other people were sad people, and other people were construction workers/machines, and other people were small businesses. We showed the whole grade and everyone understood gentrification a little more.  It was helpful to experience gentrification viscerally.

“During the theater workshop that I attended I worked together with some of my classmates but also with some of the senior citizens of our community. The seniors in my group taught us a few interesting facts we hadn’t heard but the things I learned most from them were real life examples and their own experiences with gentrification.”

I think that after the three days of the Immersive Exploration of Gentrification, I am more aware of the ways that my choices and actions affect my community, and other people’s communities. One way that I think I can take action, is by being mindful of the ways that these changes affect us, and also by not thinking of gentrification as modernization. I also think that having important conversations that raise awareness about gentrification and its disadvantages could help too. I think that these conversations before taking action will provide positive change against gentrification because if people approached the issue with more understanding of why it was wrong, there might be more progress in making important changes.

Finally, students discussed the following entry-points for action from the My Brooklyn Study Guide:

  • Support progressive organizing around these issues. The best policy reforms, accountability campaigns, and innovative initiatives have no chance of success without large numbers of committed folks generating these interventions and mobilizing in their support. That unglamourous, behind-the- scenes, day-to-day work requires support to be sustainable, especially if it is to be led by community members most directly impacted by issues like gentrification and aggressive corporate-led development. Organizations like Equality for Flatbush and El Puente do important work that needs support from allies like you. (Check out this list of petitions currently circulating through E4F and feel free to sign on). And there are many others like them throughout the city.
  • Hold elected officials accountable. Go to an upcoming Candidate’s Forum. Bring a friend or two if you can, and ask about candidates’ land use, affordable housing, and economic development platforms. Vote for candidates who support a bold, progressive, and credible plan for a more equitable NYC. Make sure they hear from you after they are in office, too!
  • Organize in your community. Make an effort get to know your neighbors if you don’t already. It may sound “touchy feely” but building relationships of trust and compassion is the basis of effective political organizing work. You might learn that they are facing issues that require the support and solidarity of others.
  • Go to a community board meeting in your district. It might not sound very exciting, but it’s a good way to get a sense of how people are talking about issues in your community, and what opportunities there are to influence planning at the most local level.
  • Know your rights. Landlords prey on tenants—both long-term low-income residents and newer gentrifiers—who do not know their rights. Is your apartment rent-stabilized? Could your landlord be illegally over-charging you or your neighbor or violating the law in other ways? Seek out support from local community or legal service organizations.

As one student reflected, “Protesting and joining organizations to fight against gentrification is a step towards helping. You can also write to your senators, and fight for affordable housing. When you are old enough to vote, be informed and take issues like gentrification into consideration. Keep talking and inform others!!!”

Our community partners had wonderful feedback as well:

“Thank you again for the honor to work with your amazing students within such a dynamic and well-rounded program. Was just sharing with other E4F folks yesterday about how powerful it is for me to do the tours with Brooklyn Friends students because they are all “growing up” in New York City so they truly understand what is at stake. Their insights are brilliant and their determination/desire to fight for their city is so inspiring for me as an organizer.”
– Imani Henry, Equality for Flatbush

 

*Special thanks to all of our community partners, the 9th grade dean and advisors, and faculty members Jesse Phillips-Fein and Jean Kim for their collaboration with the Office of Service Learning & Civic Engagement in organizing this experience. Photos from the experience can be found here.