Is Atlanta whitewashing historic Black and Brown communities and schools? Many Black Atlanta natives and transplants would say yes.
In the late 60’s and 70’s, Atlanta saw what is called “White Flight,” where white citizens living inside the city limits began to leave as Black and other minority groups became homeowners in the city. This lead to the development of Black built and occupied communities and businesses in Atlanta.
After the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta began to take on a new face with developers taking an interest in transitioning lower-income communities into higher-end residential properties. Jump to 2017, we see less and less affordable housing and more high-end homes, developments designed for live/work/play.
The result? More Atlanta natives are being pushed out of the city and into greater poverty.
Various private entities and organizations host tours of historic West and Southside communities as if it’s an auction block.
Here’s where you can come and purchase cheap land, redevelop and make a profit by capitalizing on blight, poverty-stricken, underdeveloped communities, food desserts and struggling schools.
What message does this send to citizens in these areas that have endured neglect of these issues for years? And, where are our Black and Brown families going? I’ve asked these question to elected officials, school and community leaders, and I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory answer. I mean, look at the number of homeless students Metro Atlanta schools are supporting.
At the Center of Gentrification Is Education
At the center of gentrification is the reform of the educational system and, if we aren’t careful, history will repeat itself.
Overwhelmed with meetings from non profits, city entities and the school system, Black and Brown residents have expressed that “its like being in a whirlwind!” Once we get crime, poverty and the housing crisis settled a new monster raises it’s head.
One Collier Heights parent thoughts on gentrification were connected with recent school changes and closures within West and Southside Atlanta communities. “What’s happening in this school district is really causing us to rethink if the school turnaround process is really helping sustain schools or attempts to change schools in order to change our communities.”
Residents are fighting to keep the homes and schools they’ve sacrificed to maintain for many years. This year, there were additional school changes and closures that have rattled communities, leaving many stakeholders enraged and feeling hopeless.
In a recent community meeting about school changes, seniors and retired educators asked, “Where are we in the process, this ‘renewal’ of the Westside?”
For many Atlanta natives, Atlanta high schools—like Frederick Douglass, Benjamin E. Mays, George Washington Carver, South Atlanta, Maynard Jackson (formerly Southside), Daniel McLaughlin Therrell—were the gateway to college, technical school, the military and workforce. My experience at Douglass High School was amazing. Attending an Atlanta high school in the West and Southside was like going to an HBCU. You were empowered, embraced and provided a strong sense of history and identity, and most importantly you were held to a high standard for achieving success.
Education has always been a powerful tool in changing societal issues. In recent history, most Atlanta natives and graduates of West and Southside high schools can attest to the fact that the level of engagement with alumni, community leaders and stakeholders has drastically changed from better to worse. Despite the fact that, community engagement with schools is a critical piece to how they are sustained.
Several alumni leaders of previously closed high schools—West Fulton, Southwest, Price, Harper, Archer and Turner—have take on leadership roles to ensure that the remaining high school attendance zones are maintained and improved. Why they decided to step-up? One alum has said, “We’re afraid that in the next 3-4 years our historic schools will be closed and erased!” A valid concern from many Alumni leaders and stakeholders.
For most children in these communities, these schools often times serve at the only beacon of hope. We cannot take that hope away from them.