I stopped by 14th and Vliet to see the new leaders community mural, which was a beautiful display of Black and Brown faces of the courageous individuals in our city that have vocally taken a stance against injustices that have taken place within the community over the past few years. As I looked at the artwork I walked around the building to find a gentlemen of Middle Eastern descent talking with two Black men about some business. I then approached and asked him who owned the buildings that were being painted. He replied with joy “i do. This is my warehouse. I own the furniture store, the blue building down the street. I own every building on the block”. I wasn’t at all amazed at the fact that he indeed did own the whole block. Growing up as a Black youth in the city you grow accustomed to all the middle eastern people owning all of the hood real estate. For the most part every corner store in every hood you can usually go holler at your ahki (ahki is a term derived from the arabic word for brother and a term that has been embraced by the hip hop youth and 5 percent nation to refer to the neighborhood store owners from the Middle East).
What really put me on notice was while staring at this beautiful piece of art filled with Black activist faces in the middle of this very Black and poverty stricken neighborhood was that the fact is what we want for our people is justice and peace yet we don’t own a single piece of the land on which we stand. Another thing I found to be most ironic was the fact that the owner of these buildings inherited these properties from his father who had owned them since 1980. So this family, from outside of the community has spent the past 40 years building and establishing wealth to pass onto their family while benefitting off of an oppressed people and community. For 40 years. For slightly longer than I have been alive one family has maintained sub standard buildings and housing conditions for the community residents of the Vliet area. What is even more ironic is that now, after maintaining a 40 year ghetto the offspring of the original owner are now taking part of the convenient activism movement by having artists paint Black imagery on the sides of their building as a show of support for Black people and the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
I took all of this information in and was quite alarmed. I looked around the neighborhood and saw crackheads fighting each other on one corner as neighbors stared out of their apartment windows. I looked to see the dilapidated conditions of the buildings they lived in and then I knew why things were the way they were. I knew that for a lifetime that in fact Black Lives hadn’t mattered at all to the owners of this neighborhood. If indeed they did I suspect I would have been looking at an empowered community of positive people living in well maintained conditions. However that is not at all the case.
We as Black people need to really to stake a stand against baseless signs of support and really call out these business owners who are showing favor and pandering to the Black community. Signs and murals are cool cover ups for societal ills but real change is what we seek. As far as the buildings on 12th, 13th and 14th & Vliet even a block filled with beautiful murals can’t take back all the wrong that’s been done to the community by the gatekeepers of the blocks. The lay-a-way furniture store, the corner store with the hood nachos and sodas, the check cashing place, the ahki selling loose cigarettes all have contributed to the diminishing of this area over the past 40 years. As far as I can see not one red penny has been put back into the community or into the people of that area. Every cent earned was sent back overseas to further advance the family of the building owner and now after retiring from the business his young son now runs the block.
When we talk of our black dollars leaving the community this is a prime example. Every dollar spent in that community is a black dollar and for a lifetime every dollar spent within that community has left just as easily as it has come. Our quest for total emancipation must start with knowledge, wisdom and understanding. With those in tact the people would begin to know why the conditions are the way they are and start to make changes which will lead to a more educated pursuit of freedom, justice and equality. Next in line comes food, clothe and shelter. However until we realize that food, clothe and shelter constitute that the people have some ownership of the land in which they inhabit we will never get the freedom, justice and equality that we so desperately seek.
I say no to the displays of public art until we actually get justice. No justice, no piece. Get it.