|John King with his 'My Dream For Lou' photo and essay |
(with white bar covering Gill Holland's name) at Muhammad Ali Center
Reading last week's 'Reader's Choice' edition of The LEO I was surprised by comments made by Executive Editor Aaron Yarmouth when describing Gill Holland's Award for Best Entrepreneur. Yarmouth lays out his reasoning why 'We all owe' Holland 'a huge thank you' for transforming the East Market District -what Yarmouth called a 'drive-past territory'- into a 'thriving hub' that Holland renamed 'NULU'.
At first glance I am sure many readers didn't catch the comment that is so shocking to me, and I am sure Aaron Yarmouth didn't realize himself the implications he was making. As a contributing writer for the LEO I know first hand how compassionate and thoughtful the young Editor is; as is evident in his actions, after reading this essay of giving his blessing for me to air my grievance in calling my childhood home a 'drive-past territory'. I think it would have been more meaningful if the LEO had published this letter themselves, but after losing one job recently for my political views, I really don't need to lose the other.. And I think the Leo is already learning a big lesson in undermining their reader's voice, after the fallout of them vetoing the reader's choice of Amari King's award.
Regardless of how you feel about the gentrification of the East Market District, and the replacement of it's people and businesses with more 'acceptable' people and businesses, surely you would take exception to anyone referring to your neighborhood as not worth noticing.
I grew up at Clay and East Market st, and as the popularity of the neighborhood grew I was slowly pushed outward (living at times on main st, Washington st, and Franklin st) until I could no longer afford to live in the area I called home. It is heartbreaking that a respected media outlet like the LEO would so casually suggest that my home, my family, my friends, are not worth acknowledging. Unfortunately the casual dismissal of Louisville's poor has become all too common in recent years and lately becoming outright hostile at times as we have seen with residents in the Norton Commons neighborhood coming together in an effort to stop anyone who makes less than $50,000 a year from living there. Which, by the way, is no where even close to the poverty line, but shows the contempt that some members in our community have for those who even slightly do not resemble Privilege.
Even in well meaning efforts to help those targeted and displaced by the Gentrification of urban Louisville come across as insulting. Last Thursday I attended the 10th annual Center of Health Equity's public forum with the Mayor. Concerns about poor people displaced by the gentrification of Louisville's Downtown were raised, and the most popular solution was that the city build 'Affordable Housing Units' in every neighborhood so that the burden of housing poor folks would be equal across the city. Now, I've attended the Center's meetings before, and most of the members are truly well meaning, but as someone who has never crossed the poverty line, I am tired of being referred to as a burden, as not worth noticing, or as not being good enough to live in certain parts of my own city.
But the main issue I see with all the recent conversations in the media over gentrification and displacement of poor people is this: Louisville's poor aren't allowed in to the conversation about what is happening to them and what should be done for them. I don't want to be warehoused in an 'affordable housing' project in a neighborhood that I have no ties to and that doesn't want me anyway. I want to be in my neighborhood where I grew up, where my family and friends live, and worship at the spiritual center of my choice, but I can't because that neighborhood no longer exists.
Real estate speculators started buying up cheap properties and replacing poor tenants with those who could pay 3 or 4 times as much on rent, and this happened long before Holland took it upon himself to change the name of my neighborhood and aggressively began seeking investors in property speculation. But he does deserve some credit to the dismantling and displacement of an entire community. For changing the name of a place does a lot when trying to assume control of a people. Erasing the history of a people is the first step in conquering them. We see this quite often, especially recently by the Islamic State by destroying the cultural heritage of the people of Iraq, Syria, and Libya. By erasing a community's history we devalue their social capitol making it easier to divide and conquer them. Holland's actions are no different.
Some have argued that the quality of the structures in the East Market District and also in Portland were poor, and the gentrification of these areas are saving the historical buildings. But you must keep in mind that poor people by and large do not own the houses they live in. Rich people do. If the state of the buildings are sub-standard it is not the fault of the occupants but the landlords. Despite popular belief poor people do not enjoy living in squalor, we are forced to by lack of options, opportunity, and the support of the governing body.
What is happening to the poor neighborhoods by property speculators such as Gill Holland (or how he describes it "private-sector community revitalization") is deplorable, and the health and well being of a community should not be in the hands of the private sector but in the hands of the community itself. But the true extent of what is happening is not widely known because the local government and the city's media outlets refuse to allow those who are being exploited a voice. How can opponents of gentrification speak out against Holland's efforts when he himself is on the Board of Directors at Louisville Public Media, and has been publicly endorsed by the LEO in the very article thanking him for 'transforming a drive-past area'?
(Full disclosure I worked at Louisville Public Media until last month when I was abruptly let go).
To toot my own horn for a minute, during the Health Equity Meeting on Thursday several photographs and essays were on display for the 'My Dream of Lou Photovoice' exhibit at the Muhammad Ali Center, and two photos and two essays I submitted were chosen for it.
In one essay I wrote about the issues surrounding gentrification and I mentioned Greg Fischer and Gill Holland by name; specifically Fischer's promise to veto any minimum wage increase over $9/hr, as well as Holland's recent targeting of Portland for 'private sector revitalization'. When the essay was displayed a bar was added covering Holland's name (see photo above). Too be fair, the government office in charge informed me they would be redacting Holland's name from my essay, but this sort of behavior is not democratic and is teetering into some very dark waters. Especially since Gil Holland is not just a public figure but also (since January of this year) has been running for public office.
Holland announced his bid for city council representing District 16; which is not the district where Portland is located (were he claims to be helping), but the district where Norton Commons is located (further speaking to Holland's motives of revitalizing poor neighborhoods).
Questioning and voicing opposition of public officials and those running for office is protected by the First Amendment and at the very least our governing body cannot censor speech critical of itself, and for that matter media outlets should allow more than one side of the conversation to be voiced.
My intent here is not to try and connivence you that Gill Holland's actions have caused immeasurable harm to entire communities for profit and personal benefit (although I firmly believe this). But no matter how you feel about someone, no public figure or a candidate for public office should be untouchable from critical debate, and no community should be ignored. My hope is that as a community we realize that the most affected group in this situation is being ignored and dismissed and that as Louisvillians we realize that all of us deserve dignity, protection, and a voice.
Editor's Note: You can help by reaching out to your Louisville councilperson asking for more oversight in 'revitalization' efforts, Government policies that protect and help low income families, and an end to government censorship of oppositional voices. You can email your councilperson by following this link. You can contact local media outlets asking for equal representation for opponents of Gill Holland and his For-Profit Business practices, and to release public support of public officials or those running for office as board members of media outlets in the name of transparency and democracy. Here is a list of local media outlets you can reach out to: Louisville Public Media, LEO, Courier Journal.
|One of King's photo/ essays chosen for the |
My Dream For Lou exhibit at the Muhammad Ali Center