Black youth opposing gentrification and empowering community

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Kyturea Jones, Payton Ashe, and Donntayia Jones. They are members of the North End Community Action Committee, a Black youth-led community group in Halifax's North End that came together around concerns about the gentrification of their neighbourhood and that has become involved in a wide range of issues focused on empowering both Black youth and the communities they live in.

Not a lot of people outside of Nova Scotia know the story of Africville, but they should. Africville was a historic African-Nova Scotian community in Halifax, on the Bedford Basin. It was a poor yet resilient place, dense with ties of kinship and community. Its residents, for the most part, owned their homes, paid their taxes, and went about their lives. But over the course of the first half of the 20th century, those in charge of urban planning in Halifax sited increasing numbers of noxious land uses -- things like a dump and various industrial uses -- right next to Africville, with no consideration for the input or well-being of residents. Then in the late 1960s, these same powers-that-be decided that Africville was no longer a healthy place to live, and they evicted the entire community -- and in that process, thereby made the land available for other uses, by other people.

This episode of Talking Radical Radio is not about Africville. Rather, it is about Halifax's North End -- a neighbourhood in which quite a few of those evicted from Africville ended up living. As long ago as 2008, a visiting scholar specializing in urban issues warned that what had happened to Africville could well happen to Uniacke Square, a major public housing complex in the neighbourhood, and to the North End community more broadly. Jim Silver was quoted as saying, "So far as I know, there's not a plan afoot ... But there are broad social forces at work that will bring about the same end."

Move forward to just the last couple of years: A few Black youth from the North End were in a meeting with the local regional councillor. From her, they learned that in fact there was a plan -- or, if not quite yet a finished plan, at least a process that was well underway to develop a plan that would lay out an approach to development and re-development in a section of the city that includes the North End. For the most part, residents had no idea this was happening.

This was in the context of these youth already seeing signs of gentrification in their neighbourhood. Gentrification is a process in which urban space is re-made in ways that threaten to push out existing residents so that other people can make money -- a sort of creeping 21st-century version of the same logic that destroyed Africville. So far, the most visible signs in the North End have been the opening of new businesses. The youth stress that they have no objection to new businesses in principle. The problem is, in contrast to the older, established businesses in the North End, many of the new ones are clearly not intended to cater to existing residents, particularly those with lower incomes. In fact, many seem to be run by people who don't know the community, who don't seem to want to know the community, and who often regard community residents -- particularly Black residents -- with suspicion and unwelcome.

Given all of this, these youth knew that it was important to make sure that community voices got heard as the city developed what it was calling the "Centre Plan," so they formed the North End Community Action Committee -- "a community based, youth-led initiative with goals aimed towards assuring the voices and concerns of Black youth, marginalized communities, and North-End residents get addressed. With the overall objective of empowering black youth to better the communities they live in."

In the last year, the group has mobilized residents to get their voices heard in the planning process, in the hopes of heading off the dangers of gentrification (with all of its echoes of Africville). They've also contributed to community improvement efforts, like a street painting project. They've begun to get involved in work to make the city's schools more responsive to the needs of Black youth. And they are in the process of setting up their own mentorship program.

Jones, Ashe, and Jones speak with me about Halifax's North End and about the work of the North End Community Action Committee. To learn more about the North End Community Action Committee, check out the group's website, or find it on Facebook or Twitter.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image that was modified for use in this post is the background image of the North End Community Action Committee's website.

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