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Jay Z Is Right: We Need to Gentrify Our Own Hood

Jay Z Is Right: We Need to Gentrify Our Own Hood

There has been a swirling controversy over a freestyle that rapper Jay Z performed at his Webster Hall conference in May. His freestyle, which was to honor slain rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle, has the following lyrics:

Gentrify your own hood before these people do it/ Claim eminent domain and have your people move in/ That’s a small glimpse into what Nipsey was doing/ For anybody still confused as to what he was doing.”

Some folks said on Twitter that gentrification can only be viewed in a negative way because it requires pricing people out of their own neighborhood.

While that definition of gentrification is correct when spoken of in the common context we are all familiar with, the fact that he referred to Nipsey Hussle with respect for the work he was doing in Los Angeles and other area of California shows what the true intent of Jay-Z’s lyrics. While the term "gentrification" invokes the image of people of color being priced out of their communities — grandmothers no longer able to pay the taxes in the home they lived in for decades, and hipsters bringing coffee shops and overpriced exercise clothing, Jay Z was in a whole other place. He is encouraging, as he did in his 4:44 album, for people of color to look at money, assets, and land in a different way.

He pointed to the history of redlining—where people of color were not allowed to buy in certain neighborhoods through being denied mortgages by the bank and by being excluded by real estate agents — with the long term effect of having less equity than our white counterparts. Less equity means less money after resale, a lower tax base which results in less funding for infrastructure (roads, schools) in our neighborhoods, and less money to pull out of your home if you want to send your child to college.

He’s encouraging us to buy in neighborhoods that are deemed undesirable, fix them up and bring resources to our community ourselves. While doing so  increase the property value, it is a different scenario than when big corporations come in, tear all the houses down in favor of high-rise condos and luxury shopping outlets that leave people of color out in the cold. People of color end up permanently displaced, leading to the destruction of traditions and family units.

Nipsey Hussle, (who I must admit I was not overly familiar with until his untimely passing), went back to the neighborhood where he grew up. Among many other projects, he bought a shopping center and was having small local businesses move in so that they can reap the benefits of success.

It is clear under this presidential administration that no financial assistance will be coming to small business owners of color. This is why it is really critical for us to be our own “venture capitalists” and invest in our communities. We have waited too long for other folks to try and assist us in uplifting our own communities. We have come to a place in this country where more of us have means than before.

We look at the work Magic Johnson has done in various communities as well as other wealthy sports figures. We need to be forming conglomerates of business owners, professionals and other folks with means to be able combine our resources for the betterment of our communities. It doesn’t take a lot - if a group of 25 like minded folks with means gave $5000 in a year, that may be able to rehab 2 homes in a neighborhood.  Folks with less means may choose provide sweat equity to further the cause.

Gentrification is bad when the community is hurt; if the argument is to create a new word to indicate that this is us helping our community, I am in favor of that. For us, by us, works for me. But at the end of the day, Jay Z was speaking the truth on gentrification — only we can uplift our communities and take back what is ours.

Jay-Z’s point is well taken in my book and I’m all about a new black Wall Street movement.

To end with HOV words “we don’t need to leave the hood physically; but we need to leave it mentally (actual performance)

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