Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Black Community Chose "Street Signage As Evidence Of Our Advancement Instead Of Proof On The Streets


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I used some free time during the holiday weekend to take two separate trips into the Northwestern part of Atlanta that I hear so much about in the news.  The first trip was to get a ground level view of the environment from which the residents that came out to express an overwhelming sense of grief over the murder of a local grocery store owner in their community.  Clearly the man's efforts were appreciated and the loss of the service that he provided to this isolated community will be missed.

The second trip that I took was in response an article detailing the tenants of "Compassionate Progressivism". In the article Khalil Gibran Muhammad argued that in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right to own a gun as an individual right - America need to show "compassionate progressivism" by investing in parks over prisons. I expanded my drive through the area to make note of how the people in the community were utilizing the parks over the Independence Day weekend.

As I drove through the streets I could not help but notice that there was an underlying theme to both of these stories:  The SIGNS within the Black community and how they communicate images of power.

First we are in election season in the state of Georgia.  With the July 20th primary elections  a few weeks away every one of these neighborhoods were peppered with campaign signs by various Democratic Party representatives for state house and state senate.  Whereas many of these individuals drive home the point of all that they will do to improve the community if (re)elected the irony is that many of these signs were planted into vacant, overgrown lots or unkempt street corner crossings which serve as an eerie testimonial as to what the people should expect.  Had the sign crew also deployed a weed eater and trash receptacle to clean up the immediate area where the signs were plastered this would have been enough to get my vote from the symbolism alone.

The second type of sign that was in abundance were hoisted atop poles and wires indicating the names of Civil Rights heroes that were forever memorialized on the street signs.  I have lived in metro-Atlanta for more than 20 years now.  I can attest to the fact that many who's names emblazon the campaign signage where the architects of the plan to have a sense of community pride crystallized by having "our own heroes" upon the street signs and memorial.  In some cases they replaced memorials to Confederate soldiers.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony of his own street sign the Reverend Joseph E Lowery suggested that a part of the reason for the crime and despair is that the names and images of the oppressors are all around.

Ashby Street Gets Whitewashed With The Name "Joseph E Lowery Blvd"

Aside from the clean up program that was executed upon just prior to the ribbon cutting ceremony to mount the new signs upon the poles there is no evidence that the condition of these communities have changed - physically as well as mentally.  The promise that the new imagery would produce a new mental consciousness is exactly backward in my estimation.

I saw a massive amount of underutilized human potential that was trapped in their own little world.  The politicians and community activists that service the area can only mange to import enough resources from the outside world that is sufficient to temper riotous conditions but surely not enough to trigger a renaissance in the area.  There is no evidence of an organic movement that is drawing upon the people's passions and pacing them for a long endurance race, thus avoiding a flame out (ie: once an election is over) and a return to normal.



There were islands of promise in the community.  Counter to what Khalil Gibran Muhammad indicated in his article - the parks as maintained by the City of Atlanta were the only area where there was a high level of assurance that proper maintenance was in order.


Dean Rusk Park - a block away from the murder scene inside of the grocery store was  beautiful park with a trail that circled a duck pond.   The only problem is that place of serenity had no one else there at 6pm on Saturday.  Just me and the ducks.

There is an abundance of new construction of multi-tenant units. These are often islands in a sea of corrosion. These gated communities of apartments and the gated public schools nearby allow the development activities in side to be protected from what is transpiring right outside of the iron fence.

"You Know We'd Better Change The Name Of The Airport To Who We Want To Now.  The White Folks Are Moving Back Into The City And We Won't Have The Power To Do So In The Future".
These are the rough approximation of the words said by then Atlanta City Council Member and now GA State House Member "Abel" Mable Thomas.  
Ms Thomas was responding to the proposal to strip "Mayor William B Hartsfield's" name off of the Atlanta Airport and replace it with "Maynard H. Jackson Atlanta International Airport".  In the mind of Ms Thomas the Black Power Establishment in Atlanta would be showing its power to call the shots by putting up the names of its own heroes in lights.  After a contentious debate between leaving the name as is or changing it - the city council decided to do as some married women do -  put a dash in the name "Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport".  In addition the plans to name the new international terminal after Jackson were retained.

Ms Thomas' thoughts and antics are not surprising.  To some power is demonstrated in these symbolic terms. Via this show of power - pride will be generated from the masses and everything else will fall into place. 

They are loathed to look at the streets where their "portraits upon the wall" overhang to verify the effectiveness of their strategy some time in the future.     

Substantive Development Over Symbolism And Self-Adoration 
The only solution to correct this problem of squandered human resource potential is to obtain buy in from the people who stand to benefit the most from a new school of community management.  The physical plant in the area suffers most from benign neglect.  There are few areas of blight that could not be corrected by a program where residents of the area lead a maintenance program that goes out on a weekly basis to care for the public areas and unclaimed properties that are left unattended to.  From this movement they can rebuild the community fabric as individuals are afforded the opportunity to socialize and achieve a common community goal - together.  

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