A “New Direction”: Rediscovering Community Wealth Building in an Age of Gentrification

Gentrification is a sinister contagion spreading through Black communities across America. After years of economic oppression and deprivation, the Black community now stands at the edge of perhaps the greatest displacement since the Great Migration. Over the years, the federal government has attempted to redress economic and housing discrimination through various community development programs. However, these efforts have largely failed, in part because they have not incorporated creative solutions for community wealth building and collective ownership.

Opportunity zones, the latest in a long series of efforts to spur economic development in low-income communities, provided tax abatements for investment in “economically distressed” communities. This effectively turned poor communities, particularly of color, into tax shelters for the wealthy in a way that “revitalized” spaces without consideration of the economic and housing needs of people living in the designated zone.

Residents in the throes of forced displacement need communal-based tools for economic resistance. Cooperative movements and new economy advocates must pivot in a new direction that blends place and the democratic economy into a holistic solution that sustains and preserves community over the individual.

Ironically, this “new direction” isn’t new. It borrows from an idea nearly 50 years old, originating in the tumultuous era of Black activism and economic development during the 1960s and 1970s. At the forefront was one of the leading civil rights organizations of the period, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which fashioned its own “new direction” economic policy geared toward group empowerment. Black power advocates from CORE, key congressional fellows Gar Alperovitz (co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative) and John McClaughry, and presidential advisors and policy wonks drafted The Community Self-Determination Act, which would establish a national economic development corporation alongside federally backed local and regional community development corporations.

Though their efforts faltered, the cooperative project suggested innovative new ways to transform the geography of poverty and enhance group ownership as a broad-based, full community model that continues to have utility for present-day activists.


See the original post and read Dr. Frazier’s full paper here.


Going Further:

About the Lead Author

Nishani Frazier
Nishani Frazierhttps://thenextsystem.org/nishani-frazier
Dr. Nishani Frazier is Associate Professor of History at Miami University of Ohio. Prior to Miami University, she held positions as Associate Curator of African American History and Archives at Western Reserve Historical Society, Assistant to the Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Archives at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and personal assistant for Dr. John Hope Franklin, before and during his tenure as chair of President Bill Clinton’s advisory board on “One America”. She recently completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Norway. Her research interests include 1960s freedom movements, oral history, food, digital humanities, and black economic development. Nishani’s recent book publication, Harambee City: The Congress of Racial Equality in Cleveland and the Rise of Black Power Populism, was released with an accompanying website also titled Harambee City. Harambee City website provides a second layer of book “reading” via online access to maps, archival documents, teacher lesson plans, and oral history interviews. Dr. Frazier has consulted on several digital history grants, including a NEH Digital Start up grant for an interactive app related to Freedom Summer. Frazier’s other writings include: “To Die For the People: Prophecy and Death in the Rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton” in Homegoings, Crossings, and Passings: Life and Death in the African Diaspora; “Building a Black Nation: CORE, Black Power, and the Community Development Corporation Movement” in The New Black History; and “A McDonald’s That Reflects the Soul of a People: McDonald’s Corporation, Operation Black Unity, Hough Area Development Corporation, and Black Economic Empowerment” in The Business of Black Power. Although Frazier’s recent professional experience centers on historical analysis of 1960s black economic development efforts, her personal background began with hands on observation and service for Southeast Raleigh Community Development Corporation in North Carolina. Southeast Raleigh CDC worked to revitalize its target community of low- and moderate-income African-American households by countering the interrelated problems of poverty, unemployment, affordable housing, lacking preservation of cultural identity, and racism. Over its life, the organization constructed moderate-income homes, trained high school dropouts in construction trades, provided daycare services, and helped other nonprofit organizations throughout North Carolina via shared ideas, training, and workshops. Notably, Southeast Raleigh CDC came to be heavily influenced by the past economic development activities of black activists featured in Frazier’s book Harambee City. You can follow her on Twitter at @SpelmanDiva. For more information on Harambee City or Cleveland’s Black Freedom Movement, see harambeecity.lib.miamioh.edu.

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