Despite the quick spurt of snow, it’s a lovely Wednesday morning in Ann Arbor, MI. Admittedly, I’m taking this morning to catch back up on my blogposts, which I unfortunately have neglected for the past couple of weeks. The two groups that I missed commenting on, facilitating discussions on gentrification and the criminal justice system respectively, did a fantastic job and I wish I had taken the time to write a post when my memory was fresh. I’ll begin with the discussion on gentrification and some thoughts, and pick back up on the criminal justice system in my next post.
I appreciated the exercise with the three post-it papers. If I were to sit down and do that exercise myself, with full honesty, I suppose I would have had a lot more to say on the issue. But I certainly was feeling a bit shy. While I have an understanding of gentrification through school and history, my experience with people who have been displaced or negatively impacted is limited. I have a greater understanding of how I benefit from gentrification, or what is often labeled as such, like the addition of Cultivate in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. I see more of the positives of the establishment than what some might view in a more negative light.
Reading stories of people being displaced by ruthless landlords makes me angry and frustrated by people who take advantage of others for their own gain. The flip side is seeing the way some neighborhoods can benefit from development, especially when it is done thoughtfully. Intentional harm versus intentional gain. Because of my biases, the perspectives that I come from, and the values that are part of who I am, I must be so intentional to listen and seek out, to go beyond the spheres that limit my understanding. I, and hope that all of us, are growing in compassion, to put love in action even if we are misunderstood.
Reading the articles that the group had given us ahead of time to read, I was most intrigued by the article on University of Michigan addressing the low percentage of students who are from low income households. It is encouraging to hear how Michigan is addressing the gap in creative ways, such as a gimmicky but effective letter to students that come from households making $60,000 or less. Some of my students at my field placement are on the Wolverine Pathways track, and are clearly very excited about the opportunity. It also reduces the stigma that UM is this upper-crust town that isn’t approachable. I’ve observed how people who live in suburbs around Ann Arbor feel that tension of fitting in, that Ann Arbor is unwelcoming to them. The quote included in the article from one of the previous presidents of the university stood out to me: “Have an aristocracy of birth if you will or of riches if you wish, but give our plain boys from the log cabins a chance to develop their minds with the best learning and we fear nothing from your aristocracy,” James Angell said in 1879, “In the fierce competitions of life something besides blue blood or inherited wealth is needed to compete with the brains and character from the cabins.”
The questions do not simply fall along socioeconomic lines, however, but also on race. I have spoken in this class and other classes about how people are dehumanized, and that mentality results in many evils. We must continually check our own hearts and minds to see that we express value for our neighbor, even complete strangers. It’s a journey that I will always be on for as long as I live.