Standing With My Neighbors: Justice in Miami

16 May

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Our InnerCHANGE Miami team is located in Coconut Grove, a once bustling Bahamian community of 30,000 Afro-Carribean residents—now home to less than 3,000. Our streets show the telltale signs of “renovation” and “revival,” with brightly colored, shotgun-style Bahamian homes torn down as sleek, modern condos rapidly take their place.

In short, our neighborhood has been gentrified. I don’t use that word in a hot button kind of way. Statistically, it is a gentrified neighborhood. Our neighbors are being displaced at alarming rates and the neighborhood it once was is on the verge of extinction.

Every block has several vacant lots. “Fields” our neighbors call them. Many have been empty for a dozen years or more. Developers are sitting on them. Our neighbors will tell you developers are waiting for the last 3,000 black folks to be displaced, and the skyrocketing land prices that will follow.

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Slumlords are selling their apartment buildings by the block, and in the meantime, boarding up windows with tenants still living inside. As a team we have felt this housing pinch ourselves, and just this week our family was given less than a month to vacate our home.

As a collective group of residents, we have organized around the idea that housing as a basic human right. It seems simple enough doesn’t it? Safe housing should be for all people.

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We began our efforts last fall with a sit-in style protest on an empty lot owned by the main slumlord, an idea the Lord gave one of our neighbors and mentors. Members of our team, our neighbors, and even our city commissioner slept in tents overnight for several days. It was a prophetic act of protest against displacement and for the beauty of community when all are invited in. It was also a picture of what will happen to many of our neighbors if they are forced to leave their homes.

A couple weeks later we hosted a Thanksgiving meal in the courtyard of one of the condemned buildings. The landlord had let it fall into disrepair—until the city finally condemned it—allowing him to evict everyone to make the sale a bit easier. Several families were still living there four months later because they simply had nowhere else to go.

So we brought our card tables and folding chairs, turkeys and stuffing and pies, and we gathered around for a Thanksgiving feast with our neighbors, several homeless folks we invited along the way, a gaggle of kids, and our city commissioner.

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It was a bit of the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. It was the scandalously inclusive upside down Kingdom Jesus spoke of. It was also exactly the kind of gathering that got Jesus in trouble with the pharisees and religious elite. But it was the best Thanksgiving of my life.

Currently our Housing for All efforts involve regular meetings with civil rights attorneys and city and county officials. Every two weeks a peculiar group of us file into a conference room at City Hall to sit around an oval table where our neighbors, the ones being oppressed and seemingly forced out, speak truth to power just like Jesus did. And I see it again: the Kingdom coming one degree of glory at a time.

It is an honor and a privilege to sit at those tables with our neighbors. To stand with them as we protest. To eat with them in condemned courtyards. To sleep in tents with them on vacant lots. And yes, even to join in their suffering as we ourselves seek housing in one of the nation’s toughest housing markets.

Blessed are we who have the privilege of standing with.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lindsy Wallace, along with her husband, William, and five kids, serves on the Miami InnerCHANGE team. She loves hot tea, hiking in the woods and good tattoos. She spends her days homeschooling her kids and seeking to see God's Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.


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