I attend a monthly community meeting. It use to be in a fancy building with glass walls with a clear view of new playground equipment and fake grass. The other half of the building is an upscale restaurant. The waiters wear all black as they serve people sitting at little round tables lining the sidewalk.
The first time I attended this particular meeting last spring, the council discussed a new ordinance preventing coconut trees from being planted near sidewalks. A coconut could fall on someone, you see. They can be dangerous. Some people sitting behind me in the glass room were not happy about this, they wanted to know if coconut trees already planted near their sidewalks would need to be removed.
That same week, there was a drive by on my street. The kids who live here couldn’t play outside because a bullet might land on them.
I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.
There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.
Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.
A thing you should know about my neighborhood is: it is HIGHLY segregated. As in, a segregation wall still stands. It divides those the world labels the “haves” and the “have nots.” It divides socio-economically, racially, and in just about every other way you can imagine.
The people concerned about coconuts falling on their heads don’t have to worry about bullets.
Another thing you should know is: there is a housing crisis on this side of the wall. My neighbors will tell you there has been for some time, decades even. Developers buy up singe family homes and apartments – some in disrepair, some not – level them, and sit on the land. The vacant lots are referred to as “fields.” Many of them have been sitting empty for a dozen years. There are several on every street.
Currently, landlords are selling their apartment buildings by the block. They refuse to sign leases with their tenants so when the buildings sell, they evict with 15 days notice. Another common practice is to let the buildings run down to unsafe and uninhabitable, at which point the city steps in and condemns them, forcing the tenants to move out with little-to-no warning.
I am doubtful of my ability to communicate the severity of this situation to you in mere black and white, letters on a screen. You, Dear Reader, are likely unable to comprehend the fear and helplessness an eviction notice carries. That’s because 73% of white folks own a home, compared to 45% of black folks. Statistics do not exist for my neighborhood, but I need to look no further than my own block to know hundreds of people are living in buildings being sold right out from under them.
I cannot fully comprehend it either.
The housing crisis is not just that developers are sitting on empty lots OR that people are facing imminent homelessness and displacement with just a few weeks notice; the situation is exacerbated because there is literally no where for people to go. For every 100 extremely low-income renters in Miami, there are only 33 affordable units available.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”
There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Last month at the community meeting we didn’t talk about coconuts. We talked about housing. I would say the issue has finally reached a tipping point, but I suspect the conversation has ebbed and flowed over the years. I suspect those on the other side of the wall have always pushed down the voices of those on this side. I suppose, when men and women, grandmothers and mothers, fathers and sons asked those behind the microphones to do something, they have always been told to “wait.” But really, I don’t just suspect it, it’s fact.
The council responded to my neighbors who came to the meeting with lots of words. As I sat there in my seat I struggled to understand them. There was talk about zoning, and incentives for developers. FEMA and a special housing summit. The housing summit will happen at the end of January, they said.
I left the meeting in tears. I could not sleep. I said a lot of cuss words. I could not get the words of Martin Luther King, Jr out of my mind. I prayed. The problem with this paragraph is every single sentence begins with I.
but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
That was two weeks ago. Since then, the Lord gave one of our neighbors and mentors an idea, a method of direct action that involves setting up camp on these pieces of land. A prophetic act of protest against displacement and for the beauty of community when all are invited in. Starting today, we will physically stand alongside our neighbors as together we demand Housing for All.
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
We have been meeting for months about the housing crisis, discussing which neighbors had been given eviction notices that week, wondering where they would go… I don’t think any of us really knew what could be done. There are so many powerful people playing this game of displacement. The city and county seem to be complacent at best and complicit at worst.
But we know we cannot sit idly by while our neighbors are treated unjustly, displaced at alarming rates, and the oldest neighborhood in Miami (some historians say all of Florida) becomes extinct. We cannot do nothing while the “haves” tell the “have nots” yet again, to wait.
The Lord has brought together attorneys, activists, government officials, neighbors, and police officers as we have planned in the last couple weeks. We are grateful and humbled our neighbors trust us to stand alongside them in their efforts to seek Housing for All.
There are several ways you can get involved and stand with us from afar:
FIRST, you can pray. As there will be protestors on the lots 24/7, we want to cover them in prayer 24/7. You can sign up to pray here.
SECOND, you can donate. We are in ongoing need of supplies such as fliers, signs, tents, water, snacks, etc. to make this happen well. You can give to our CRM Grove Team Fund here or through GoFundMe here. (Giving via CRM is tax-deductible, giving via GoFundMe is not but gets the funds to our team quicker.)
THIRD, you can spread the word on social media. Please follow and share on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The power of social media could allow our campaign to gain national media coverage with the help of people like you!
LASTLY, you can buy a Housing for All t-shirt! These are unisex small – XL shirts. $20 + $7 shipping. To purchase a shirt, please Paypal your money, size(s) and address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please be praying for our neighbors. Some are ready to fight for their right to safe housing, and some are very very tired. As we have been researching the unjust housing practices in our neighborhood, we are deeply saddened for the way they have been treated for the last 100 years. Pray for God to move on their behalf, to make his love for them known, and for us to affirm the dignity he has placed in each of them.
[The quotes in this post are from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham jail. The letter is King’s response to the white clergy who call on him to “wait,” suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. You can read it in it’s entirety here.]