Gentrification In The Black Community, TSU Students Hold Forum To Address Issues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University students invite community leaders and neighborhood groups to take a closer look at gentrification and it’s impact on the black community.

Students will host the forum, Gentrification Across the Spectrum,  on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at the university’s Avon Williams Campus at 6 p.m. in Room 354. It will include the screening of NorthEast Passage, a 2002 documentary about gentrification in the black neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that will explore the effects of gentrification in Nashville and how residents in areas being negatively affected can take meaningful action.

Marie Baugh, a graduate student in the College of Public Service, said the students want to show how the process of gentrification impacts people.

Marie Baugh

“Being a millennial graduating post-recession, it’s hard to even qualify to get a home because depending on the neighborhood, the pricing, and the condition of the home, I just may not be eligible for it,” Baugh said. “Gentrification affects a lot of people directly and indirectly because you have neighborhoods being revitalized, and it may change the whole culture of the neighborhood.”

Baugh, a native of Decatur, Alabama who secured her bachelor’s degree in political science from TSU in 2008, said the forum will help people who have heard the term gentrification but are unsure about what it can do to a neighborhood.

Dr. Michael Harris, dean of the College of Public Service and a nationally syndicated columnist, said the event is important because gentrification is a national and international issue. Harris, who has done extensive research on gentrification, spoke about the issue in 2014 in Medellin, Columbia at the United Nations’ premiere conference on urban issues, World Urban Forum 7.

“We see so much economic development and so much growth here in Nashville, and the outcome is gentrification,” Harris said. “It means that people who do not have the means are pushed way out of town to the outskirts, and housing and housing affordability become a major question and issue.”

Dr. Michael Harris

Harris said the process significantly impacts minorities and lower income people. He said the solutions to issues surrounding gentrification must come from academics and practitioners.

“Gentrification is an outcome of the economic growth, and it really has to be addressed so minorities with low incomes can find affordable housing within Nashville,” he said.

Cornelius Swart, who co-produced and co-directed NorthEast Passage with his business partner Spencer Wolf, said since the release of the documentary in 2002, the effects gentrification has had on the once predominately-black community in Portland have been astronomical.

“Fifteen years later we see that the traditionally black neighborhoods have lost 50-60 percent of their black population,” he said. “It’s hard to say exactly how many, but even the folks who remain in the neighborhood often say they don’t feel comfortable going out in public, or they have very little reason to go out in public because old stores and public spaces are catered to the new white residents. So you now have a neighborhood that no longer feels like home for many of the people who grew up in the area.”

Swart advises residents in areas currently being gentrified to build partnerships and create stakeholders of people who are willing to invest long-term in the existing residents, as well as set up long-term protections for vulnerable residents, such as land trusts and other affordable home models.   He said residents should make sure the new investments coming in are not just for newcomers.

“For many years, I have been watching this issue unfold, and as the downsides become very apparent and as my understanding of the issue becomes more intricate, I feel an obligation to warn people about what is coming down the track.” he said.

Sponsored by the TSU College of Public Service, Gentrification Across the Spectrum grew out of the college’s desire to give students an opportunity to shape its premiere Black History Month event.

“They came up with the ideas and have been able to recruit people and make suggestions that I don’t think any of us faculty members would have ever had,” said Dr. Anthony Campbell, assistant professor of Public Administration in the College of Public Service.

Baugh, one of the event’s organizers, credits TSU with giving her a chance to grow, and become the person she is today.

“If it wasn’t for Tennessee State University accepting me as an undergraduate back in 2003, I’m not sure I would be able to even have the opportunities I have now,” she said. “Where I came from in Alabama there weren’t a lot of opportunities for little black girls like me. When I got the acceptance letter in the mail, I knew that it was my way out.”

Following the screening, a panel consisting of leaders from the public, private, nonprofit and grassroots sectors will discuss the impact gentrification is having on Nashville. Panelists include: Morgan Mansa, executive director of Metro Nashville’s Barnes Housing Trust; Tifinie Capehart, realtor with SilverPointe Properties; Hiram Brown, manager of strategic growth with Urban Housing Solutions; and Ruby Baker, president of the Bordeaux Hills Residential Association.

Campbell said he hopes the event will provide insight to help Nashville residents grapple with the many factors surrounding gentrification.

“We here at the colleges care about these issues and aren’t just exploring it from a purely academic standpoint,” he said. “We are trying to create a bigger dialogue so we can bring about positive change.”

For more information about Gentrification Across the Spectrum, contact Dr. Anthony Campbell at or (615) 963-7098.


Department of Media Relations

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