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Eastside OKC

Deep Deuce was once the largest African American community in the city; now, it serves a mostly White population. Deep Deuce is connected to the Eastside, which is Northeast of downtown. It is currently a predominantly Black neighborhood, though African American residents are now spread throughout the city and out into nearby suburbs. The White, affluent population's migration back into the city from the suburbs has pushed lower-class citizens and people of color further out through the process. Gentrification has started moving inch by inch into the Eastside with the same goals it had for Deep Deuce. The Eastside is proof that those with influence on urban change still weaponize land by restricting resources to the community, which causes vulnerability and destruction to the people, land, and structures. Though the city and others involved claim they are listening to the needs of the community and want to help, they still prevent the Black community from accessing resources to meet its most basic needs, like access to food. The vulnerability of the area has allowed gentrification to easily and cost-effectively occur in a way that benefits outsiders more than the actual community itself.

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23rd Street Mural
23rd Street Mural

Photo taken July 13, 2020.

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Malik Shakur, Barber on 23rd St. (2020)
Malik Shakur, Barber on 23rd St. (2020)

Malik Shakur is a barber on 23rd Street in the Eastside community. He has recently opened his doors, and has been in the process of remodeling the business. He plans to allow vendors to set up inside of his shop at different times of the week. Photo taken July 13, 2020.

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Polk's House on 23rd Street in the Eastside Community
Polk's House on 23rd Street in the Eastside Community

Image from The Lost Ogle.

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23rd Street Mural
23rd Street Mural

Photo taken July 13, 2020.

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LATASHA TIMBERLAKE

OWNER OF LILLIAN TIMBER FARMS

"My parents are late 60's and so, you know, I think the major thing that is talked about is the noticing of how the neighborhood has changed in terms of demographics. In some of the streets, you know, there are no longer any African American families left, but then also, the property values, the things that are coming in and the physical changes in the neighborhood, are not in aesthetic with the homes that have historically been there. So, the entire look of the neighborhood has changed. Even my own neighborhood off 6th and Lottie, I was driving over there the other day when I left the urban garden lot that we are working on and I didn't even recognize it because of the buildings that

have been put there."

Jabee Williams is a well-known community member in Oklahoma City. He is a businessman, activist, rapper, artist, and much more. He uses his platform to advocate for, and celebrate, Black culture and his community. He has also used social media to challenge the ways in which gentrification has occurred in his neighborhood.

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In this Facebook post, Jabee calls out the way White people treat the Eastside as if it is trendy, yet they do not respect the culture of the community or aid the struggles the community members face. Stating, "like it's so cool u...discovered this new land" shows how disconnected the White population is from the Eastside community.

Jabee FB Post - White people move to Eas

Though gentrification in the city has aimed to erase Black culture in the urban landscape, subtle appropriation of Black culture occurs throughout the "revitalized" parts of the city. The overall White population seems to enjoy small bites of Black culture, yet still fear Black communities and contribute to the destruction and take over of their neighborhoods. The problem isn't merely hating the presence of White people in African American neighborhoods. The problem is contributing to, and ignoring racism while not respecting or preserving the culture of the community that has been there for the past century. An even bigger issue is that so many Oklahoman's cannot, and will not, see the problem for what it is or acknowledge that it exists.

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Parking sign outside of midtown clothing store uses the phrase

"yo homies."

Bathroom stall at "The Collective," a midtown cafetaria-style business with several restaurants in its building uses the phrase "be gangsta."

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This comment on Jabee's post about White people moving to the Eastside perfectly shows the erasure of racism from America's history of urban change. Not only does this commenter find Jabee's post to be disrespectful as a "prominent black figure in OKC," but he is convinced that gentrification and urban renewal is synonymous with "community development." As mentioned in the Urban Renewal section of this project, a community is much more than the buildings and businesses around it. Many people seem to only see new buildings as development of the Eastside community, yet fail to see how severely the city has, and continues to, let down the existing community by ignoring its needs and refusing to invest in the people that are already there.

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Jabee does an excellent job breaking down the true history, yet this person, like many others similar to him, refuses to listen to the Black people speaking about their own community and from their own history and experiences. Erasure of the truth about racism in this city, state, and country runs so deep that for many, it's easier to live with willful ignorance, rather than listen to those who have actually experienced it. Even after Jabee shared several facts, this man continues with strong defensive statements in several comments, arguing that urban renewal helped rebuild Black communities. This is not true. Though he provides some sources that do nothing to give credibility to his argument, he asks Jabee if he would like him to pull more examples. Jabee replies, "You pulling examples? I'm saying pull the black people, black families that they helped in the community?!? You don't know any!"

If you take away anything from this project, let it be this: You need to actually listen to Black people. You need to believe Black people. How can we stop the violent effects of racism if we don't even believe they

are happening?

Racial tensions shown through vandalism in OKC area

Oklahoma City Stop Sign
Oklahoma City Stop Sign

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OKC Building
OKC Building

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Graffiti in OKC during George Floyd Protests
Graffiti in OKC during George Floyd Protests

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Oklahoma City Stop Sign
Oklahoma City Stop Sign

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Scroll for more photos. Warning: the above photos contain uncensored/sensitive racist words and images

Krista Spears: OKC Real Estate Agent

"The go-to answer, if somebody asks you about—they do training about this—if someone asks you, "hey is this area safe? Is this a ghetto area?" the way that you're supposed to respond to those kinds of inquiries is to say, "here's a website, you can go look at crime rates." That's our official response to someone with prejudice, most likely, asking about the state of the neighborhood. You can go look at crime rates anywhere. That is something that they teach us locally, that's the only thing that we're supposed to say, which doesn't really solve the problem at the forefront, which is that our buyer is afraid of living in this area because of stereotypes and things that they've been told...we should be able to point out the dangers of a buyer even asking that. Squashing it in its step. Or asking them, "why are you asking this? Because we've seen a lot houses in the Paseo, which isn't crime free, and you haven't asked me that. So, why when I show you something in Lincoln Terrace, why are you wondering about the crime there?"...I will say, I've worked with a lot of Edmond clients as well, and they never ask me "what's the crime in this area?" I haven't had one person in Edmond express any sort of fear about the neighborhood, or say anything like "oh, this is the good part of Edmond." There's a reason for that. People aren't afraid. They know Edmond is all White, they know Edmond doesn't have a lot of diversity at the moment. With people like that, it's going to be really hard to change their minds. We're seeing that right now with what's going on in the world. It's the people that don't have to think about it that don't."

Krista Spears
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Community members volunteer at Lillian Timber Farms. Latasha Timberlake's urban farm allows her to teach valuable skills, produce food, and serve as a platform for education and activism. Image from Latasha Timberlake.

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Vertical farming units at the home of local vertical farmer, Alaric Overbey. Vertical farming is ideal for urban spaces and will allow year- round food production for the community. Lacking grocery stores in the area, this will help bring the food stranight to the community.

The Eastside community has suffered a lot due to neglect from the city and the racist actions of those with money, influence, and power. They currently lack a full service grocery store and fresh produce in stores. Community members have to drive several miles to reach a grocery store, which is challenging for those without a car. Oklahoma City is far from walkable and businesses are spread out. A grocery store, Homeland, is now being built in the area, though construction hasn't begun yet, and it is being built on the edge of the community in the gentrified area. Looking at location and the higher price point, it seems this grocery store is being built for the wealthier, new population moving into the gentrified parts of the community.

 

The Black community has responded in many ways to the problems in the Eastside. Some of the people I talked with are business owners and educators, working to mentor and share resources with others. The younger generation is full of activists demanding more from leadership. Some have lost all hope in the political system, knowing from experience that politicians are all talk and no action. Farmers have stepped up to problem-solve multiple problems in the community. They understand that farming can give profitable career opportunities to people in the area; it gives the Black community a unique skill-set that could give them more autonomy over the Eastside; and most importantly, it gives the community direct access to fresh food.

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LaTasha Timberlake

LaTasha is the owner of Lillian Farms,

a community urban farm in the Eastside.

She is an educator, farmer, and activist.

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Tammy Gray-Steele

Tammy is the founder and owner of the National Women in Agriculture Association and the Sustainable Science Academy. The academy provides education to the youth of the Eastside about farming. It also provides childcare, a virtual learning center for students in response to COVID, and additional community programs.

Learn More About Urban Farming in the Eastside

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Alaric Overbey

Alaric came to Oklahoma City to respond to the community's need for fresh food. He brought vertical farming practices to the Eastside and is working with other farmers to build connections, find cost-effective and space-efficient solutions, and train community members in vertical farming.

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Greg Brown

Greg is a lifetime resident of the Eastside. He understands the great potential farming can bring to the Black community again. He works with Alaric Overbey in teaching sustainable farming practices through vertical farming.

Gentrification in African American neighborhoods often leads to whitewashing the spaces in a community, meaning the businesses are white-centered in the way they present themselves, what they offer, and how they engage with the public. As a White person, it can be hard to notice this because whiteness is centered in most things in this country, causing it to feel normal. The destruction of the Deep Deuce and Eastside communities has led to a much smaller number of Black spaces in the area. This is seen in all of the abandoned buildings down 23rd Street. The street was once full of Black-owned businesses which contributed to the connection, self-sustainability and happiness of the community. While there are many strong, successful Black-owned businesses in the city, urban renewal and gentrification forced the Black community to spread out, changing the ways  community connection occurs.

BLACKSPACE

OK

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The home page of the BlackSpace website states, "BlackSpace honors the lives of countless victims of this violence, we celebrate Black existence in its current form, we mourn lost Black futures. Our private homes are not safe. Our public spaces are not safe. The “justice” system must change, and it does not stop there. No landscape is neutral. Urbanists design and plan the built environments where these tragedies occur. The disciplines impacting our built environments are steeped in racism and anti-Blackness. BlackSpace challenges architects, planners, urban designers, artists, and all curators of built spaces to unlearn traditional values and rethink Manifesto-based practice. We create spaces for Black urbanists to use talent, culture and rituals to design Black futures. We continue to demand a present and future where Black people, spaces, and culture matter and thrive. #blacklivesmatter #blackspace"

BlackSpace is a local organization that works to address one of the key problems that came out of the past century of racism, intentional community destruction and White-centered gentrification. In this section of their manifesto below, BlackSpace models how a Black space can be effectively created or restored. Some elements of the method include connection with the people in the community, acknowledgment of racist barriers around preserving and maintaining Black spaces, and prevention of historical and cultural erasure.

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