ORANGE, NJ — Bishop Reginald Jackson, the former pastor of Orange’s St. Matthew AME Church on Oakwood Avenue and leader of the New Jersey Black Ministers Conference, participated in the Institute of the Black World 21st Century National Town Hall Meeting on Gentrification at the New Jersey Institute of Technology campus in Newark on Friday, April 5.
Jackson left St. Matthew AME in 2012, after serving as the church pastor for 31 years, when he was elevated to bishop. He had served that congregation from 1981 to 2012, before becoming the 132nd elected and consecrated bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I left New Jersey in 2012 and said I was going to Georgia, specifically Atlanta,” said Jackson on Friday, April 5. “I was going to be quiet. I was not going to get involved in fights and all this stuff and I was going to enjoy my life. And, sure enough, nothing changed.”
Jackson, who was know for his role in spearheading the fight against racial profiling by the NJ state police in the 1990s, currently serves as president of the AME Church Council of Bishops and was a panelist on “The Negro Removal Program of the 21st Century: Where Do We Go from Here” panel discussion.
Among the panelists with Jackson was Fredrica Bey, founder of the Women In Support of the Million Man March organization and a member of the New Jersey Coalition for Due Process from Newark. She is also a member of the Home Savers group, which has been active in trying to help struggling homeowners facing home mortgage foreclosure stay in their homes.
Bey and others, including Irvington Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia, who also serves as chief development officer for the Newark Department of Housing and Economic Development, participated in the gentrification panel discussion on Friday, April 5, along with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and IBW 21st Century President Ron Daniels. Sirius XM satellite radio show host Mark Thompson moderated the panel discussion.
“I have discovered that the problem of gentrification and some other evils which blacks face are intentional. They are deliberate, they are planned,” Jackson said. “And so, when you ask what it looks like in Atlanta, they just built Mercedes Benz Stadium, hosted the Super Bowl, on the west side of the city. Gleaming, beautiful structure. The west side of Atlanta is heavily low income, unemployment high; people are struggling. It’s also where the Atlanta University Center is located. There is a Herculean fight now, because developers want to take over the west side of Atlanta and their intent is to move out the population that lives there now, and so we’re in one heck of a fight to keep that from happening.”
Jackson said the economic forces driving gentrification in Atlanta aren’t focused solely on the west side of that city; they’re also interested in controlling the primary source of jobs and commerce in and around the city, too.
“And it wouldn’t have been so bad if it was just there on the west side. But we just finished a major fight because the state of Georgia had the audacity to think they were going to take control of Atlanta’s airport,” said Jackson. “Atlanta’s airport is the busiest airport in the world. Atlanta is a mecca for blacks, because of the Atlanta airport. Former Mayor Maynard Jackson is responsible for the development of the Atlanta airport. He’s the one who made Atlanta the hub that it is. And so Atlanta is a major hub and mecca for black life. It has $34 billion of revenue generated. Black businesses thrive in the city of Atlanta. Their attempt to take over Atlanta’s airport had nothing to do with corruption. It was about getting their filthy hands on $34 billion.”
Jackson said he has come to the realization that gentrification is an existential threat for black communities in urban areas such as Atlanta, Newark, Irvington, East Orange and Orange.
“It’s about dismantling the black middle class,” said Jackson. “I wish I could say what’s happening in New York is happening in Atlanta, but the white population of Atlanta is increasing. The black population of Atlanta is decreasing.”
Jackson concluded his remarks by addressing the central premise that prompted event organizers to convene it in the first place.
“And so, when you ask what gentrification requires to be defeated, as I said in New Jersey, I say again, nothing changes without pressure,” Jackson said. “Black folk have got to fight for something and I think protecting our race is worth fighting for. And so I’m a firm believer that we’ve got to apply heat, but let me also say I’m a firm believer you also have to provide light. There are folks who do not want our people to see what is happening to us and that’s why it’s important … that we have some leadership that has some character and some backbone, because we’ve got to help our people see what’s happening to us. And so if you ask me what our biggest challenge is, our challenge is to help our people see.”
Larry Hamm, of the People’s Organization for Progress, agreed with Jackson.
“When we begin a discussion about gentrification I think it’s important that we examine the etymology of the word. What is the root word of gentrification: ‘gentry.’ Who was the gentry? The gentry was the English word for the emerging bourgeoisie in England. The bourgeoisie was the middle class,” said Hamm on Friday, April 5. “The word gentry was used interchangeably for land owners, but it was also used for the nascent capitalist that was developing. So we see in the word gentrification its class nature and another way of describing gentrification is class warfare. It is the warfare of the rich against the poor. It is the removal of primarily black and brown people from their communities and they are replaced by other people and, in this period, mostly white people.”
Bey said the fight against gentrification is not only about race and class warfare, but “to get back our stuff.”
“I’m feeling James Brown good, being in the midst of all these powerful minds that have come together for one purpose and that is to get back our stuff,” said Bey on Friday, April 5. “What Malcolm X said, he said it best: ‘The fox is still guarding over the hen house.’ We know who the foxes are and New Jersey is New Jersey.”
Bey said the best way to stop rampant gentrification is to implement the moratorium on home mortgage foreclosures.
“In New Jersey foreclosure, that’s what gentrification looks like. The problem is predatory mortgages. The problem is fraud. And so, what we are asking for and what we deserve is a moratorium on foreclosures,” Bey said. “We thank God for Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker. We have a bill, 31:19, that she issued and put in, and before her the sitting lieutenant governor, Sheila Oliver, she put the first bill in for the moratorium on foreclosures. Now she said, ‘We know Gov. Chris Christie will not sign it,’ but the elected officials didn’t tell us that Gov. Phil Murphy wouldn’t sign it either.
“But the reality is, he came from Wall Street, you know, but now he needs to believe us and write that and issue that moratorium on foreclosures that should have been issued on the first request, because New Jersey is No. 1 in foreclosures in the nation for three years in a row. So we know what the problem is. The problem is the banks defrauding toxic mortgages and taking our stuff after they’ve been paid. Federal insurance has already paid to these banks. We don’t owe them nothing. If we had a HUD loan, HUD already paid these mortgages. What makes it so insidious is that it’s shameful for black folks.”