“We’re here because Habitat for Humanity helps gentrify working-class neighborhoods,” proclaimed a group of protesters who rushed the stage in front of a crowd of more than 300 people at an affordable housing symposium on March 12.
The local Habitat for Humanity organization welcomed author and activist Marc Lamont Hill as its keynote speaker during the event at Central Piedmont Community College’s Halton Theater. The protesters called for Hill to denounce Habitat for Humanity and its practices.
You could hear boos from the audience once they realized the interruption wasn’t part of the program. The speech went on for about a minute before event staff escorted them from the stage. Habitat Charlotte CEO Laura Belcher left the stage visibly rattled.
After a brief introduction, Hill joked that there were steps that could’ve been taken prior to the protests.
“You can start with an email. You ain’t gotta go right to protest,” he joked.
Getting serious, he then tackled the issue of gentrification head-on.
“I’m a gentrifier,” Hill stated. “As long as there’s capitalism, there’s going to be gentrification. We can’t get rid of gentrification as the gap between the haves and have-nots expands.”
While he’s not an advocate of gentrification, Hill said there are things that community members can do to make the process of gentrification more humane, including rent control.
According to Hill, it’s social class, not race, that lies at the core of gentrification. He illustrated the point when discussing the growing number of black gentrifiers in Charlotte and other communities. Qcitymetro visited the issue of black gentrifiers last year, using the Lockwood neighborhood as an example.
Hill reflected on the fact that Charlotte ranks last out of 50 in economic mobility among the largest U.S. cities. Charlotteans describe the city as diverse, cultured and growing. However, Hill reminded the audience of the gap between who we say we are and who we are on the ground.
“How committed are we to closing the gap? There are too many people that don’t do anything,” he said before stating that gentrification will continue to expand as long as people don’t have access to quality education and jobs.
My question to my fellow Charlotteans — both native and transplant — what are we going to do about it?
Editor’s note: We reached out to Habitat Charlotte for comment.
Nakisha Washington is a style contributor who mixes prints and professionals. She’s a millennial development coach, content creator and lover of all things stylish!