A Sidewalk to Nowhere for a Native Son’s Return

While visiting my hometown, Hammond, Louisiana last week to pay my respects to a family member who passed, I had to leave the house for fresh air due to the massive amount of people delivering food, comfort, and prayer. I just needed to take a little drive to allow myself to mourn on my terms. As I drove around the town, it became glaringly clear not only did a family member pass, but the entire community seemed to be dead and I thought to myself, things will remain the same for too many citizens of Hammond. Most of all, there is no sense of urgency. Where are wrap around services designed to improve conditions for humans’ well being? Why do people seem as if they are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? A psychological condition which causes one to lock arms with those who cause ongoing harm which brings about continual stress, dependence, and most of all, African Americans tend to feel they shouldn’t push on the system of oppression due to their need to survive.
Consequently, long lasting harsh conditions continue to wreak havoc on certain areas of Hammond, LA. These areas are severely saturated with African Americans and other minorities. People of color who are oppressed, suppressed, and depressed. I continued to ask myself as I drove around my hometown, “why?” Why do these conditions continue? Why do African Americans seem to get the shortest stick in multiple ways year after year and decade after decade?

9/20/2019

So, I started to ask people their opinions as to why such traumatic conditions continue to plague their community? I even asked some who were standing outside of a liquor store. In isolation, all reported similar reasons for the unwanted conditions, which is the “system was designed to keep them in one area
with no hope.” Believe it or not, many of the citizen’s replies were valid. While asking questions at the liquor store near St. Paul Church, I realized there was a person passed out in the sweltering heat near the woods located on side of the store. So, I went over to check on the person to realize it
was a lady. I asked questions and locals informed me it was no big deal and that “this is what she does.” Then they walked away with absolutely no concern. May I add, I was visibly appalled. I proceeded to ask the lady if she was all right and if she needed some help, and she stated several times “no” but she never got up.

Education and Homeownership

This leads me to reflect on the correlation between traumatic conditions, achievement gaps, education and homeownership. The term “achievement gap” refers to disparities in the academic achievement of specific groups of students (Coleman et al., 1966). The achievement gap now measures four years: by the end of high school, African American and Latino students have skills in literacy (reading) and numeracy (mathematics) that are virtually identical to those of White students at the end of middle school (Lyman & Villani, 2004; Scherer, 2002-2003).
The achievement gap exists during school years, but when the school years are over the achievement gap becomes an opportunity gap. In other words, students become adults. In many cases, adults who will not be able to pay for everyday essentials such as food, purchase a home, have access to health, vision, or dental insurance. The achievement gap can very well impact one’s life time earnings. Lower life time earnings can have a direct impact on where people live and what kids are exposed to as they grow up. Lower life time earnings can very well impact one’s credit score and put up barriers that prevent home ownership and can sometimes prevent the opportunity to rent. Consequently, most are forced to live in low credit score neighborhoods. Low credit score neighborhoods can breed a host of negative exposures such as violence and childhood stressors. Low score neighborhoods are inundated with liquor stores, cigarette ads, and corner stores that sell nothing but unhealthy processed food. All of these factors add to negative childhood experiences and have a direct impact on minority students’ academic outcome. But, how did we get here? Was the system created to hold down certain citizens based on their race? Are people of color of Hammond, Louisiana still feeling the impact of the racist Housing Act of 1934-1968?

As a sociologist who studies society and groups, I would say, “yes” based on the resounding research that’s readily available as well as my own truthful observations. The Housing Act of 1934 was created during the Great Depression by Franklin D Roosevelt. “The Act was designed to stop the tide of bank foreclosures on family homes and to make housing more affordable for Whites.”

There is a term associated with the Housing Act of 1934 through 1968. The term or practice is known as Redlining. Redlining decided who received home loans. Redlining is also a practice in which the government created neighborhoods based on race and location. For example, green areas were able to receive home loans and the areas were/are predominantly white and red areas were/are considered bad and troubled and of course inundated with African Americans as well as other minorities, which was validated by my unwavering eyes. Redlining, debilitating policies and practices forbade African Americans from receiving home loans despite their social economic status or level of education. This can be observed from the educated African American principals’ and teachers’ homes located on JW Davis Drive near what was known as Greenville Park High School, Hammond Jr High, and now Greenville Park Leadership Academy. Though the name continues to change, the demographics which walk into GPLA daily have not changed since its origin. Student performance has plummeted and GPLA has been labeled as a subpar school by the state of Louisiana; but there’s hope as I am hearing great things about the current administration.

34 years of racial housing practices continue to hover over most of America’s Cities. Cities such as Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and yes, Hammond, Louisiana are all victims of these awful though enforced practices.

Image: Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond. To explore an interactive map of your neighborhood, check out Mapping Inequality from Richmond University’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

The result of these deplorable policies, ensured 98% of loans were given to white families. Hammond was not excluded. Families in the green were able to purchase homes and accrue wealth. Whites were able to sell then use the equity to send their children to college all the while producing generations of wealth and generations of college educated whites. One thing is true, when neighborhoods are segregated, the schools are segregated too.

According to USA Today (2018), Hammond is considered one of the cities in America with the lowest graduation rate. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/economy/2018/08/21/cities-
where-fewest-people-graduate-high-school/372711172

Salem, Oregon
⦁ High school graduation rate: 74.7%
⦁ May unemployment rate: 4.0%
⦁ Median income, less than high school graduate: $20,474
⦁ Percent of adults with a college degree: 24.0%

Hammond, Louisiana
⦁ High school graduation rate: 74.0%
⦁ May unemployment rate: 5.2% (highest 25%)
⦁ Median income, less than high school graduate: $20,495
⦁ Percent of adults with a college degree: 20.1% (bottom 25%)

Tucson, Arizona
⦁ High school graduation rate: 73.9%
⦁ May unemployment rate: 4.0%
⦁ Median income, less than high school graduate: $17,936 (bottom 25%)
⦁ Percent of adults with a college degree: 31.9%

Jackson, Mississippi
⦁ High school graduation rate: 73.6%
⦁ May unemployment rate: 4.2%
⦁ Median income, less than high school graduate: $18,681 (bottom 25%)
⦁ Percent of adults with a college degree: 29.9%

According to ProPublica/Miseducation, Hammond High School students of color lag behind White students in a variety of Categories. Retrieved from https://projects.propublica.org/miseducation/school/220168001304

Hammond High School Data on Opportunity to Learn & Disparities
⦁ White students are 3.2 times as likely to be enrolled in at least one AP class as Black students.
⦁ A comparison between Hispanic students and White students enrolled at least one AP class is not available.
⦁ A comparison between Asian, Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian students and White students enrolled at least one AP class is not available.
⦁ A comparison between students of Two or More Races and White students enrolled at least one AP class is not available.
⦁ A comparison between Native American or Alaska Native students and White students enrolled at least one AP class is not available.

Hammond High School Discipline
⦁ Black students are 4.2 times as likely to be suspended as White students.
⦁ Hispanic students are 2.5 times as likely to be suspended as White students.
⦁ A comparison between Asian, Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian students and White student suspensions is not available.
⦁ Students of Two or More Races are 3.8 times as likely to be suspended as White students.
⦁ A comparison between Native American or Alaska Native students and White student suspensions is not available.

The majority of these disparities could be the result of a long history of enforcing America’s Housing Act Policies which barred prosperity for far too many of her citizens. Over the years, red zones have taken a harsh beating. Landlords and homeowners in too many cases are simply not financially able to repair the severely aging homes. Therefore, they sit and rot along with abandoned cars. There are organizations who pay $50 to $100 dollars to take guns off the streets. The same should happen for the massive number of abandoned cars. The City of Hammond should provide $100 to the owner or so for all the inoperable cars and give them to surrounding scrap yards or technical schools which improve outcomes. I’m sure with collaboration between aldermen, councilmen, the community, and mayor, good ideas can become reality. No need to compound poverty with harsh demands which force the underserved population to pay.

Shame, Shame, and Shame on the city for spending taxpayers’ money to glamourize and most of all commercialize the way life used to be in Louisiana. I am referring to “Peter Hammond’s” burial site and the unnamed slave boy. A favorite of Peter’s. What type of message are we sending to so many of Hammond’s minority and majority citizens? Think of minority students having to face these awful reminders of slavery while walking to school everyday for years. This is traumatic to say the least. Take a play from the former Mayor Landrieu’s play book. “New Orleans is a mostly black city of nearly 390,000. The majority black City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to take the monuments down, but legal battles held up action.

Favorite Slave Boy. What’s his name? Maybe Slave. Did the boy desire to be the favorite? How does one become a favorite? 9/20/19
9/20/2019
I was informed these are the live in rooms for slaves. As you can see there is an air conditioner in the window. Looks like money has been utilized to keep the slave quarters up for all to be reminded for some reason.

Landrieu, a white Democrat, proposed the monuments’ removal and rode to victory twice with overwhelming support from the city’s black residents. Opponents of the memorials say they are offensive artifacts honoring the region’s racist past.” Retrieved from: https://apnews.com/75a1d88fbef7440782907d5a3e5cd93e

The Visible-Invisible Line
The corner of North Holly and East Church Street makes it explicitly clear there is a Visible Invisible line that separates devastating neighborhoods and neighborhoods who now benefit from laws that supported and enforced “White Privilege” from Reconstruction 1877 through Jim Crow years, which ended on books in the 1960s by LB Johnson. I actually stood in the middle of the street at the corner of Holly and East Church. I looked South and North without moving my position. While looking south, one is able to see homes, opportunities, and wealth.

The Visible-Invisible Line. 9/20/2019
As you can see, both pictures are at the corner of Holly and Church. One picture shows hope and opportunity and the other picture not so much and saturated with African Americans. 9/20/19

As a native of Hammond, the view hasn’t changed. Yes, I am actually surprised and disappointed. I too am a victim of the same harsh conditions. Much of my early years have been erased. I decided to visit my Great Grandmother “Mama Picky’s” home on Noah James Drive, only to find a sidewalk to nowhere. Just faded memories of throwing my GI Joe Parachute doll into the air and watch it float to the ground. The days after church and Mama Picky would take her hair piece off and insisted the great-grand kids take turns scratching her scalp.

The Impact of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility: Childhood Exposure Effects

For the purpose of providing explicit clarity, it’s necessary to provide research study findings which clearly show that neighborhoods have an impact on people’s beginnings as a child and their outcomes as an adult (Chetty & Hendren, 2017). “Neighborhoods in which children grow up shape their lifetime income, college attendance rates, and fertility and marriage patterns” (Chetty & Hendren, 2017). The researchers analyzed more than 7 million families by analyzing de-identified families with IRS records from 1980s. The results of the findings show “neighborhoods affect intergenerational mobility primarily through childhood exposure” (Chetty & Hendren, 2017).

The findings also revealed, place matters. Children who grow up in poor environments tend to mimic the same income and outcomes in adulthood as the permanent residents in the community. The same can be said if a child is exposed to improved environments. Secondly, neighborhood matters largely because of differences in childhood exposure, rather than the differences in job market conditions. Third, each year of childhood exposure matters (Good or Bad environments) roughly equals that of a child born in the neighborhood. However, age of the child’s move to an improved environment does matter. For example, moving to an improved environment has less of an impact on adults who are 23 years old compared to a child who moves to an improved neighborhood by age 9 or 10 (Chetty & Hendren, 2017). Retrieved from: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/movers_paper1.pdf

So, we must improve conditions in which we live. This can only be accomplished with enduring collaboration from all stakeholders such as taxpayers, community leaders, TPSD, councilmen, churches, and others. The research did not suggest moving to other neighborhoods, though there is nothing wrong with moving. Nonetheless, the research findings do suggest improved environments or improving our environments in which we reside. Retrieved from: http://www.equality-of opportunity.org/assets/documents/movers_paper1.pdf

As I conclude, we must acknowledge Hammond as we know it today, only gets worse with an uneducated population. The superintendent of schools and BOE must increase their efforts as it relates to educational outcomes and disparities. 26% of high school students fail to graduate in 4 years (Miseducation, 2018). Abandoned homes and cars, violence, and poor opportunities are not alluring to companies and industries. Industries do not move to cities where subpar school districts are still fighting desegregation from the long gone Jim Crow Era.

What will the Mayor of Hammond, Aldermen, Superintendent of Schools, Community Leaders and others do to combat these harsh conditions? To remain silent is to remain complicit. These awful living conditions for too many have nearly destroyed Hammond, Louisiana. By the Grace of GOD, let’s save her now!!

Dr. Kevin W. Brown, PhD

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