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When the Hood Breaks Your Heart

Folks in the hood often complain that people who make it out don’t do enough to give back. I can’t fault that critique, because that’s one I often make of successful black people. The minute their career takes off, they only show back up in the hood for photo ops. Given that reality, you’d hope that the ones who do give back would always receive a hero’s welcome.

I have a childhood friend who grew up in New Orleans in the crack 80s and 90s. He went to dilapidated public schools in rough neighborhoods and always wanted better for himself and his people. When he grew up, he moved away to Houston, got a good job and did pretty well for himself.  He never forgot the blight and squalor that he grew up seeing in New Orleans. Houston had a lot of that too, so he decided that he wanted to invest in affordable housing in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Gentrification had really taken a toll on the affordable housing market, and he wanted to make an effort to improve things.

I remember how excited he was when he told me he got approved for a construction loan to build a duplex. The project was going to bring a few construction jobs to the neighborhood, as well as provide affordable housing for two poor families.  He was quickly inundated with rental applications and phone calls inquiring about the property.

Everything was going great at first. Though the weather was unbearably hot and humid, there was no rain to slow construction. The three construction workers he hired were completing the duplex quickly and under budget. Then the hood terrorists came.  During their lunch break, the workers went to a local convenience store for some Gatorade and sodas. Unbeknownst to them, they were followed back to the work site by a group of young men. Those young men decided to rob them at gunpoint.  Though they only got away with about $20 in cash, they also ended up with one of the construction worker’s green cards. One of the other construction workers was an undocumented immigrant, so he refused to call the police. Although the construction workers were happy to have escaped with their lives, they were too terrified to show back up to work to complete the project.

Since word had gotten around about the robbery, my friend has had trouble finding new construction workers to complete the duplex. Look at all the trouble these hoodlums have caused. They have terrorized three men whose only crime was working hard in the summer sun. They created fear in the community such that three good paying construction jobs will go unfilled.  And now the two families that were approved to move into the duplex will have their affordable housing delayed.

They say no good deed goes unpunished. What do you do when you try to help your community, and certain people in it take that as an opportunity to terrorize folks? There are precious few of us who actually have the resources to create affordable housing in our most vulnerable neighborhoods. We can’t afford to scare those people away from investing in our communities. My friend has done well for himself, but he isn’t rich. He can’t afford the expense of construction delays.

The hood needs so much–much more than I can list here. No matter how far we’ve climbed as individuals, no black person in America is more than a couple of generations removed from the hood. The government isn’t going to save us. Donald Trump doesn’t care. That’s why what happened to my friend is so heartbreaking. He was told not to invest there because he was a first-time investor and the people were not worth the trouble. “Not worth the trouble?” he said. “I’m one of those people.” Loving the hood is like being in a toxic relationship sometimes. No matter how much you love them, they will still break your heart. I don’t have the answers, but I know my friend still loves the hood. He just feels like it doesn’t love him back.