Really interesting story about the changing faces of a couple of Houston’s historically African-American neighborhoods.
There are now almost as many Latino residents as African-Americans in Independence Heights. At the same time, there are fewer African-American children there and in other historic black neighborhoods, even when the number of African-American adults has grown.
“There’s a lot of chitter-chatter about what that means,” said Roynell Young, a former All-Pro cornerback who runs a charter school in Sunnyside. “What I do know is, you take what you have and grow it. It’s the quality of what you produce that is important.”
Decades after segregation faded in public schools and workplaces, residential neighborhoods have been slower to change. Even as people moved away from historically black neighborhoods, churches and other institutions kept them at the center of civic engagement.
But neighborhoods, like the people who inhabit them, don’t stand still.
“We are born, we grow up, we get old,” said Sheri L. Smith, who teaches urban planning at Texas Southern University. “Communities do the same thing.”
Longtime residents may resist change. “But if you move out, someone else moves in, and they’re not responsible for your memories,” she said.
I met a couple of people over the weekend who had just moved here from Brooklyn. When I told them I was from Staten Island, one of them asked me which neighborhood. I actually had to think about it for a second before I answered, because it had been so long since anyone had asked me that question. My neighborhood on Staten Island – West Brighton, for the record – and most of the neighborhoods around it were like Sunnyside and Independence Heights when I was a kid in that they stayed the same for a long time. People lived their whole lives there, and knew who everybody was. Both my father’s parents lived in the same ZIP code till the day they died. I’m not certain, but I’d bet the same was true of my mother’s father, and outside of a couple of years at the end when she was in an assisted living facility in Seattle near her son, the same was probably true of her mother. It was true for my parents until 1999, when they moved west.
It’s not true any more, at least in my family as all us kids settled elsewhere. Through various reconnections I’ve made on Facebook, I know there’s still some of my old friends there, but many have left. I suspect some of it is generational – people nowadays are more accustomed to the idea of moving away – and some of it is just how society in general is these days – modern careers are much less conducive to staying in one place forever. I haven’t been back to Staten Island in over a decade, so I can’t say for myself how much it has changed since I stopped visiting regularly. I definitely plan to take the girls to visit there in the next few years, and we’ll see how I perceive it from the perspective of fatherhood and connecting to my roots. I suspect it will be a very different experience.
On a side note, I will say that the place in Texas that is most strongly reminiscent of Staten Island to me is Galveston. Island communities, where the boundaries are clearly demarcated and there’s a big difference between being born there and not being born there, are just different. Paul Burka wrote a story about his ancestral home town awhile back for Texas Monthly, and I remember thinking as I read it that someone could write a very similar story about mine. Maybe some day I will.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to get all nostalgic on you, but that’s what this story triggered in me. It’s worth your time to read even if it’s not likely to have the same effect on you. Greg has more.