“The killing of one’s soul, little by little, day after day, is a lot worse than someone coming into your house and lynching you.”
– Samuel L. Jackson
Saturday, April 16, 3PM: I watched a 16-minute documentary on gentrification and racism at St. Francis School, Vine and Liberty, OTR. The film chronicles the eviction of Reginald Stroud Sr. from his home and businesses. Its title?: “Good White People.”
Saturday, April 16, 4:45 PM, as I left the video event, cop cars screamed by me on Vine St. I climbed on my bike and rode a block north to Vine and Green, where, only a minute earlier, a 32-year-old man had been shot several times. Greg Tremble’s blood was oozing into the gutter. The cops pulled his shirt up, revealing several bullet wounds. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sometimes things dovetail in a way that immediately makes them symbolic, or iconic, a hundred times more powerful than when they happen in isolation. Sometimes these comings—together are visible to millions, as when a songbird landed on Bernie Sanders’ outdoor podium as he was campaigning in Portland several weeks ago. Bernie saw it as a sign of peace. He said it meant we should end all war.
As I sit down to write this review of “Good White People,” I find myself dealing with the mutuality of the killing of Greg Tremble and the documentary on gentrification. I see Tremble’s murder as extreme disrespect, and this disrespect has its roots in racism. Taken together, the two events spoke these words to me: “Racism (like war) must be ended.”
The killings will only end when the marginalization and the systematic dehumanization of African Americans in our country is brought to a close—dramatically (over time)—but once and for all. This can be made to happen. Sociologists know how to do it. Antiracism classes can be taught in every grade school and every high school. Four hundred years of racial torment in this country must be pro—actively brought to an end.
The previous issue of this newspaper featured a front page story announcing the screening of “Good White People” by Jerrod Welling—Cann and Eric Stoll. WellingCann said of their work, “I hope the film can help mobilize people to organize and resist racial injustice in OTR. And,” he added, “stop the gentrification.” Many more than a hundred of us—black and white—attended. Most stayed for the panel discussion afterward.
I thought the film was incredibly pointed and powerful, short enough to be accessible to all. For me, Tremble’s death was like a huge exclamation point at the end of “Good White People.”
Good White People?
The title of the film is meant to be ironic. It refers to the good white entrepreneurs and business people and residents who have come into our neighborhood following the 2001 riots. The “newbies” a friend of mine calls them. The filmmakers use Stroud’s story as an emblem for the hundreds (thousands?) of displacements and evictions that have gone on for the past ten years, it also refers to the thousands of good white suburbanites, loaded with spending money, who come into the neighborhood, day and night, to wine and dine and party, in places that are “priced out” for most of the poor folks who live here.
These good white people are not evil…but they aren’t exactly good either, especially for our neighborhood, our “beloved community,” as the People’s Movement describes OTR. The so called “renaissance” of OTR, has created more problems that it has solved. During the most recent election cycle, David Mann suggested that if the poor are pushed out, OTR will no longer exist. It will become another Anderson or Glendale.
In terms of the African American community that has inhabited the Hood for so many years, gentrification continues to be a disaster, a festering wound. The film “Good White People” illustrates the realities of that disaster in terms of one black businessman, Reginald Stroud. It chronicles his expulsion by Urban Sites (one of the gentrifying companies) from his home, along with the two small businesses he ran, all at 1123 Walnut Street. Stroud had a variety store, “Reggie’s Anybody’s Dream,” which specialized in selling 2 cent candy. Next door was a small “dojo” where Stroud taught martial arts and self-defense. He was given 45 days to move his home and his businesses, an impossible task.
Aftermath of the screening
After the screening at St. Francis, each of a panel of six people had three minutes to give their “take” on the neighborhood blight, known as “gentrification.” Reginald Stroud spoke first. He was participating in the screening, even though his wife had died only two days earlier. He described himself as “an activist for righteousness, seeking that which is right for humankind.” Although he had named his store “Anybody’s Dream,” Stroud insisted that “there has never been an American Dream for the black man.”
Panelist Ashley Herrington of Black Lives Matter made the claim that “police are complicit in the gentrification process, but they are left out of the conversation on gentrification.” Nobody sees the police as involved in the process, according to Herrington. But she insisted that the cops are aiding and abetting the legal crimes against the poor that are happening all over the neighborhood.
Longtime activist Bonnie Neumeier talked about the “People’s Movement for Justice,” which she has been involved in for decades. She stated that “The film reminds me of our vulnerability as renters. Places of our history, memory and meaning are simply being erased.”
Vanessa Sparks, who for many years has been the director of the Mohawk Area Development Corporation, spoke of the encroachment of gentrification in that northernmost OTR neighborhood. “They are making a concentrated attack on our area,” she said. “We have refused to recognize the ‘Brewery District,’ because they have made no attempt to relate to my corporation.” Sparks lamented “the disjointed relationships the newcomers have with the poor people who are walking down the street.”
Dorothy Darden, another longtime African American activist, noted that “Urban renewal is not a new thing. It started in the West end. Gentrification,” she continued, “is about our disconnect from one another. Cincinnati is a mess,” she insisted. “We’re not together. We haven’t fixed anything. But I will not lie down. I will not lie down.”
Then a series of questions were posed by the moderator, UC sociologist Sarah MayorgaGallo. A strange (nonetheless logical) thing happened at this point. The moderator tried to focus the questions on the specific issues raised by the “Good White People” documentary. Instead a succession of black people spoke, some were panelists and some were audience members. What came out as they addressed the audience was ANGER, huge amounts of pent-up anger, from one speaker after another.
It was as if this short film had been a kind of visual emblem of the indignity and the suffering that these people and their families had endured for years, for decades, for centuries. And that sordid history was being reenacted once again—now—by the good white folks who were taking over the neighborhood, forcefully intruding themselves in the lives of all the “good black people” who have lived for so long on these mean streets.
Of course, the “good white people” have no direct connection with the killing of Greg Tremble. But, in a manner that was absolutely clear to so many African Americans in the auditorium at St. Francis School that Saturday afternoon, those “good white people” are living representatives of a system that has been brutalizing the blacks for generations, creating an ongoing environment in which young black men have no hope, as they find themselves competing for their dangerous notion of the American Dream. Theirs is—as Reginald Stroud claimed—an impossible dream.
[The documentary film was entered in the recent Aspen Film Festival. In the next few weeks, it will be screened in Columbus and Bloomington, Indiana. Check this newspaper for future screenings in Cincinnati].
[Editor’s note: The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition doesn’t endorse candidates.]