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Raleigh's Last Nerve

My daughter hit her funny bone while climbing into her car seat recently. The howl that burst from her little body startled me. I turned to ask what was wrong, and I saw her cradling her elbow, big tears rolling down her face. There’s nothing quite like that sudden throb of pain. Maybe it’s because you know the pain is not equal to the impact of the injury. All you did was bump your elbow in just the right spot, but it always stops you dead in your tracks.

It seems that my article “The Vision of the Poor” bumped Raleigh in a sensitive spot. There she is, minding her own damn business, when she picks up her phone to catch up on things. Raleigh sees the headline, reads the article, and suddenly she’s clutching her elbow. It struck a deep nerve, and I would be lying if I said I'd planned this. But I am so happy for Raleigh. I’m happy because her citizens are finally talking about something that truly matters: our housing crisis and those who are being displaced and erased because of it.  Southern gentility has kept this gnawing issue from recieving the full-throated condemnation it deserves, which is a true injustice. We have valued politeness over honesty, and generations of Raleighites have paid a hefty price for it. I hope my words can be a catalyst for helping to right these wrongs. And when I talk about the problem of diplacement, it isn't only theoretical - it's personal.

My family was evicted from our home right after I graduated high school.  There is no trauma like driving up to your home and seeing the notice on the door, the padlock on the doorknob, and the sherriff's deputy waiting by the curb.  There's nothing like the dread of being told you only have 20 minutes to pack up your belongings and the rest will be thrown out on the lawn. There is nothing like seeing the despair on your parents faces that, despite their best efforts and incredibly hard work, they could not keep their family in their home. So, despite how some voices in the community have put it lately, it isn't just, "emotional" to lose your family home. It's gut-wrenching. And it changes the very fabric of one's psyche. It makes you question everything you've ever known. Honestly, I haven't thought of this moment in my life for a while, but maybe it's been fueling my fighting spirit all along.

There is a growing number of children waking up in cars, homeless shelters, and on their auntie's couch to go to school every day all around Wake County because we refuse to ensure that they have a permanent, safe place to lay their head. We are more worried about the tax revenue from a stadium than we are about the fate of homeless families and shuttered businesses. A prominent Raleighite recently stood up in front of a crowd and said "When we started renovating the schools and the libraries, you should have known what was coming next." That is sickening. It's disgusting. But not surprising. Not long after the renovation of Green Road Library and Community Center, Raleigh began holding meetings about the coming changes to Capital Blvd, one of the city's most diverse areas. I refuse to lie down and let the rainbow of cultures that exists on Capital Boulevard, or anywhere else in our beautiful city, be erased like the Black businesses on Hargett Street many decades ago.  I'm not engaging in a battle with Raleigh, but for Raleigh: to become a city that finally represents all of us.

Courtney Napier is a Raleigh native, community activist, and co-host of Mothering on the Margins podcast (available on SoundCloud and Google Play).

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