Kommunity, kulture, and konversations: Transforming me into We!

There is a new kind of gentrification that is directly linked to the worsening global climate crisis. Folks in Miami, Florida are calling it klimate gentrifikation. The term is used to describe the trend when climate change and/or sea level rise causes the increase of the market value of property and the displacement of lower-income and marginalized families and businesses in urban neighborhoods. It was first coined by Paulette Richards, a resident of Liberty City, FL, who used the term to describe what was happening to her community.

Gentrifikation has been happening for quite some time and has contributed to the affordable housing crisis in Miami. According to a recent report, Miami’s Affordable Housing Crisis, 60% of Miami-Dade adult residents already spend over 30% of their income on rent. African-American homeowners have an average of $4,000 in income left over annually after paying for housing, this amount is $5,500 for Hispanics, and $20,000 for white households.

As Richards and others have noticed, gentrifikation seems to be accelerating, particularly in communities like hers that are located on higher ground. These areas previously seen as unattractive to real estate developers are now being targeted for redevelopment to relocate and attract large companies and more affluent residents that also tend to be more white. The most targeted communities include Liberty City, Overtown, Allapattah, Little Havana, and Ti Ayiti.

While some developers deny this is true, there is no denying the reality of a changing climate. Residents don’t need to know the science to see its impact. They are seeing and experiencing it for themselves. Their streets and homes are getting flooded even on sunny days. Miami has seen an increase in tidal flooding in the last decade, up 400% between the years of 2006 and 2016, leading to a phenomenon called sunny day flooding. This flooding has impacted low lying areas, in particular the Miami business district and more affluent neighborhoods along the coastline. And it is only going to get worse. According to moderate estimates of sea level rise, the low lying areas within the city could flood 85 days per year by 2050 and 365 days per year by 2070 - that is to say low lying areas are expected to flood every day, a fact that homeowners and developers are increasingly becoming aware of.

Klimate Gentrifikation’s Racist and Genocidal Roots

Limiting the conversation of klimate gentrifikation to current trends in housing and business development doesn’t quite capture the full extent of its impact and injustices. To better understand what is happening, we need to start with the racist and violent history of Miami. Like all of the United States, the story of the land and people we now call Miami begins with the genocide and land theft of Indigenous Peoples. The Tequesta People lived on the land for thousands of years until the 1500s, when the Spanish, bringing stolen and enslaved Africans with them, came to conquer, kill, and displace Indigenous Peoples in order to claim the land for themselves. By the time Florida became a slave state of the United States, all that remained of Tequesta People were stories and cultural artifacts. Also by that time in 1845, slaves accounted for nearly half of the population of the land we now call Florida.

Maimi officially became a city in 1896 after the construction of the Florida East Coast Railroad by Henry Flagler a year earlier. Black and white laborers brought into the area worked on the railroad, many of whom lived along the worksite in tents. With their voting power, Flagler was able to push for Miami to become incorporated. Soon after incorporation, the city upheld state segregation statutes and imposed their own Black codes. The Black folks that helped incorporate Miami were now being segregated and excluded from the political decisions and processes impacting their lives. By 1920, the number of white voters exceeded Black voters by a margin of 14 to 1 giving white people the political power they needed to further entrench Jim Crow segregation.

As more and more Black and different shades of Black moved and immigrated to Miami, the areas in which they reside expanded but to this day still remain largely segregated from the white communities. In the earlier part of the 20th century, racial segregation was legal and backed by the federal government in part through racial redlining policies. Even when it was no longer legal to discriminate against Black people and people of color, the new federal policies and programs and real estate and banking industries practices that emerged were still rooted in the logic of Jim Crow segregation and thus, reproduced patterns of racial segregation and injustice. As the city of Miami grew and developed over the course of 100 years, the coastline remained the epicenter of economic investment attracting large businesses and wealthier white households; while lower-income Black and communities of color were forced into areas away from the coast.

Kommunity Response to Klimate Gentrifikation

For Michael Clarkson and Francois Alexandre, co-owners of Koncious Kontraktors and co-founders of Ti Ayiti Preparedness and Relief Institute (TAPARI), what is happening to their Kommunity, Ti Ayiti, is more than just klimate gentrifikation, “it is systemik and legalized kultural genocide.” The people of Ti Ayiti and surrounding areas are facing multiple intersecting, and compounding crises in addition to klimate gentrifikation, issues relating to poverty, anti-Black and anti-immigrant racism, police brutality, government neglect of critical services and infrastructure, climate disasters, and more.

Ti Ayiti, english translation “Little Haiti,” is home to a large population of Ayisyen immigrants, approximately 18,600 live in and around the area making up about 30% of the population. There is also a significant population of African-Americans and diaspora Kommunity from across the Caribbean and Latin America. Throughout the history of Miami, people from nearby countries have fled to the area for varying reasons, including political conflict and violence, lack of economic opportunity often as a result of US foreign policy, environmental degradation, and climate disasters.

The reasons for the forced migration of Haitians, in particular, is a result of a combination of factors that include the US occupation of 1915-1934 and on-going foreign policy that transformed their economy to serve US interests, the environmental degradation that precipitated as a result, and made worse by environmental and climate disasters, such as the 2004 mudslides and 2010 earthquake. As the climate crisis worsens, Ayiti is particularly vulnerable to rising seas, extreme weather and hurricanes, and drought, threatening the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Ayisyens forcing migration to surrounding countries. Haiti is one of many places throughout the globe where the climate crisis is exacerbating political conflict and violence, extreme poverty, and forced migration. The United Nation predicts that there could be anywhere from 250 million up to 1 billion refugees because of the climate crisis by 2050.

Ti Ayiti is located on one of the highest parts of the city, and thus, is among the most protected and secure in the face of rising sea levels, making the area a prime target for predatory developers. In fact, between 2000 and 2014, Ti Ayiti has seen a 1,121 percent increase in homes priced well above what current residents can afford, according to Florida International University’s Neighborhood Changes project. Clarkson and Alexandre explain that predatory developers and political leaders, politrickers, as they refer to them, claim they are “helping” to improve the kommunity, but it is the developers and politrickers who are getting way more out of this arrangement than the residents themselves.

The city’s approach to economic and community development follows the logic of settler colonialism of private ownership of land and resources for the concentration of wealth through oppression, control and exploitation of people, often dressed up as “what is best for everyone.” This colonizing process of development is legal and normalized. All across the country, cities, like Ti Ayiti, are made and remade by outsiders with profit driven interests instead of by and for the people already living there.

Cyclical patterns of divestment and investment in this country continuously create new frontiers for middle class and higher income white households to “resettle” in places where they can “manifest their destinies.” This process has always and continues to be made possible at the expense of low wealth, Indigenous and those on the color chart created to legitimize and enforce white power structure. Clarkson explains the “color chart” as “if you’re white you're right, but if you’re yellow, red, brown or black, get back. America was built on white privilege to make proclamations, codes, bounties and jurisprudence on their definition of color and white is right. The fact that white rights can establish where the non-whites should live and then turn around and make where you live more valuable than when they place you there, is the epitome of white privilege, the colorism of white power.”

This pattern of development is the history of white power invasion of the Indigenous Peoples and as it continues in Ti Ayiti, many people living there will be forced to relocate. The threat of displacement for this kommunity is about more than just their homes; it is about the risk of losing the konnektion to being human. “In fact we are treated as dust, subjected to the gales and gust of any white wind,” explains Clarkson.

Clarkson and Alexandre believe that the answer to issues facing their kommunity lies within the kommunity itself not outside of it. Their focus is political education - the kind that liberates people from the colonized ways of thinking and being. They are organizing “to win the minds of Afrikans in this city to understand kommunity kontrol.”

Clarkson and Alexandre believe that the answer to all these issues lies within the kommunity itself not outside of it. Their focus is political education - the kind that liberates people from the colonized ways of thinking and being. They are organizing “to win the minds of Afrikans in this city to understand kommunity kontrol.” For Clarkson and Alexandre, political education begins with decolonizing the language we use. They refer to the kommunity as Ti Ayiti and not its translation, Little Haiti. They also have replaced the “c” with a hard “k” as “an artistik expression of kombining Kreyol and English.” The “k” is spoken with “a tone and umph that shakes the Earth.” The use of the hard “k” is an entry point to unlocking the stranglehold colonization has on people’s minds and ways of being. Colonization teaches us to accept things as they are given. As a point of contrast, the introduction of the hard “k” into their language is symbolic of the kreative and innovative power we all have to transform our lives through kollektive aktion.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, Clarkson and Alexandre started Koncious Kontraktors and Ti Ayiti Preparedness And Relief Institution (TAPARI) to provide free cleanup and repairs to impacted residents largely left out of the county and city response and recovery plans, just like the Katrina. True to their vision of kommunity responding to kommunity, they have continued to organize relief efforts during the COVID pandemic, providing food, masks, charcoal, and other items. Their mission is to operate against all forms of pandemics and environmental disasters related to the global climate crisis by establishing programs and initiatives that strengthen the sustainability and resilience of kommunities and by creating a kulture of self-determination- “a kommunity by us, for us, and with us.”

All of their kommunity activities are centered around three pillars of operation: kulture, arts, and science. Since their founding, they have established several initiatives that build “a greener brighter future with all power to da people,” advance “the kommunity kontrolled revitalization and prosperous redevelopment of Ti Ayiti,” and engage and kultivate leadership among young people.

They see kommunity, kulture, and konversations as critical parts of their organizing. Kommunity is a part of everything they do. “We are a bridge. What we do is not about us as individuals, it is about the kommunity- what they want and how they want to solve the issues facing Ti Ayiti.” Whether remembering, practicing, or creating, kulture is the both part of how they organize and what they are organizing to achieve - “kulture of we, not me.” They also engage directly with residents, having konversations, exchanging ideas and strategies for change. As they see it, the solutions they need will not come from their intellects and experiences alone. It is up to the kommunity to come together and decide.

Clarkson and Alexandre are also very clear about what they are fighting up against. They describe themselves as “two strong Black men fighting to break the back of Jim Crow.” True liberation will not come to their people without atonement for what has been done to and stolen from oppressed peoples. They are doing their part to keep their kommunity awake and engaged to transform a system hell bent on keeping everyone asleep.

Their passion and resistance comes from a place of love for their people, for all of humanity and the planet. They speak peace and blessings to all and work with all people who believe in justice and self-determination and who see themselves as karetakers of the land. Land is a site of struggle, but it can also be a source of transformative power, a chance to heal and make a better living for all of humankind. Inspired very much by Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition, they understand that it is going to take all of us working together to stand against colonial power and win liberation for all oppressed peoples.

Their fight against climate gentrification, against the power structure, is a part of the broader struggle for liberation of all oppressed peoples. In the words of Fred Hampton, “We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity…We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.” In the spirit of solidarity, we invite you to learn more about, connect with, and support the work of TAPARI and Konscious Konstraktors directly. You can read about some of their initiatives below. Find them on Facebook or email tapari1804@gmail.com or Konsciouskontraktors@gmail.com. If you are able, make a donation to Ti Ayiti Preparedness And Relief Institution a 501(c)(3) by writing your checks to:

Ti Ayiti Preparedness And Relief Institution

P.O. Box 380036

Miami, Florida 33238

Other ways to give:

TAPARI Kommunity Initiatives

Ti Ayiti Kommunity Organic Garden And Water Initiative (TAKOGAWI, pronounced, Ta-Ko-Ga-We)

TAKOGAWI is a for-profit, economic development, and educational leadership training cooperative that provides education and hands-on training on the production of locally grown organic food that enhances adaptability by learning to eat and live in unity with Mother Earth, water conservation, recycling, and composting. This program was established to bring their kommunity together to address the lack of access to affordable healthy food (most of Ti Ayiti and other kommunities live in a food desert) and provide food and water as part of disaster preparedness and relief efforts.

Ti Ayiti Kommunity Awareness Preparation Initiative (TAKAPI, pronounced Ta-Ka-Pee)

This initiative establishes a meeting and distribution hub within the kommunity to prepare and respond to climate disasters, giving their kommunity kontrol of coordinating & implementing preparedness, response, and recovery services during times of disaster. The building will also serve as a meeting hub, a place for “minds to grow, develop, and solve problems together.” They also partner with many organizations and churches to distribute kare packages of food and supplies to the residents of Ti Ayitia during the COVID pandemic.

Ti Ayiti Kommunity, Kultural Konversations (TAKKK pronounced Tak-KK)

TAKKK is a platform that evolved from showing movies like, 1804 The Hidden Story of Ayiti, and the Black Panther. This family Konversation is geared towards rebuilding the Afrikan Liberation Movement that speaks & practices the elements needed for true freedom, independence and liberation.

Ti Ayiti Klimate And Kulture Art Science Initiative (TAKAKASI, pronounced ta-ka-ka-see)

TAKAKASI is a multi-faceted 12-week educational, training & leadership course, designed in Kreyol, Spanish and English. The initiative is designed to achieve the goals of kommunity kontrol and self-determination by educating participants of the effects of global warming and how to live a more greener sustainable and resilient eco-friendly lifestyles.

Ti Ayiti Summer Environmental Youth Initiative (TASEYI, pronounced Ta-say-yee)

Established by kommunity members to combat climate gentrification through neighborhood beautification, landscaping, and renovation of residents’ homes and businesses. Their motto is “Klean Streets, Klean Mind.” By improving their neighborhood and connecting with their neighbors, they are moving the kommunity towards better organizing and development of kulture, art & science and creating greater political and economic power for our people to live and work in Ti Ayiti.

Art Kreyol

This initiative was created to educate, promote, and expose Alkebulan Kulture and Art in the diaspora. They organize transformative events and projects that support the needs of local Alkebulan artists in South Florida in the hopes, as stated by kurator Ralph Jean, to ignite thoughts and feelings that allow us to question societal issues while working towards a plan for liberation. Art Kreyol is a vehicle that can help bring economic and political solutions for their kommunity.

Ti Ayiti Youth Art Kontest (TAYAK, pronounced Ta - Yak)

TAYAK was established to engage youth in the celebration of Afrikan culture during Ayisyen Heritage Month and create a continuous Climate Change Art program that produces young people that are climate resilient and ambassadors educated in the fields of environmental protection through the Arts. The theme of the second annual contest held in 2019 was in alignment with the City of Miami themes of “1804 Forever.” Children were encouraged to explore, through art, what the victory of the Ayisyen Revolution means to their kommunity today? What current issues in their kommunity would they tackle through the spirit of 1804?

Ti Ayiti News Awareness (TANA, pronounced Tay - Na)

TANA is a video, audio and filmmaking initiative that is dedicated to educating and promoting the Kreyol Kulture of Ti Ayiti, Ayiti and the Ayisyen kommunity throughout the world.