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How can we ensure the community school will serve long-term Bushwick residents who have fought for its existence, and not just newcomers?

Como el trabajo del Colectivo de Investigación Acción Bushwick cambió a imaginar como lo que las escuelas de la comunidad debe ser en Bushwick, comenzamos a centrarse en la relación entre las escuelas y la comunidad – y cómo esa relación se ha enredado con el rápido aburguesamiento del barrio Bushwick. Con este objetivo en mente, el equipo de investigación se dispuso a aprender acerca de la comunidad de Bushwick, tanto como residentes y no residentes. Esta tarea se siente un especialmente asunto urgente, después de años de activismo en favor de los residentes de larga duración, las nuevas escuelas comunitarias están empezando en Bushwick que servirá no sólo a la comunidad de larga data de la clase de latín@ familias pobres y los trabajadores, sino también a los más ricos familias que se desplazan dentro de la vecindad.

As Bushwick Action Research Collective’s work shifted to imagining what community schools should look like in Bushwick, we began to focus on the relationship between schools and the community – and how that relationship has become entangled with the rapid gentrification of the Bushwick neighborhood. With this goal in mind, the research team set out to learn about the Bushwick community, both as residents and non-residents. This task feels particularly pressing as, after years of activism on behalf of long-term residents, new community schools are starting up in Bushwick that will serve not only the long-standing community of poor and working class Latin@ families, but also the wealthier families moving into the neighborhood.

Grappling with Gentrification

Place-based education is a way to work directly with policies and politics of the changing neighborhood.

(In)Security of place

Attachment and a sense of belonging to neighborhoods across the city, and especially Bushwick, came up repeatedly throughout the course of the work.

Our research team expressed changing and conflicting views of the gentrifiers moving into the community, simultaneously wanting to welcome them into the neighborhood they are so proud of, and fearful about how their presence will alter their home. Many youth researchers and Bushwick residents spoke about their pride in their neighborhood, including its deep Puerto Rican roots and the social justice community they have found at MRNY. Paradoxically, this sense of belonging and attachment is amplified in relation to the ongoing injustices of resource neglect and gentrification fueled displacement that threaten access, ownership, belonging, and security in home and community.

“I’m scared for the Bushwick community to crumble up because I feel my community is a family, like we know everybody here and everybody’s so close and my hope is to keep it like that. And I just don’t want to see it, like, just go away.”

“People who have been here their whole lives, whose children grew up here, they’re going to be forced out and they’re going to have to move into—I guess—to worse neighborhoods like, I personally don’t think it’s fair.”

Place Matters

A photograph taken during #wickwalk, our neighborhood investigation.

Whose community school?

What does it mean to develop a community school in the context of gentrification where many of the long-term community members are being displaced? How can we ensure that the community school would continue to serve long-term residents and not just newcomers?
 
A key focus of our research focused on gathering data to understand gentrification in Bushwick and its structural underpinnings, grappling with living with new gentrifying neighbors, the loss of cultural identity in the neighborhood, and resisting displacement. When speaking about community schools, gentrification poses a number of challenges, as our team had to repeatedly ask, “What community?” and “Whose community school?”
 
Knowing that the school will likely serve both poor and working class and immigrant communities, and the children of more affluent gentrifiers, how might the community school itself create space for supporting long-term residents who are struggling with and against processes of gentrification and disinvestment?
 
Our team members felt passionately about this issue, and expressed a range of emotions including anger, confusion, resignation, and disbelief, as well as responses that reframe, rework and make sense of the changing neighborhood. For instance, our team emphasized place-based education as a way to work directly with policies and politics of the changing neighborhood.
 

“My hopes for the Bushwick community will have to be the community coming together as one even with the “gentrifiers,” working together just to make a better place…for everyone to live.”

“Even if people do move in we could just educate them so they could know about our area. But I just hate when people move in and they just try to take over.”

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Youth are Assets to the Bushwick Community

PLACE-BASED EDUCATION AND YOUTH & COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE

Our schools need to be places that honor the people who created them. We would like the school to be a safe place where old and newer residents can confront head on the important issue in a changing community.
 
We often grappled with the unavoidable conflicts and tensions that come with improving schools in a gentrifying neighborhood. While original students want to be inclusive of new families, we are concerned that new residents will not be concerned with the displacement of poor and working class, residents of color or understand the structural underpinnings driving gentrification.
 
Because the profound challenges that gentrification poses to the stability and security of long time residents, we asked “How might we build policies and practices that ensure the community school will continue to serve the needs and desires of those long-term residents who have fought for its existence, and not just newcomers?” and “What are the possibilities of addressing these contradictions around gentrification through community school curriculum and democratic governance?” and “Who gets to be directly involved in governance and decision-making in school, neighborhood and beyond?”
 
Our team called for an emphasis involving students, parents, and long-term residents in determining curriculum focus, as well as determining rules and policies that would shape school culture and climate towards preserving the intentions of long term neighborhood residents, and honoring the hard work they have done to make the community what it is, despite resource neglect from city and state.

Jocelyn

“Keep the youth involved [in building a community school] because they are the ones that are going to be [there], so their thoughts and ideas should be the ones that are taken into hand more seriously.”

Stephon

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