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Power, politics, and policy and the influence they have over African American people

 

 get on the bus.hickory ridge thumbgetonthebusThe danger in trying to define “power” is that just when you have things all figured out, another form of power presents itself. As I sat in a movie theater watching the movie Lincoln, tears rolled down my face when the African American slaves began to fill the Senate, and all the Whites stopped in their tracks, turned, and watched as one Republican senator announced loudly, “Welcome to your house,”

I cried because I realized that these African American slaves did not have organized money or organized people, yet they were influential in the process of passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

In my opinion, true power is given to all mankind; yet it’s rarely used. We have been trained to believe that a state of powerlessness is the road of least resistance, and therefore we should choose that path to avoid struggle.

For instance, I live in an income-based property in the northwest suburbs that is called Hickory Ridge Townhomes. I moved here two years ago while unemployed due to the hardship of the economy.

The area in which I live in is a very affluent area until you arrive at my complex, which is an eyesore to say the least, a HUD-based property in the middle of Maple Grove that has failed to keep up with maintenance, repairs, and keeping the property safe and clean, thus exposing the families to an environment that could bring them harm.

The issues with the property’s management, Nationwide, are well known as they manage — or should I say mismanage — properties all over the cities, including greater Minnesota. Tracey Goodrich, who works with Homeline, has worked with the tenants of Hickory Ridge Townhomes for years around issues of rent miscalculations, residents given improper notice to enter their units, mold in units, maintenance repairs, and windows that posed safety hazards.

Residents of Hickory Ridge have brought attention to many of their concerns by asking the city of Maple Grove to get involved and having the local news come out and report about the issues. Some have taken the property’s management to court.

Unfortunately, those same residents were faced with retaliation. Property management worked quickly to ensure that residents who spoke up were taken care of by stating they owed back rent; what they had ignored before all of a sudden became a problem. As a result, many of the residents became fearful of losing one of the most basic needs, their homes.

One resident who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “I feel because I am living in a low-income…unit, I don’t have the same rights that a ‘regular’ tenant would have. If I speak up, then my residency is at stake, so I have to live in these conditions.” Unfortunately, this is the sentiment of many of the residents who live in substandard conditions that the law clearly outlines as a violation.

Recently, I filed a rent escrow case against Nationwide, as I had given them notice to fix windows and doors that allowed cold weather to come in during the winter months and hot weather during the summer months. The windows also were a safety hazard, as they were old and had lost traction, so if you lifted the windows up, immediately they would slam down.

No big deal, one would think. I recorded a pencil placed inside the window seal, opened the window, and the window slammed down on the pencil and broke it in three places. Now, a normal window would have stayed up once opened, but the windows at Hickory Ridge did not. They slammed down, creating a safety hazard to all residents, especially children, and I have a recording of the old windows to prove my point!

In the end, all of the windows were replaced and Nationwide settled out of court to grant me my rent back for a year after I took them to court late last year. None of this would have happened if I had stayed in a state of powerlessness.

Since taking Hickory Ridge to court, have I experienced retaliation — sure! However, going in I understood that my income had increased tremendously so I would no longer be eligible for the HUD subsidy, and I decided it was time to move. By the time this article comes out, I will be in the process of moving from Maple Grove to another neighboring city.

Why am I sharing such a personal and intimate story? To get you to see that power comes in different shapes, forms, and sizes. Each of us has the ability to exercise power in our lives whether we have organized people and organized money or not!

We must pick and choose our battles wisely, yet it is important to understand that within each of us we possess power and we cannot be afraid to use it! I do not regret taking Nationwide to court at all!

I may not see the benefits of my actions, but I know that my neighbors, whom I will miss dearly, will. Maybe they are not in a position where they can speak up, but they helped to door knock when we organized a petition against Hickory Ridge. They may not know how to file a rent escrow case to take Nationwide to court, but many of them fell in line to be witnesses for my case, which is a perfect example of collective power!

I want to leave you with a statement from Shauen Pearce, the director of social, economic and racial justice programs with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Shauen stated, “Sustainable power entails positional influence, trust, freedom, and practiced talent. We may not expect it, but a custodian may change the mind of a CEO quicker than their CFO due to the voice and unexpected positional influence [power] that custodian holds. Ultimately, it is up to us [individually and collectively] to become proactively grounded in who we are, understand our purpose[s] and the divine power we hold.”

 

Mary Anderson is a community engagement facilitator for a local nonprofit in the Twin Cities area who has served more than 17 years in civic engagement, community organizing, and a host of philanthropic initiatives in the U.S. and abroad. She welcomes reader responses to [email protected] (The winner of the write-in competition announced in her previous column will be revealed in the February column).

 

12 Responses to “When good people essentially do nothing”

  1. Timothy R Franklin January 17, 2013

    It is a disheartening fact, some people of color ( Not All) are culturally conditioned to automatically accepting a powerlessness, subservient roll when faced with situations that assume the privilege of power.

    Landlords, corporations, religious leaders, and some who believe because of their lack of melanin in their skin assume the privilege of power because they believe society bestows upon them that power simply because of their assumed position in the food chain.
    .
    The importance of you sharing your personal story, It empowers those who would otherwise “suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous foe” if you had not pointed the way. Example of power is in fact creating and growing power in an underrepresented community or a people.

    Reply
  2. Nsikak Ekereuke January 17, 2013

    The article was well written, I agree wholeheartedly that understanding the many chess boards that we all participate in on a day to day basis lends itself to efficient use of resources and most importantly the effort put forth. Sometimes we must sacrifice the pawn in order to capture the rook. Stay Powerful in thought, deeds, actions and love for one another. Ase!! Ase!!

    Reply
    • Mary Anderson January 17, 2013

      Mr. Nsikak, as always I enjoy reading your comments. Understanding how to use the pieces of chess is pivotal to the success of the game. Although I am not a good chess player, I am learning how to play chess in this game we call life. If I reach at least one person via this article who begins to understand the thepower in which they possess then i have done my job.

      Reply
  3. This is a very well written article. I admire that you were willing to share such a personal experience to bring enlightenment to the masses. I could identify with your situation with your property management company. I went through a similar situation with a slumlord that owned or managed a number of properties in my town. Most of their properties were rented under section eight or other low-income or sliding fee based programs. Because of this, many residents would simply keep their heads down and work with whatever negative housing situations came their way. Rather it was leaky pipes, moldy carpeting, or rodent or bug infestation residents simply stepped over it or ignored it. It was just an environment of denial. I however was raised in a home where we were taught that “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed” and that there is power in a lifted voice. I always spoke out and I almost always received quick action. When we say nothing and do nothing we will receive nothing.

    Reply
    • Mary Anderson January 17, 2013

      Dee, I am happy to hear that you enjoyed the article. I am even more elated that you understand that a closed moth does not get fed! Most people believe if they are quiet then maybe, just maybe the problem will go away. Unfortanely it doesnt instead it ends up doing more harm than good.An example is a tenent living with mold. If management refuses to properly get rid of the mold and provide preventive measures for it to return, then the family living in the unit will live in unhealthy living quarters. Thank you for sharing andI hope you come back next month for my next article.

      Reply
  4. Peggy Larkin January 17, 2013

    This article is well-written –and so true and on point.

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. It is important, I think, for those in similar situations to see a person stand up for what is right and claim their power. Especially when so many in a similar circumstance feel they have little power and little influence.

    It is shameful that those in a position of power will utilize something so near and dear to a mother’s heart –housing– to cause a mother to cower for fear of being on the streets with her children.

    As your neighbor, I am so thankful God put you in our midst. You showed every one of us that it takes one person to stand up and show that righteousness WILL approach the doorstep of those who attempt to take advantage of the disadvantaged. And being disadvantaged DOES NOT mean you have to accept sub-standard living conditions.

    Thank you. You are a gem.

    Reply
  5. Mary Anderson January 17, 2013

    Mr. Franklin, you say people of color I say low income people as a whole. Poverty knows no color or face and can hit at the speed of light. Racism in my opinion is an illusion to distract people from the real issues we face.

    You are right, the power of sharing our stories is endless, however people have to be willing to reveal their true self and not be ashamed of who they are. Each of us have stories but do we have the courage to share those stories in order to speak into someone else’s life?

    Reply
  6. Mary Anderson January 17, 2013

    Peggy, you are being modest! Before I moved to Hickory Ridge , the tenants had organized to get the media and Maple Grove city council involved. Unfortunately retaliation started to knock at each of our doors. Never the less we moved forward to fight for the safety and right to be treated as the law laid out. I want to thank you and all of the other residents who reminded me what itmeans to have hope and to band together as a team. We are a diverse group coming from different walks of life and yet through it all we came together as one. I will miss you all as many of you have become like family. As for you well you are stuck with me…..:)

    Reply
  7. Tracey Goodrich January 18, 2013

    Thank you, Mary, for speaking to the issue of personal empowerment. You really struck a nerve for me talking about power as something we all have, but don’t always use. You said that it “…comes in different shapes, forms, and sizes.” It doesn’t always have to be a monumental act to make a difference.

    HOME Line’s mission is to help tenants solve their own rental housing problems through legal, education, and advocacy services. Knowing one’s rights and responsibilities is half the battle. The other half of the battle is sometimes figuring out what’s important to you and then standing up for it. It isn’t always easy, (and sometimes it takes a whole lot of persistence and resolve) but it is achievable.

    Some powerful things happened at Hickory Ridge this fall. Your taking a stand had a huge ripple effect. Residents got new windows, and then they all worked together like never before to delay a property-wide action from happening. It was fantastic. I hope to see everyone keep it going.

    Reply
    • Mary Anderson January 19, 2013

      Tracy, it is always a pleasure to work with you and Homeline.You are correct in that people have to see the power they possess within themselves and then choose how they will use it.Many hesitate when it comes to housing as the housing market is tough in Minnesota. Not to mrntion nobody wants to be on the street with their children. We must continue this conversation of housing and educate the public about their rights as tenants. Thank you again for all that you do and I look forward toexploring ways to expand on this conversation in the future.

      Reply
  8. MISTER TERRANCE January 19, 2013

    Great article very well written.What better way to enpower the masses,to stand up and be heard than thru ones own personal struggle and triumphs.So many times those doing the uplifting fail to make a personal contact with their general public.But in all your articles you do just the opposite.GREAT!!Not only do you contact but show great resolve for all to see.One must able and willing to go thru trials and tribulations when battling abuses of power by those weilding the power, to bring about fair and equal changes.As you are familiar with my own battle with the great BEAR METRO TRANSIT.Imay not reap any rewards from the changes but others certainly will.
    YOUR ARTICLES WILL CAUSE CHANGE. In the way people view and act toward circumstances, in their and other lives.Keep it up.Looking forward to your next awakening moment PROUD OF U

    Reply
    • Mary Anderson January 22, 2013

      Thank you Mr. Terrance, my hope is that someone’s life will be changed in order to empower themselves. This article rings true for so many folks and is more common than what we think. You stated we may not see the rewards of our work, but others will. I am reminded of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech that states I may not get to the mountaintop, but as a people we will get there!

      Reply

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