The Urban Grind

A City Apart


A City Apart.

These were the words splayed across the front page of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press yesterday (read full article here). I don't pay for a newspaper subscription.  But, my father-in-law (who somehow always has a paper in his possession) handed it to me and told me to take a look.  "The lives of too many black Chattanoogans are marked by poverty, struggle, poor health, violence, low wages, and an inability to break free from the segregation and isolation that follows them from birth to adulthood," a new report published by the Chattanooga NAACP says.  

Although they made the front page these words didn't shock me, nor should they have shocked any Chattanoogan to read the article.  We live in a segregated city and anyone who argues the contrary is ignorantly content and disconnected from the realities of life in our burgeoning "Gig City."  With all of the progressive envelope pushing that Chattanooga is gaining a national reputation for we are still guilty of systemic inequity going back countless generations.  Apparently, back in the 1930's certain neighborhoods were "redlined" by the Homeowners Loan Corporation (HOLC) as being high-risk investment areas "[depriving] these communities of reinvestment, creating concentrated enclaves of poverty and isolation."  As a result of these designations many of the redlined communities continue to struggle today.

Alton Park is one of those communities.  According to the news report 34.5% of blacks in Alton Park are unemployed, which is a staggering number considering the national average is 9.5% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  If you have spent any time in South Chattanooga (the real southside, not the glorified revitalization of the "southside" a.k.a Main St.) you would observe the reality of these numbers.  Throughout the day you can find far too many adults kickin on porches or walkin through the neighborhood resulting in increased violence, drug addiction, and gang activity.  

We see the effects of generational inequity and systemic segregation in urban areas being played out in the lives of our neighbors.  This not only presents a unique challenge to the ministry of BCC but, more importantly, offers us an incredible opportunity to pursue justice in a community ravaged by injustice, to share the mercy of God with many who know only the sting of prejudice, and to humbly request permission to work with them to see things change.  The challenges are different from anything I have ever known, been prepared to handle, or have any idea how to solve.  Honestly, I'm not naive enough to believe I can solve any of this - what I can do is join the struggle to bring our incredible, beautiful city together instead of watch it continue to be torn apart by perpetuated segregation.

I am glad to see our community raising the issue.  I was excited to see it make front page news.  I pray it will be the topic of discussion and brainstorming for a long, long time.  I'm more realistic that this, though, and once the hype passes people will move on to the next issue facing Chattanooga.  In the meantime, I will be praying for reconciliation and Bridge City will be continuing the unflattering, unsexy efforts that define an urban mission.

Ironically, one of the reasons we named our mission Bridge City Community is that every neighborhood, Alton Park included, is a member of Chattanooga - the Bridge City regardless of race, socio-economic status, history, or geography.  One day we will take those "at-risk" residents of the southside and visit other neighborhoods in Chattanooga where we will serve them, love them, share the Good News of reconciliation, and show them that we are all members of the Gig City... together.  I hope that this will result in a city brought together - redline erased and dividing lines dissolved.




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