Check out a very special guest blog written by Marlana Zink and be sure to register to attend today’s conference
A Wakandan Vision for Rochester by Marlana Zink
At the risk of being corny, many of my recent musings around gentrification have been inspired by the movie Black Panther. The movie asks viewers to reflect on an important question: What would our world look and feel like if the historically marginalized were never, well, marginalized? I’m curious about a vision for our own community:
I didn’t realize how important Black Panther’s mainstreaming of afrofuturism was until I came back home from college as a permanent resident in my childhood neighborhood, in Rochester’s so-called “crescent of poverty”. I did what they tell every high schooler to do: go to school, get an education, and come back to work in your community. But when I did, I was struck with a sense of guilt that I hadn’t felt before. I confided in someone who asked me if I had ever heard of internalized oppression. I scoffed, of course I have.
“Then why can’t you see it in yourself?” That’s when I had to ask myself if I was unconsciously attached to poverty as the only future for my community. If I had romanticized it, idealized it. If I genuinely believed it was a part of my identity, and the identity of my community. Sure, the shared experiences around our community and lives are fundamental to identity but, at the same time, I can’t help but think of the words of James Baldwin in his essay, A Letter to My Nephew
“This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish…The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”
Black Panther is a game-changer not only because it is a fantastic movie, but also because it imagines a world in which there were never limits placed on Wakandans. As much as I appreciate practicality (how can we think about unrealistic visions of the future when people’s’ livelihoods are at stake?), I still think there’s immense power in creating a vision that actively resists what we’re told our community can aspire to. I’m looking forward to imaging what development without displacement could actually look like. Feel like. Taste like. I hope that the conference can lead to some great thoughts for how we can not only keep Rochester livable for the people who have been here for years, but also pour into what’s already great about it instead of only catering to the desires of those with the money we’d like to attract to fund the city’s revival. As a matter of fact, maybe it’s important that I stop using the word revival. Just because some are now seeing the city with a new set of eyes doesn’t mean it ever went anywhere.
Marlana Zink is a community resident and graduate of Cornell University (17). She currently works as an urban planner in the City Rochester.