Facing Gentrification, Black Families Are Leaving for the Suburbs

Is this our generation's 'Black flight'?

Black family packs moving boxes full of items

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Black Flight is a term used to describe people of color migrating from predominantly (Black) inner-city neighborhoods to suburbs and outlying areas. It's estimated that from 1960 to 2000, more than nine million African Americans left inner cities for suburbs. 

When civil rights legislation was passed in the United States in the 60s, legal segregation ended, and Black folks got access to more choices in housing and jobs. This started a migration to areas where Black families felt offered the best opportunities for their life goals.

In the 2000s, the percentage of Black Americans living in the suburbs increased to 39 percent. Black flight has reduced the population of major black cities. This can be seen in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia experiencing population decreases.

"I haven't lived in an urban neighborhood in over 15 years," says Patrice K. Cokley, a music professor at Baldwin Wallace University. 

"I'm a Detroit native who recently moved to the Cleveland area from Chicago, where I lived the past nine years. My main reason for moving was for love. However, I was ready to move out of Illinois for years because I felt I had reached a ceiling professionally and desperately needed a new environment. Today, I'm enjoying the peace that the Cleveland area has provided, along with new career opportunities where my unique skill set is valued," says Cokley. 

Black families are changing demographics, and Black Flight will have a ripple effect on the next generations. Here's why Black families are leaving cities and what it means for traditionally urban neighborhoods.  

Changing Stereotypes

The use of the words "inner city," "urban," or even "hood" can carry negative connotations that are tied to Black people. It tends to refer to the area of a city considered dangerous and less desirable. The image that comes to mind is low-income, beat-down neighbors, but that's far from the reality of the situation. 

These terms and the area they refer to are a byproduct of hundreds of years of systematic oppression and segregation. Black families have built rich communities despite an overall lack of institutional support. They live where they could, invested in those areas, and they deserve more respect. 

However, the stereotype of urban neighborhoods does exist, and people of color have been leaving those areas in mass. Over the past 50 years, the Black population in the nation's 40 most populous cities fell from 40 to 24%, according to economists Alex Bartik and Evan Mast

The Consequences of Gentrification

Six million African Americans left the Jim Crow South in the 60s and 70s. They moved to Urban areas in the hope of a better life. For years, racist housing policies denied them entry into the suburbs. Today, it's a combination of factors continuing what has been called the Great Migration

Today, gentrification is pushing Black families out of areas they've called home for years and forcing them into outlying areas. Black families are being priced out of neighborhoods by developers and investors who are hungry for what they consider prime real estate. 

Some families are choosing suburban areas for schools and work advancement opportunities. They may be fed up with conditions in their community and want a change. 

"We are a diverse family of six with an African American daughter, a Senegalese and White daughter, a Black and white son, and a white son. We live in North Carolina, and at the time, we stayed in an urban area," says LaKeia Jones, a licensed therapist, and advocate of creating cultured families. 

"We were familiar with the community, but it wasn't diverse. This was one determining factor in moving to the suburbs. We needed more space and a more diverse setting,” says Jones. “We also had access to better resources within the fostering community and adoption services. Unfortunately, in urban areas, because it's typically kinship care, there tends to be less information surrounding foster adoption."

The other part of the story is about the Black families left in the middle and behind by these changing demographics. They may want to leave but can't because of their financial situation or systematic hardships. 

Investing in Our Communities Is Important

Black flight isn't a phenomenon that's not likely to change, especially as more and more neighborhoods are gentrified. 

Still, research has shown the importance of maintaining strong Black communities. It's crucial for Black families to teach and further our history and heritage through communities that support each other. The good news is those can be created in the intercity or the suburbs. 

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