Necessary Movement | Field Notes | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Necessary Movement 

Voices of Black Lives Matter

Last Updated: 04/02/2018 3:34 pm

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Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson began to combat displacement during the housing market crisis, and has transitioned now to utility rates and energy policies. Lower-income families pay more for utilities because of reduced access to energy-saving home improvements, and to debts owed on missed payments and fees associated with electricity shut-offs. In 2015, Paul Kiel and Annie Waldman of the New York Times studied debt-collection lawsuits in three major American cities. "Even accounting for income, the rate of court judgments from these lawsuits was twice as high in mostly black communities as it was in mostly white ones," Kiel wrote. "Many were families who, knocked off their feet by medical bills or job loss or other problems, had simply been unable to recover."

According to Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, this disproportionately impacts working class communities of color in Poughkeepsie because of racially discriminatory collections practices. So they developed workshops to look at how the utilities are set up and regulations happen. "It's focused on developing an analysis of the institutions we interact with and the systems around us," Kwateng says. "There's a historical basis for the inequality we see, one that must push us to think beyond individual blame of families. This analysis of the root causes of this crisis is needed to develop solutions that address more than the immediate issues being faced."

"In a city of two square miles, you should know everyone. You should know your neighbor."—Quintin Cross

M&J Unisex Hair Studio in Hudson is not only a place to get a great haircut; it's also a meeting place where locals go to chat about the things affecting their communities. Stemming from these talks, around 2012, people collectively resolved to be more engaged, and brothers Vernon and Quintin Cross and shop owner Juwan Morrison founded the Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center (SBK). Named for the prominent teacher and community leader who held multiple public offices in Hudson, including in the local NAACP chapter, SBK is run also by Alexis Keith, Staley's daughter, who is the Vice-President and Vice-Chairman. "Our motto is help us help ourselves," says Quintin Cross, SBK's Executive Director. "We don't need a hand out. Show us the way; don't do it for us."

Their first cause was to encourage the school board in policies that reduced PINS petitions (Persons in Need of Supervision), which they identified as a main culprit in the school-to-prison pipeline for Hudson's youth. Since then, SBK has worked to successfully support two candidates for City Council, one for the school board, and more for other boards and commissions.

Warren Street, Hudson's main thoroughfare, has seen a great transformation since 2000, but Cross says most people only think of Warren Street when they think of the city. "A block over, there's some serious poverty and socio-economic indicators that affect the city's revitalization goals," explains Cross. "We're not against the development of Warren Street, but our areas have to be developed at the same time." Cross says that it's little often acknowledged that people contributed to the upkeep of the city when no one else wanted to be there. "People of color did have businesses and owned houses and were vital to this community. People of color had churches and civic organizations and were so much a part of the tradition of the city, and that should be acknowledged and recognized." Cross maintains that rising rents and children too quickly placed in foster care or residential treatment centers creates a poverty economy that leaves Hudson's families of color with no way to rise past their circumstances.

An SBK focus is to empower black youth to resist the marginalization of their communities. Tee-quan Davis was one of the first kids in the youth advocacy program. Cross was a family friend and, three years ago, he vouched for Davis when a school fight went to court. "He started mentoring me," Davis says. "I was the youngest person around and learned everything." Davis has joined SBK for marches locally and even traveled to Albany to protest a young person's harsh sentencing. This summer, Davis again participated in the Social Justice Leadership Academy, which SBK runs in partnership with Kite's Nest, a learning resource center in Hudson. "We teach kids how to be leaders and how to be themselves," Davis says. "Everything we learn is life lessons: things that you'll need every day. We learn about laws, where you go if you need help." But Davis is quick to say how much fun the SBK and Kite's Nest summer and after school programs are: making music, creating radio and film, photography, and meeting other youth clubs. Now with his Regents diploma, Davis is embarking on a culinary career, inspired by cooking classes with Nicole LoBue from Kite's Nest. "The bond people got here—this is my second family."

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