Roots Town Hall participants connect environmental justice and gentrification

Participants at February’s Roots Town Hall work together to identify changing neighborhoods on a map. Photo Credit: Megan Forman.

Participants at February’s Roots Town Hall work together to identify changing neighborhoods on a map. Photo Credit: Megan Forman.

On February 25, 170 community members gathered at the Friends Center for Roots Town Hall: Challenging Displacement and Environmental Devastation. Bread & Roses partnered with Food & Water Watch and a committee of grassroots groups to plan the town hall. The meeting explored how profit-driven development practices are rooted in our nation’s history of land grabbing from indigenous peoples and displacement of poor and working-class communities.

The evening kicked off with a performance by Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, who invited participants to connect with their hearts, bodies, and each other through music and dance. Ron Whyte, an activist with the Philadelphia Coalition for R.E.A.L. Justice, a Future Fund grantee, followed with a presentation using maps to show the history of environmental disasters impacting low-income communities and communities of color.

In a panel discussion, people from across the region shared their own struggles with displacement. Jasmine Hamilton, an urban farmer and member of SOIL Generation, a Future Fund grantee, had to move with her children three times to find affordable housing in West Philadelphia. “I didn’t realize gentrification was happening until it had already happened to me,” Hamilton said.

Participants spent time in small groups discussing the changes taking place in their own neighborhoods and considering what has been lost and what has been gained. One participant later reflected, “I felt refreshed talking to people who didn’t necessarily look like me but understood the issues I was talking about.”

Four organizers then shared stories from their efforts to slow the tide of unchecked real estate development by pressuring public officials to work with communities to redistribute land, repair the environment, and amplify marginalized community voices in development conversations.

As the town hall closed, participants learned how to get involved in movements to root our region in an ethic of caring, community preservation, and environmental health.