A Martin Luther King Jr. Day message from Greenlining Realty USA founder, Lamell McMorris

In March of 1968, Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave a powerful speech on "the other America" describing 2 separate and distinct American experiences: one for folks who were thriving, knocking at the doors of opportunity and plenty, and one for those shut out of the country's prosperity, plagued by "inadequate, substandard and often dilapidated housing conditions and substandard, inferior quality-less schools." He went on to describe what he saw as the only pathway to genuine equality: economic equality. He said,  "For we know that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?"

Nearly fifty years later, we are still talking about the other America, one where some have been systematically held back from financial mobility because of the long reach of structural inequality, an inequality deeply rooted in past policies and practices that, while officially ruled unlawful years ago still rear their ugly heads in the American real estate market. In this, I'm talking about the historic practice of redlining, the government sanctioned practice of denying loans or insurance to homeowners in poor neighborhoods that left them strangled from investment or economic development, creating seas of poverty, for decades and decades without reprieve.

 

Lamell McMorris, Principal of Greenlining Realty USA, a national real estate development and management firm dedicated to reversing the historical, damaging effects of discrimination in lending by creating pathways to capital essential for neighborhood investment, redevelopment, housing rehabilitation and home improvement.

I started Greenlining Realty USA because I felt a calling to do something real, something tangible and something that said YES to neighborhoods that for so long heard NO.

I started to look around neighborhoods in Chicago, where I grew up, neighborhoods like Woodlawn that are still filled with empty lots, ramshackle properties, violent crime and joblessness. I look into the soul of that community and I see people: families, brothers, daughters, sons, grandparents, working hard to hold onto their community in spite of everything conventional being stacked against them. They, contrary to what the rhetorical, deficit based narrative might insist, have pride, faith, and drive. They must be supported, and their goals, wants and needs for their neighborhood can be realized through collaboration.

By collaboration I don't mean a prescription for what someone who doesn't live there thinks is the solution to the problems that have taken decades of divestment to come to fruition. By collaboration, I mean the need for communities and people of conscious to focus on their common interest. This isn't something that will drop out of the sky, it's something that must cede judgment and prescriptive thinking to listening, evaluating, consensus building, resource development, and visioning. 

We, right now, in 2017 are in a critical place where we need to tune out chatter and rhetoric and take a new look at what role we have to play in how to chart a new path together. What does success look like in rebuilding communities that have been historically cut off from investment? Is success a dollar store on every block surrounded by parking lots? Is it vast open green spaces that work in suburbs but in urban communities might become a battleground between rival gangs? My guess is it's somewhere in the middle, and the nuances of this won't be known until the conversations begin with the resources in hand to make it all happen. What I do know is that in 2016 Chicago saw 796 homicides. I do know that in 2016, in Chicago, someone was shot every 2 hours, and murdered every 11. I do know that neighborhoods matter, that community matters, that living somewhere that people have invested in because they think you matter…. Matters.

This wonderful holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King is significant because it begs us to reflect on our personal role in fulfilling Dr. King's dream. It also comes at a time of year, in early January, when we are collectively embarking on a fresh start in a new year. So today I ask, how can we, as a community, make a fresh start in building new pathways to economic equality and opportunity in urban neighborhoods that still bear the scars of decades of neglect? I ask the same from myself, and my company as we look forward to development projects in 2017. I look forward to answering this calling together. There is much to be completed. Let's go.

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Ryan Tippery