Power, politics, and policy and the influence they have over African American people
I cried because I realized that these African American slaves did not have organized money or organized people, yet they were influential in the process of passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
In my opinion, true power is given to all mankind; yet it’s rarely used. We have been trained to believe that a state of powerlessness is the road of least resistance, and therefore we should choose that path to avoid struggle.
For instance, I live in an income-based property in the northwest suburbs that is called Hickory Ridge Townhomes. I moved here two years ago while unemployed due to the hardship of the economy.
The area in which I live in is a very affluent area until you arrive at my complex, which is an eyesore to say the least, a HUD-based property in the middle of Maple Grove that has failed to keep up with maintenance, repairs, and keeping the property safe and clean, thus exposing the families to an environment that could bring them harm.
The issues with the property’s management, Nationwide, are well known as they manage — or should I say mismanage — properties all over the cities, including greater Minnesota. Tracey Goodrich, who works with Homeline, has worked with the tenants of Hickory Ridge Townhomes for years around issues of rent miscalculations, residents given improper notice to enter their units, mold in units, maintenance repairs, and windows that posed safety hazards.
Residents of Hickory Ridge have brought attention to many of their concerns by asking the city of Maple Grove to get involved and having the local news come out and report about the issues. Some have taken the property’s management to court.
Unfortunately, those same residents were faced with retaliation. Property management worked quickly to ensure that residents who spoke up were taken care of by stating they owed back rent; what they had ignored before all of a sudden became a problem. As a result, many of the residents became fearful of losing one of the most basic needs, their homes.
One resident who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “I feel because I am living in a low-income…unit, I don’t have the same rights that a ‘regular’ tenant would have. If I speak up, then my residency is at stake, so I have to live in these conditions.” Unfortunately, this is the sentiment of many of the residents who live in substandard conditions that the law clearly outlines as a violation.
Recently, I filed a rent escrow case against Nationwide, as I had given them notice to fix windows and doors that allowed cold weather to come in during the winter months and hot weather during the summer months. The windows also were a safety hazard, as they were old and had lost traction, so if you lifted the windows up, immediately they would slam down.
No big deal, one would think. I recorded a pencil placed inside the window seal, opened the window, and the window slammed down on the pencil and broke it in three places. Now, a normal window would have stayed up once opened, but the windows at Hickory Ridge did not. They slammed down, creating a safety hazard to all residents, especially children, and I have a recording of the old windows to prove my point!
In the end, all of the windows were replaced and Nationwide settled out of court to grant me my rent back for a year after I took them to court late last year. None of this would have happened if I had stayed in a state of powerlessness.
Since taking Hickory Ridge to court, have I experienced retaliation — sure! However, going in I understood that my income had increased tremendously so I would no longer be eligible for the HUD subsidy, and I decided it was time to move. By the time this article comes out, I will be in the process of moving from Maple Grove to another neighboring city.
Why am I sharing such a personal and intimate story? To get you to see that power comes in different shapes, forms, and sizes. Each of us has the ability to exercise power in our lives whether we have organized people and organized money or not!
We must pick and choose our battles wisely, yet it is important to understand that within each of us we possess power and we cannot be afraid to use it! I do not regret taking Nationwide to court at all!
I may not see the benefits of my actions, but I know that my neighbors, whom I will miss dearly, will. Maybe they are not in a position where they can speak up, but they helped to door knock when we organized a petition against Hickory Ridge. They may not know how to file a rent escrow case to take Nationwide to court, but many of them fell in line to be witnesses for my case, which is a perfect example of collective power!
I want to leave you with a statement from Shauen Pearce, the director of social, economic and racial justice programs with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Shauen stated, “Sustainable power entails positional influence, trust, freedom, and practiced talent. We may not expect it, but a custodian may change the mind of a CEO quicker than their CFO due to the voice and unexpected positional influence [power] that custodian holds. Ultimately, it is up to us [individually and collectively] to become proactively grounded in who we are, understand our purpose[s] and the divine power we hold.”
Mary Anderson is a community engagement facilitator for a local nonprofit in the Twin Cities area who has served more than 17 years in civic engagement, community organizing, and a host of philanthropic initiatives in the U.S. and abroad. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. (The winner of the write-in competition announced in her previous column will be revealed in the February column).