A Field of Dreams Deferred: on gentrification in NYC

Ellen McAllister

Contributing Writer

Aspen Rush

Managing Editor

 

On Feb. 3, Professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries from The Ohio State University spoke virtually to college students and staff about racism and inequality where he grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He primarily utilized personal examples and connected his life to the topics he discussed. Additionally, he compared the past and present to help everyone understand the events and issues that took place.

Jeffries opened his talk with his origin story. He spoke about his neighborhood and the house where he grew up. His parents purchased a house in an all-Black neighborhood, but as the property grew in value, gentrification overtook his neighborhood. White neighbors purchased the surrounding property, leaving his parents the sole Black homeowners in the neighborhood. His parents had purchased the house fairly cheaply, and it used to be worth nothing. Since then, the neighborhood has changed significantly and the house is now valued at over a million dollars. 

Professor of History Greg Shaya hosted the event and invited Jeffries to speak. Reflecting on hearing Jeffries talk, Shaya remarked, “I loved the way that Dr. Jeffries connected his own story — his childhood in Brooklyn, his love of baseball, his passion for service — with his work of historical research and teaching.” Shaya also mentioned that he enjoyed the way Jeffries was happy to talk about his research in connection to students completing their I.S.

One student asked Jeffries if he had always wanted to be a history professor. The answer to this question was no. Initially, he thought that he wanted to work in the medical field, so he took the S.T.E.M. pathway in high school and got an internship at a local hospital. This taught him that he did not want to be in the medical field simply because he did not find it exciting. Jeffries told his parents that he wanted to change his path in life, and they were supportive as long as he chose a career in which he could help other people. He expressed that he always had a love for history, so he thought becoming a history teacher or professor would interest him. Other students asked him fascinating questions about his research, his life and some even shared that they were writing about similar topics for their I.S. Jeffries enthusiastically answered student questions, often adding a personal anecdote.

Issues of housing and racism are increasingly intertwined in today’s landscape, as evidenced by Jeffries’s story and his academic research. Being able to incorporate his personal experiences into his research helped to illustrate the human impact of academia and his story helped students and staff contextualize history. Jeffries provided students a valuable example interweaving personal experiences with academic research.