Yesterday, I read an Op-Ed on New York Times about the backgrounds of successful and unsuccessful presidents. Teddy Roosevelt, having been through many traumatic episodes in his life, sympathized with the average American. He ran his campaign for “the forgotten man.”
Today, on a service trip to plant community gardens in Petersburg, Virginia, I came face-to-face with forgotten America. It is the America that never enjoyed the fruits of development, but suffers fully with the economic pitfalls from Wall Street and Main Street. Residential streets are proliferate with abandoned and foreclosed houses from the 2008 housing crisis.
Incredibly steeped with the Civil Rights Movement and Civil War history, a drive through old town Petersburg is like travelling back in time. Much of the architecture is from the Civil War era. The Bluebird Theater, where Martin Luther King Jr. held one of his first civil rights demonstrations, is still erect today. Robert E. Lee also fought his last battle of the Civil War right here.
The city, which is predominantly populated by African Americans, is a pinnacle of shattered dreams. The community continues to be segregated along racial lines, that are in line with socioeconomic class division. The city government wants to revive the community and bring job growth through gentrification, as evidenced by signs for “Luxury Lofts.” At the same time, the city cannot even fulfill the basic needs of the populations. We are helping with a local nonprofit organization’s effort to plant community gardens because the poverty-ridden areas in the city are considered to be food deserts.