I hope this letter finds you well. First, let me thank you for your dedicated service to “The Parkway,” this neighborhood, and the broader area that makes up this proud and storied part of the City of Jackson. My wife, Katrice, and I moved into the neighborhood a little over three years ago. Although our schedules have not allowed us to be as involved in community events as we would like, we are appreciative of the collective efforts of the board and committed residents to foster and promote a true sense of community.
I want you to know that I echo your concerns about the poor placement of “For Sale” signs in certain areas, and I was relieved to see the signs along the Old Canton Road entryway removed. It is truly amazing how something as a small as a misplaced sign can have such a significant impact on how we, and others, perceive our community. So, again, I thank you for your commitment to ensuring everyone understands not only the letter of the regulations outlined in the neighborhood covenant, but also the intent of those regulations, which I believe, at their core, call us into closer community with one another through a commitment to shared vision for this neighborhood and for the City of Jackson.
It is in this spirit of moving into closer community, a beloved community in fact, that I would like to share with you my concern with the proposed “restrictive covenant” signs outlined in the letter you shared last week. I would like to apologize for the delay in this response. We did not receive the letter until Sunday evening for some reason, and I am just getting a chance to sit down in front of my laptop to compose this letter. However, much of what I want to convey will hopefully propel the community, en masse, into deeper conversation and connection that pulls us closer to all of our neighbors, including those who border and surround “The Parkway” in apartments, condos and townhouses in all directions.
I am, among other things, a student of history, in particular the history of civil rights, social justice and cooperative movements in the United States and around the world. It is through that lens, that I initially scrutinized the verbiage of the proposed signs — “This community protected by restrictive covenants.”
Even though your accompanying note explained the impetus behind the signs, I could not shake the vicious history of restrictive covenants in America, particularly for people like me — an African-American man. In the early 1900s, after what was then considered a progressive 1917 court ruling declaring municipal racial zoning unconstitutional, the use of private restrictive covenants to bar people of color, especially African-Americans, from purchasing or renting homes in certain neighborhoods rose precipitously. Granted, these covenants were much more widely used in the northern United States, and most notorious in Chicago, but the precedence for using private covenants to exclude people, which I humbly feel is the opposite of community, was set and became wildly popular.
The long-term impact of exclusionary restrictive covenants is a related, and much more problematic issue, particularly for poor people and people of color. The perpetuation of de facto segregation, which directly impacts education, employment, and health care outcomes, can be tied directly and indirectly to the adoption of racially restrictive covenants and the continuation of these policies long after the practice was outlawed.
Although the term “restrictive” is technical and legal in its proposed usage, I also feel that it closes us off from our extended community and potentially paints the wrong picture about who we are as “The Parkway,” and more importantly, as Jacksonians. I am of the belief that community should always be about outstretching our proverbial arms to all those who might be considered the other, which although difficult, is a necessary part of reaching the fullness of community that we are seeking.
With all of that said, I am quite confident that the intent of these signs is no way negative, and I am in full support of efforts to sustain a healthy, vibrant community through concerted efforts to develop and foster meaningful relationships with every member of the community. I hope the fact that the proposed language on this sign deeply disturbs me is important to you as a neighbor and member of this community, and I hope you understand that I, and my wife, are committed to supporting all of our neighbors desire to feel secure in the community in which they have invested so much.
Now, I also believe that whenever we take issue with a particular position, we have a responsibility to propose a potential solution. The few that I offer below are by no means prescriptive or definitive, but hopefully, they will be a starting point for a deeper discussion on how we can work together to support the development of the community that we seek.
- I truly believe that relationships are the most powerful tool that we have in our communities, and we can more deeply examine how to build more close-knit relationships with all of our neighbors, which would allow us to gain a better understanding of why certain codes are not being followed and support people in their efforts to comply. This process can be facilitated by “block captains” or “host families” who take on the responsibility of deeply engaging neighbors and encouraging greater participation in neighborhood activities.
- Similarly, whenever “violations” are noted, a visit can be made to check in with an individual or family to determine how the community can help them take corrective action, but more importantly, to build relationships with each and every member of the community.
- Board members (and others) can also invite community members to host small gatherings in their homes to discuss important issues and gain a better understanding of who our neighbors are and what they need most from us as fellow members of the community.
The challenge with each of these suggestions I have outlined, and many others that I am sure you have considered, is that they take more of what many of us do not have — time. However, I think that if we are committed to continuing the progress and prosperity of “The Parkway,” we must be willing to invest our time and talents in new and innovative ways.
Thank you for taking the time to read this (very long!) letter and for considering my perspective on this matter. I am always available to talk about this, and other issues impacting our community, further at any time.
Jason O. Thompson