I recently attended my 50th high school reunion, the first I ever attended. It was a blast! We took out Douglass High School’s 1963 yearbook to look back on our younger selves. “My God, how drastically we’ve changed,” I thought as we all looked at each other and laughed. “Hey, but we’re here!” someone said.
Some did extremely well for themselves while others, like me, survived modestly. Some went the college route, others became entrepreneurs, but the majority appeared to be associated with a structured work environment. Many were grandparents and some even had great-grands. All in all, it was a great event. It also enabled me to promote my cab, my photography, and my book. Even at this age, you still got to hustle.
The following week I got a call from someone who needed transportation to Annapolis, ASAP.
He said, "Pick me up at the Legg Mason Building on International Drive in East Harbor." Once I picked him up, I asked how he got my number. He said one of his colleagues got my card at his wife's high school reunion.
He said that he's made good money over the years in sales. "I now have the opportunity to close the biggest account ever in Annapolis and my car fails at the 12th hour," he said. "Your service is a lifesaver. Thanks!"
As we drove down Interstate 97, he talked about the summer beach home that he has adored for 30 years. "It's just outside of Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay. That atmosphere relieves my stresses temporarily. It's definitely relaxing and invigorating," he said.
"So, this beach house is located where?"
"It's southeast of Annapolis in the vicinity of Highland Beach, Oyster Harbor, and Arundel on The Bay. Frederick Douglass' summer home is in Highland Beach. It's now a national museum," he said. "Those communities along that strip of The Chesapeake Bay were exclusively owned by African-Americans up until 30 years ago."
Gentrification seems to be everywhere.
"Many children of the original owners never had any great interest in the family beach homes," he continued. "Many of them were raised in more sterile suburban environments like Columbia, Maryland. Everything in their lives was relatively new including the swimming clubs and area pools. They would rather stay home and go to the development's recreational facility than spend their weekend on the Chesapeake Bay. Some referred to the beach as the country.
"The original owners have grown old and died off. The properties needed repairs, property taxes were due, and then there are those who just had no interest. Eventually, these properties were sold for much less than market value. Hey, they've missed the boat somewhere—land certainly has value over money. Major wars are fought over land," he exclaimed, looking out the window at the passing landscape.
"Whites know the value of waterfront properties. They desire this location between Annapolis and Washington, D.C., and won't hesitate to purchase when opportunities become available. Many have become year-round residents. Some have rebuilt after demolishing existing buildings. It's unreal. They change the rules and regulations. Properties are reassessed, which contributes to tremendous tax increases. There is nothing that can be done where there's no interest, and so the whites who covet the properties and who can afford to purchase benefit from that lack of interest.
"Look at Washington, D.C. It was once known as Chocolate City. Recently, a report revealed that D.C. is over 50 percent white and growing," he said ruefully, probably referring to recent studies that show the black population has fallen below 50 percent. "It's all about money. They make it, they got it, and we do not. We'll sell out and move on. Soon, we're gonna be locked out—if we aren't already! Our purposes in the big cities will be work-related only."
I shook my head in agreement. "Hey, the same thing is happening here in Baltimore," I said. "There are many gated high-rise communities downtown around University Hospital. East and southeast sections of this City have transformed right in front of us and many do not even realize it. There is rebirth to these neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are like a maze, consisting of one-way streets only, 45-degree-angle parking, and only a few streets to exit. They have become more residential and neighborhood-friendly with areas of dining, entertainment and recreational facilities within walking distance."
"It's a ripple effect," I added. "Slowly but surely whatever the trend is and the majority wants will be obtained by the power of the almighty dollar and the politicians who are persuaded to make and change laws to their advantage. It's a win-win situation for them, period! Gentrification is a national phenomenon for those who can afford it. Basically, it seems like all we're able to do is watch this transformation in progress. So where does that leave us, the minority? I really don't know!"
When we arrived at the secluded restaurant on West Street where his business meeting was to be held, he told me how much he enjoyed talking with me. "You know, that summer beach home was my dream," he said wistfully. As he exited, he turned back and added, "We're definitely under attack from all angles and many of us don't have a clue!"