Fuel for the Fire: TEDx King-Lincoln Bronzeville

The TEDx King-Lincoln Bronzeville event on October 23, 2019 showcased a community of artists, activists, and dreamers already in the process of changing our world. They didn’t show up to tell everyone what to do; they showed how they are leading the way. 

I pulled up and was so relieved there were food trucks. I’d been cruising around all afternoon working with different teachers to get exchanges off the ground, and often when I’m bouncing from meeting to meeting, I forget to eat. Not fun. So, like I said, FOOD TRUCKS. While I crushed some falafel, people buzzed about, caught up with friends, and waved at people they’d met maybe once or twice—everyone there wanted to talk to each other. There was a sense of solidarity as everyone at the event seemed to be busybodies eating on the go, eager for the night to begin. We were all there to pool our collective strength, struggle, and stories to reshape experience for ourselves and anyone willing to imagine something new. 

The steel gray sky began to drizzle, and everyone made their way into the theatre. Each speaker made evident the energy and passion being poured into the neighborhood. Julialynne Walker spoke about the history of food in Bronzeville. She showed us what is now considered a food desert used to be a vibrant neighborhood with Carl L Brown’s Foodliner, an IGA grocery store, at the center. Marshall Shorts challenged the audience to rethink what it means to be black by your own design. Ani Mwalimu showed us the power of personal experience to combat and dispel years of colonial myths and lies. Dr. Donja Thomas gave us all a dose of why black studies should be our starting point for understanding history and ourselves (she was my favorite, but I am biased as a fellow English teacher) and showed us all that we can be “super teachers” like her. All of these speakers collectively highlighted the community investment in and love of KLB—a neighborhood that didn’t get all that much structural love from the government.

In 1936, the thriving community in East Columbus known as Bronzeville, King-Lincoln, was redlined. Nevermind the independently operated hospitals, theaters, business districts, and other community staples. When the “residential security maps” were finished, KLB was in the “red district.” This meant that no one that lived within the district was eligible for mortgage protection from the Federal Housing Association and were not eligible for loans from the Home Owners Loan Corporation. “Why didn’t people move?” Glad you asked. Other neighborhoods and areas of Columbus had what are known as “racially restrictive covenants” on the deeds to the homes that prevented the sale of the home to any “occupants not of the Caucasian race.” The wealth, success, and vitality were sucked right out of KLB at the behest of major banks and the U.S. gov’t (FDR supported the racist practice of redlining perpetrated by the FHA and HOLC).

If you want a detailed version of what happened to KLB when the Federal Housing Commission and Home Owners Loan Corporation deemed it “hazardous,” read the linked article from Columbus Alive

TEDx King-Lincoln Bronzeville reclaimed the narrative. This is what happened. This is why it happened. This is what is happening now in this community. Dedicated, energetic, and passionate people are restoring the former glory and vibrancy of a community and neighborhood hit hard by our country’s structural codification of the racist lie upon which the popular American narrative depends. 

The TEDx event in the King-Lincoln district left me feeling restored and ready for action. Between the labor of everyday life and my work at school, the energy for action in my world can seem to be so limited. In my classroom, I can get into a groove throughout the year and know that my students are growing, but burnout creeps in and the grind of teaching envelops me like many teachers come November 1. The connections and conversations at TEDx KLB provided the fuel for action. I arrived for the night with an empty stomach without realizing I was needing connection more than food. It’s tempting to stay at home on a Friday to disconnect and recharge, but the type of recharging that comes from connections with a community of like minds brings so much more joy to the rest of my life. I know that I am a small part of a larger community fighting for a more equitable and compassionate world. 

Thank you to Dr. Melissa Crum of the Mosaic Education Network for organizing the event along with many other volunteers for the past two years.

Derek Burtch