Our Block is a photography series that highlights the experience of black homeowners in Brooklyn by capturing the beauty of the Lewis family, who have been long-time residents of the Bushwick community.
Homeownership is one of the main ways of building wealth, particularly generational wealth. Black communities are not often given equal opportunities to acquire and build such wealth for themselves and their families due to discriminatory housing policies, such as redlining.
Those able to purchase homes have been or face being displaced as a result of gentrification, often resulting in the involuntary migration of long-term Black homeowners. Gentrification does not simply displace families and individuals, but it also contributes to the racial and economic segregation of communities contributing to the growing gap.
Chucha Studios partnered with Tammie Hairston, a member of the Lewis Family, to produce “Our Block” to bring visibility to families who have been able to battle against gentrification and stay in their homes in Brooklyn.
Helen, 77, shared some stories about her upbringing in South Carolina and her life with her grandmother. During the early 1950s and 1960s, racial discrimination was at its apex, especially in the South. Helen and her siblings faced many hardships in their childhood, which led to her working in cotton fields to support their grandmother. Helen expressed that she often shies away from speaking about her upbringing, but over the years discovered the importance of sharing her story.
Our Story, Our Block
By Mona Gaballa
Chucha Studies sat down with Tammie Hairston, who was accompanied by her mother, Natasha Lewis, and her grandmother, Helen Lewis, to learn about their story.
Tammie, 23, has lived in Brooklyn her entire life and her family has lived in their home in Bushwick for 60 years. Her grandfather, Tammy Lewis, bought their current home in the early 1960s, at a time when properties were easier to acquire at a much cheaper price.
Helen moved to New York when she was 18. As a dedicated member of her church community, she would meet her husband, Tammy Lewis. She shared with us that when she first walked into her home with late husband, she instantly knew this was her family home and would someday be her family’s legacy, “chosen by God” she added.
In our discussion, Tammie shared that she and her family have witnessed how gentrification has impacted Bushwick and its community in recent years. Reminiscent of the former Bushwick, she and her mother referenced a few of the neighboring apartment complexes, which recently replaced their former neighbors' homes. Natasha noted an abandoned structure positioned by their home, recalling the doctor’s office that her family and people within the community once frequented. On their block, only two of their neighbors have remained and refrained from selling their property to developers.
With references to the different phases of Bushwick, Natasha noted the huge migration flow of racial and ethnic minorities to Bushwick in the 1960s. In the time since Bushwick has been a community filled with family and children. Tammie and Natasha emphasized their disbelief of the novel “city feel” that has occupied their community, stating that Bushwick is becoming less of a community.
When asked what Tammie would like for “Our Block” to accomplish, she stated that her aim is to encourage natives to maintain their homes and stand with their remaining community in Bushwick. The Lewis Family have been offered millions of dollars for their property by numerous developers and have declined each offer. Three generations of women from the Lewis family stated their objective is to showcase that Black families can nurture and sustain their communities amid sweeping gentrification.