By Gabriel Roshan
Serve The People-Charlotte (STP-C) volunteers disrupted a developer’s meeting last Tuesday, carrying a banner that read “Ray Shawn Is Selling Out Brookhill” and chanting “Fight, Fight, Fight, housing is a human right.”
Since the beginning of June, STP-C, a revolutionary mass organization has taken up the struggle to stop the imminent destruction of the Brookhill neighborhood from occurring. Before then, STP-C had taken up the struggles of the deepest, most profound masses on the West Side of Charlotte in May 2017.
Their work began with regular servings of food, clothing and hygiene products in the Arbor Glen neighborhood. After a year, they decided to shift gears and move half a mile up the road to the Brookhill neighborhood where discussions of demolition had been occurring since 2016.
According to an STP volunteer, “the apartments in Brookhill Village are in horrible condition, the paint on the outside is chipping, they still have oil barrels that heat up the house and from the outside you can just see years of neglect by the landlord.”
Incediary News was offered a tour by a Brookhill resident, Susan. Immediately as we walked in, she said, “look at this filthy shit.”
“No matter how much I clean the smell never goes away, there are roaches everywhere and maintenance crew takes months to respond to the smallest request,” Susan continued. Her home was congested, there was no air conditioning, the cupboards were filled with unidentifiable dust, and the bathroom had rust on the tubs, nails sticking out of the wall and paint chippings all over the ground.
Brookhill Village is an apartment complex built in 1951 designed to be affordable housing for the Black community of Charlotte. Though not written in those words, it was obvious that at the height of Jim Crow in the South it was easier to lock Black people into a single neighborhood in the inner-city where banks didn’t have to worry about issuing fair loans to Black people. Instead, they could just offer them shoddy housing at a low rate and be done with it.
Many of the current residents of Brookhill were born and brought up in this neighborhood. STP says that many of the tenants recognize that no significant renovation has been done in the 67 years of Brookhill’s life.
Due to landlord negligence and high rates of crimes and drugs—the feds have forced a deal that requires a destruction or outright renovation to occur, or they will seize the entire property. In typical developer fashion, the old property manager of Brookhill Village Two (name of the actual buildings), Argos Real Estate headed by Greg Pappanastos, began small scale building demolition.
To complicate the story further, CD Spangler, a local billionaire who died in July of 2018, owned a company called Brookhill Land, which like its namesake owns the land Brookhill sits on. In late 2017 Spangler sued Argos Real Estate to regain control of Brookhill Village Two. The court case is still pending.
Amid this legal fray, along came Terry Shook—a local gentrifier of the development firm Shook Kelly—with a “plan” to rejuvenate Brookhill. As Zee, a Brookhill tenant told us, “[my mom and I] knew it was bullshit from the start.” His plan includes the “selected relocation” of residents while they began phase 1 of the development, which contrary to distortions by local NGO leaders and politicians means demolition.
This “selected relocation” requires passing many of the same requirements that Section 8 forces upon the working class. Long background checks going back as far as 15 years, credit checks and income requirements. STP states that one of the most common ideas the tenants consistently expressed is that Brookhill is the last place for working class people to live in that didn’t require applying for section 8 and the rent isn’t over $800 a month.
STP began organizing in June while doing a social investigation and class analysis of housing in the West Blvd area. They began canvassing in Brookhill to hear from the masses about their living conditions, and the verdict was clear—the conditions were deplorable, and their future was uncertain.
Since the beginning of the summer, STP has hosted two meetings of the masses to agitate around stopping the demolition of Brookhill. A STP volunteer told us, “our three demands are, 1. Immediately stop all plans for development, which means stop the demolition, 2. Renovate Brookhill to be up to living standards for the remainder of the lease, 3. Rent must not go up even after the renovation is done as to allow the residents who live there currently will not pushed out in not being able to afford the new rent.”
Initially, STP had begun a campaign targeting Greg Pappanastos directly, who is still currently the property manager of Brookhill. They told us that his company is still an enemy of the people, but principally the developers led by Terry Shook are their main target moving forward.
After the target was changed from Pappanastos to Shook, it came to light that a “community association” based out of the South Tryon United Community Methodist Church was convening a meeting where the developer would be the featured speaker. This community association was headed up by Debbie Williams, the secretary of the local church, with support from its pastor Ray Shawn McKinnon.
Though neither of them are key players in the actual development, they have been used as a pathway for the developers into the Brookhill community. This meeting happened on August 21st, the room was packed—a testament to the fear and confusion in the minds of Brookhill residents.
That fear was confronted by STP’s interruption of Shook’s speech, being met with raucous applause from the tenants in the crowd. Many of the audience members even joined STP in chanting.
McKinnon and his gang of white liberals immediately tried to silence STP. After a few minutes STP was escorted outside by a sympathetic community member who, due to being employed by the church, had to kick them out.
Outside STP continued to agitate, pass out leaflets and talk to the masses. This continued until McKinnon’s clique chose to call the police. An STP volunteer said that “this action was necessary to disrupt the narrative and show that the developer will be met with resistance every time he shows his face, but next time we will aim to make it clearer that McKinnon and his church are not our main enemies.”
A day after the disruption from STP, they decided to continue to canvass Brookhill for an upcoming meeting. As to whether canvassing went well or not, an STP volunteer told us, “hell yeah, the people thought the way McKinnon acted on top of the developer selling lies to the residents made the disruption much needed.”
The masses were seeking much clearer answers, instead all they got was more confusion and fear. STP vows to continue the struggle “until victory.” They won’t settle for anything less.
STP calls on all Brookhill residents, workers, students and anyone dedicated to the ending of gentrification of this historically Black community to stand up and fight. The development won’t perish of itself. They say it must be hit with the full force of the masses, until developers have no choice but to acquiesce to the demands of the masses.