As a Jamaican immigrant in the New York suburbs the mid 90’s was a time where the community was on the brink of gentrification. Marred in economic hardship, the town of Spring Valley had one beacon of hope — the memorial park, situated just below Main Street. In the early 2,000’s George Darden was the new mayor in town; he had promised the revitalisation and a decrease in drugs and violence. The first of his big project was redeveloping the Spring Valley Memorial Park. During his tenure, the land that was originally put aside for public housing was illegally sold to Orthodox Jewish developers. This would be the first sign of change that symbolised the impending death of the black community.
Considered as my second home, Spring Valley had a rich culture. Main Street was outfitted with mom and pop stores that sold clothing, furniture, as well as having many other black owned businesses. We even had a Haitian radio station. In fact, Spring Valley was famously known as ‘Little Haiti’. I’d walk just down the street to buy the weekly Hiphop mix cd’s from young black men dreaming of opening up their own business one day. I grew up seeing the Ruff Riders parading with their motorcycles in town — lots of them. But basketball was the big thing. Everyone played basketball after school and during the weekdays. And while I wasn’t good at it, I still basked in it. Of course, being originally from Jamaica my favourite sport was soccer. We’d play in the evenings until night when the floodlights were allowed.
Many years later under Darden’s regime I began to separate myself from the community. It was mainly because of college, the yearn for self growth, and the continuous construction of the park. For the most part, many in the black family saw life elsewhere, while young men saw their demise through incarceration or death.
Around 2017 I was curious enough to drive through town. I was in shock in seeing so much change. Part of the community has been cleaned up from drugs and violence. And not without its consequence. But walking through the park I began seeing memories in front of me: Many good ones, and some not so good. I even saw men my age who attended to same high school as myself. We’d reconnect and chat for a few minutes like it was yesterday. Some unemployed, and some working low wage jobs.
The project ‘Remnants of an Exodus’ was then born in the beginning of 2018: This was to demonstrate the sense of loss, rejection, yet some hope within a community in decline.
Emma Stevensons’ Altered Lands 21-08-2019
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