Calling in, calling out

Ypsi youth discuss housing and gentrification justice

Ypsilanti, Michigan and Richmond, California are far apart on a map, but the cities have a lot in common. Both historically Black communities boast a wealth of artistic talent and activism. Now, youth from both communities are raising awareness about gentrification and housing justice in these cities, using artistic talent and a collective passion to make a difference.

On Saturday, December 7, The Neutral Zone will host a multigenre performance, “Staying Power: Concrete, Not Wood” at Ypsilanti Community High School. Teen artist-activists from both Richmond and Ypsilanti have collaborated to create original works of poetry, theater, and film. The production will focus on fair housing issues in the Richmond and Ypsilanti communities, as well as how gentrification has affected communities across the U.S. “Staying Power” will also feature a teen-authored anthology book release and signing.

“There will be poetry, singing, rapping, stepping, and film,” said Literary Arts Manager Molly Raynor. “Come ready to listen and leave with your spirit fed by these brilliant, powerful young artists.”

Exchanging ideas

The Neutral Zone’s highly regarded youth-development program works with teenagers to promote artistic expression and social awareness. The two cities’ collaboration began when Donté Clark, a community activist who works with youth organizations throughout the Richmond area, visited Ypsilanti in 2017 and noticed that both communities were experiencing the same gentrification and displacement problems. (Author note: The Netflix documentary “Romeo is Bleeding” follows Clark as he addresses gun violence and trauma through poetry.) With the help of other community leaders and organizations, a youth cultural exchange program between Richmond and Ypsilanti was born. Ypsi teens have participated in trips to local museums and guest speaker workshops in preparation for the December 7 event.

Raynor said that one of the main goals of “Staying Power” is the preservation of Black art and culture in Ypsilanti. “This isn’t just a show, it’s a dialogue, a dance, an exchange between the cast and [the audience],” she said. “As the Staying Power poets wrote, ‘this is a calling out, this is a calling in, this is a call to action.’”

Open mind, open dialogue

Jua’Chelle Harmon, 17, one of 10 teens involved in the production, noted her personal experience: “Staying Power is not only a poetry group but it is a safe, inclusive space where I can express my values and my opinions about the city where I live.” 

“This project is important to me because it reaches people and teaches them about real problems happening in our city,” added Em Fisher, 16. “I hope this project can inspire others to become educated about housing injustices and racism . . . I hope everyone can listen with an open mind and be willing to have conversations.”

6-9pm | Sat. Dec. 7
Ypsilanti Community High School, 2095 Packard St., Ypsilanti.
Co-sponsored by Ozone House, Riverside Arts Center, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, among many others.
$5/21 & under, $15/adults, $45 VIP at

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