- "I'm an Artist and I'm Sensitive About My City":Black Women Artivists Confronting Resegregation in Sacramento
Sac girl, Black girl
You rock, girl
And when you make it to the top
Don't stop girlTakarra "Kari Jay" Johnson
Every Wednesday, Queen Sheba, a Black women-owned and -operated Ethiopian restaurant, hosts the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series in collaboration with local Black artists and organizers. Centrally located less than a mile away from the historically Black neighborhood, Oak Park, and easily accessible to the gentrifying Midtown and Downtown Sacramento neighborhoods, the restaurant has become a hot spot among the influx of new residents. For Black Sacramentans, however, the restaurant is a resilient staple that survived the 2008 financial crash as well as the rapid post-Recession redevelopment that is displacing many of the city's Black residents and businesses to make room for former San Francisco Bay Area residents and the vulturous industries trailing them.1 While economic refugees from the Bay Area can no longer afford the coastal rents that have spiked over the past ten years in response to the tech/ start-up boom, rent in Sacramento is relatively affordable with their slightly higher incomes. Therefore, to Black Sacramentans fighting to stay in the city, Queen Sheba, while best known for its food, is also highly regarded as a key holding space for an embattled and disappearing community. [End Page 59]
In May of 2016, I attended my first Mahogany Open Mic Night where Takarra "Kari Jay" Johnson—Sacramento native, student, former Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) poet-mentor educator, and artivist—was the featured artist of the night. I arrived a few hours early for dinner, and as the event drew near, I watched the space transform. Chairs were lined up near a makeshift stage. One of the organizers stood near the door and began collecting a five-dollar cover charge from attendees, and nearly all of the non-Black diners began leaving after they finished their meals. Queen Sheba shifted from a restaurant where patrons could "get down and 'indigenous' with their food," as described recently by a Yelp reviewer, to a community space that nurtured and showcased the work of local Black artists. About an hour into the event, Johnson took the stage and began performing the aforementioned poem, "Sac Girl, Black Girl. . . ." She kept the crowd engaged with her cadence, style, and words that evoked memories of a seemingly distant Black Sacramento. Throughout the night, several Black women took the mic using the space for therapy, to bring attention to local inequities and injustices, and to joyously remember the narratives and spaces of "Black Sac."2
Sitting in Queen Sheba, it is hard to believe that Sacramento—a city that has long stood in the shadow of the San Francisco Bay Area—made the news for being the city with the fastest rising rents in the nation.3 Over the past five years, the city has seen a surge in redevelopment as investors and developers look for the next real estate gold rush. In response, Sacramento residents have taken to the streets and city council meetings to voice their frustrations, organizing a tenants' union, transit riders' union, a community land trust and launching grassroots campaigns to help elect populist public officials.4 Similar to other rapidly gentrifying cities like Oakland, Detroit, and Nashville, longstanding community members are not leaving without a fight. And beyond traditional forms of organizing, local Black activists are using art as a means to draw attention to this crisis—artivism. Black women artivists in Sacramento have been using art and culture as a means to educate residents about the history of Black Sacramento; to solidify the history and memory of Black Sacramento through murals, public art exhibits, and other art-based community events; to promote community organizing and activism; and to insert Black Sacramento into the larger historical narrative of Blacks in the West.
This article first examines the history of resegregation in Sacramento and its impact on the city's Black citizenry.5 Second, it highlights how Black women visual and performance artivists and Black women business owners are entangled in this iteration of...