Newburgh was the headquarters of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. It was also the second place in the United States to have streets lighted by electricity. But Newburgh is currently a Black(ish) city. A Black city that rural people from the south moved to looking for a better life at a factory and they found one –for a brief moment, but then all the jobs were taken away. Newburgh was currently the Black city that I was looking for coffee in. That is when I found Blacc Vanilla.
Blacc Vanilla is a coffee shop. If an En Vogue video morphed into a coffee shop, it would be this coffee shop. I ordered a mocha with almond milk and asked for the wifi code. The wifi code was M*E*L*A*N*I*N.
When you come into Blacc Vanilla, Melanie and Jerrod greet you, they own the shop. Jerrod grew up in Newburgh. We all chatted and found out we had similar interests and histories, one of those being bicycles and the other being Black liberation.
Melanie explained that her and Jerrod wanted to have a bicycle giveaway. She said at first she was going to have the kids earn a bike, but then thought, every kid should have a bike. Having a bike is normal.
Why do Black kids have to earn things that other people just get for being alive?
As a radical person who understands child development, behaviorism, and psychology, I definitely approved her message.
Access to good health should not have to be earned.
This made me think about the systematic institutional racism that impacts the transportation infrastructure, urban planning, the indoor built environment, and the outdoor air quality in Black communities and how normalized Black suffering is. Why do Black kids have to earn bicycles, why do Black people have to sue for access to public transportation, and why is every Black city by an airport that is dumping toxic chemicals into the air we breath and water we drink?
I know in Los Angeles, where I am from, LAX made a deal to move the flight path from white LA, to Black LA. The occasional flight that used to go over Black southwest LA and Black and Latinx Inglewood went from just a few a day to dozens an hour.
The sound and indoor insulation that was supposed to be paid 30 years prior didn’t get done in the Black owned homes until four years ago. People delayed maintenance on their homes and died of cancer before they were given “justice.”
I remember my once my environmentally conscious mother in an attempt to be more sustainable tried putting out laundry on the line to dry in the sun, but after the laundry had dried, our white sheets were covered in soot from the many airplanes that flew over our home.
Apparently, sustainability is just for white neighborhoods.
Melanie and Jerrod are from New York and I’m from Los Angeles, but the oppression of Black people across the US is frightening in its similarities. Institutional racism is not original. It is basic and systematic.
The city of Newburgh’s sizable Black population is slowly dwindling down, because of what the United States calls “progress.” Even a brutal one hour drive to Manhattan with limited transportation options (little under 3 hours with at least two transfers and a bus) isn’t enough to keep developers away.
I guess we’re all supposed to move to the South.
On August 8 Newburgh filed a lawsuit against the United States Air Force, New York State, Airport Operators, and Manufacturers for contaminating the community’s water supply, Washington Lake with Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFAS).
The health effects from exposure to PFAS includes cancer, liver damage, chronic kidney disease, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.
Kids shouldn’t have to earn a bike and Black people shouldn’t have to go to court every time they want the laws (Clean Water Act & Clean Air Act) and policies (Environmental Impact Report) that are on the books to keep communities safe enforced in their communities too.
by Lark Lo