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Chattanooga's 21st-Century Insidious Secret

Written by: Dawnn A. Vance, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Dawnn A. Vance

Chattanooga, Tennessee, a small but vibrant city nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, there was a dark undercurrent of community discrimination and oppression that simmered just beneath the surface. Despite its friendly facade and picturesque scenery, Chattanooga was a city rife with tension and division after the Civil War. The roots of this discrimination could be traced back to the city's history, with deep-seated racial and economic disparities that had persisted for generations.


photo of Dawnn in black dress

The predominantly white population controlled much of the wealth and power in Chattanooga, while African Americans and other minority groups struggled to make ends meet and faced barriers to success at every turn, but it wasn't just racial discrimination that plagued Chattanooga. That dark undercurrent still ferments under the belly of Chattanooga's greatest beast. The LGBTQ+ community has also faced discrimination and oppression, with many people living in fear of being ostracized or even physically harmed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Transgender individuals, in particular, faced high rates of discrimination, with few resources available to support them. In this climate of fear and distrust, a group of community activists have banded together to fight back against the discrimination and oppression that has long plagued Chattanooga. Led by a diverse coalition of leaders from different backgrounds and experiences, they work tirelessly to challenge the status quo and demand justice for all members of the community.


In the quiet neighborhood of Clifton Hills in Chattanooga, Tennessee, tensions are brewing between residents and the local neighborhood association. The residents of this predominantly African American community have been facing discrimination and oppression from their neighborhood association for over 10 years, and they have finally had enough. The association had been put into place for residents to come together and discuss community issues, but lately, the discrimination and oppression. Was beginning to affect every aspect of daily life. A divide had formed within the community, with members on one side staunchly supporting Christian nationalist views and residents on the other side advocating for a more inclusive, diverse, unified, and safe environment. The meetings had become clandestine, with accusations of discrimination and oppression from the residents. On the other hand, bias and prejudice from Chattanooga's city officials.

 

The Clifton Hills Neighborhood Association is comprised mostly of the Bridge City Community Church. Association/ Church members had taken it upon themselves to impose strict rules and regulations on the rest of the community. They also targeted low-income families, single mothers, and people of color, making it nearly impossible for them to thrive in the neighborhood. They intentionally don't reach out to any of the residents with newsletters. About meetings, voting, community involvement, community development, or community updates. Instead, the association feeds the homeless free food. Out of the community garden and community fridge. They offer the homeless free camping in the community woods and along an abandoned city hiking trail as well as providing the homeless with free showers. The homeless has since been a threat to the community. Engaging in drug activity, human feces, dog feces, dog attacks, breaking into cars, breaking into condemned homes, and possible prostitution. One of the most egregious instances of discrimination occurred when the association. Partnered with Bridge City Community Church. They allegedly had enacted a policy that if you are not a member of the church. You cannot be a part of the neighborhood association let alone a board member. This rule disproportionately affected more than 80% of the community. As it appears no one in the community attends Bridge City Community Church. For years the Clifton Hills community has been coerced into the silent treatment of community ostracism. To avoid conflict, punishment, or ulterior selective topic of avoidance.


Another form of oppression came in the form of the neighborhood watch program, which was essentially a group of vigilant residents who made it their mission to monitor the activities of their neighbors. This program was used as a tool to target individuals who did not fit the mold of the ideal resident, which often meant people of color or those who did not conform to traditional gender or religious roles. One such individual was Octavia, a single mother of 4 who had moved into Clifton Hills after a relationship. She had found solace in the close-knit community at first but soon realized that she was being singled out by the neighborhood association. Her children played with bi-racial children in the neighborhood. The children have been constantly harassed by elder caucasian women in the neighborhood, the parents constantly received police threats. On the children for simply riding bikes and playing outside. All because of the skin color or race. Out of fear, of the neighborhood "Karen ". The children no longer go to the park and when riding bikes they stay in front of their homes.

 


Their efforts were met with resistance from those who sought to maintain the status quo and protect their interests. The city's LIHEAP staff saw the activists as a threat to their power and privilege, and they used their influence to discredit and undermine the movement at every opportunity. Despite facing pushback and intimidation, Dawnn and her fellow activists refused to back down. They were determined to create a more just and equitable Chattanooga for all its residents, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

 

Despite the communities best efforts to keep a low profile, residents found themselves at the center of a controversy when they allied by the name of "Clifton Hills Historic District Council". A group of residents banded together to fight back against the discrimination and oppression they are facing. They organized a peaceful protest, started a petition to have the association dissolved, and reached out to local media outlets to bring attention to their plight. They hold block parties and Little League games to raise money, to develop their entire community. The association saw this as a threat to their authority and allegedly quickly worked with city staff, to prevent the registration of their new community council. It was clear to NAACP political advocate Minister Dawnn A Vance and the rest of the community that the association was determined to maintain their power at any cost. Even going as far as reputedly signing fake names. To the community first petition to have the association dissolved.

 

One of the most glaring examples of political prejudice in Chattanooga was the ongoing debate between Clifton Hills residents and LIHEAP's city staff. Over the community registering a more inclusive council. The residents were accused of having an ulterior motive. Even after showing


proof of all they have done and still do to sustain their community. Residents argue discrimination, oppression, and an impoverished community, while city staff fight tooth and nail to protect the neighborhood association in place. As the election draws closer, the political prejudice and discrimination in this small Chattanoogan neighborhood of Clifton Hills Historic District only seems to escalate. Residents and the neighborhood association's members find themselves on opposing sides, unable to have civil discussions about their differing beliefs. The progressive members of the council spoke out against this discrimination, but their voices fell upon the deaf ears of city staff Perrin Lance, Neighborhood Specialist Manager, and Shadrina Booker, Director of Community Engagement. It seemed as though prejudice was winning out over tolerance in the once-peaceful neighborhood.

 

As tensions continued to rise, some residents began to fear for the future of their community. Will city staff agree to register a more inclusive community council? Would Clifton Hills be able to overcome its political & community divides and come together for the greater good of the neighborhood? Or would prejudice and oppression tear them apart, leaving Clifton Hills a broken community and Chattanooga a fractured city? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain the residents of Clifton Hills have to continue to do what they can out of pocket. To find a way to bridge their community back together to create a truly inclusive and welcoming neighborhood for all.


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Dawnn A. Vance Brainz Magazine
 

Dawnn A. Vance, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dawnn A. Vance, a minister and political advocate for the NAACP, has had firsthand experience of systemic oppression and discrimination since her early years. Committed to promoting equality and social justice. In pursuit of building a brighter future for the multicultural era.

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