My Hope for Richmond on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

All that kills abundant living,let it from the earth be banned:

pride of status, race or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan.

In our common quest for justice may we hallow brief life’s span.

                -From the Hymn: For the Healing of the Nations

I guess everyone has skeletons in their closet; every person, every nation.  Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it brings cause for us to celebrate the progress we’ve made as well as our shortcomings on some of the biggest skeletons in our national closet: slavery, racism, mounting economic inequality.

Ostensibly, I’ve got two big strikes against me regarding the issues above.

I’m from Detroit.

I’m a Real Estate Agent…

First, Detroit.  A couple of years ago, cartographer Eric Fischer produced a series of maps based on census data.  Maps of cities show where people live based on what color their skin is.  It is an instant way to visually grasp the reality of segregation in American cities today.  And guess which city is one of the most segregated?  My home town, Detroit.

Click to read Time’s article on the maps

Red dots represent white people.  The blue dots represent black people.  Every dot is 25 people.

I grew up in the suburbs on the Northeast side of the city.  Me, my family, my friends-almost everyone I knew- are a handful of those red dots.  Without being able to see the street names on this map, I can tell you that that dense line of red next to the dense line of blue by that box on the far right is Alter Rd.  I know that because even as a kid- even though no one ever told me to- I knew to turn around on my bike once I got to Alter Rd.  To the east of Alter are the Grosse Pointe suburbs (solid red) and the west side of the street begins the city (instant blue).  For the most part, Alter Rd also represented the outer boundary of the world to myself and my friends.  Segregation.

I was surprised to see that Richmond, the old capital of the Confederacy, is a more integrated city than many of the larger Northern cities.

Click to find your own city map

Still, you can easily identify some neighborhoods the bright red West End, or the heavily blue Jackson Ward.


The maps point to this simple fact: skin color is still, generally speaking, is one of the biggest factors in determining where people choose to live.


And that leads me to my second strike: I’m a Real Estate Agent.

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Real Estate Industry was one of the most influential contributors to racism that existed.  Housing discrimination was the norm.  Back then, it wasn’t hard to find neighborhood communities or Real Estate companies that would display signs making it clear that Whites were the only neighbors or clients allowed.  Of course, the norm for many industries before 1968 was blatant discrimination, but the Real Estate Industry, because they had a hand in where people would or wouldn’t live, had the potential to be a powerful voice as Civil Rights continued to grow in our country.

For the most part, the Real Estate Industry was slow to change their ways.  Laws were passed, but practices continued, and still do.  In 2006, there was a legal investigation into a Chicago Real Estate company for refusing to show certain properties to black buyers.


My Hope for Richmond:

That we become a more purple city and a less red and blue city.

That the functional segregation of our school system breaks down more and more every year.

That businesses, especially grocery stores, invest in  and serve the urban, largely black communities.

That Sunday 10am will be the least segregated hour of the week and not the most.

That as my 2 little white children grow up, they will have dear friends who are not only white.

That in the old Capital of the Confederacy, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream would happen again and again in our daily lives…

“I have a dream that one day… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood…”



Jay McGee used to live in Southeast Asia, doing language research and literacy development. Now he’s a Real Estate Agent with Compass Realty. He gives a microloan to somebody in a developing country every time someone in Richmond buys or sells their home with him.  Learn why here.

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