Here’s Why I Moved Back to the South as a Black First-Time Homebuyer

Here’s Why I Moved Back to the South as a Black First-Time Homebuyer

If you’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity to choose where you live, the place that you choose can say a lot about you. For the last six years, I chose to live in various square-foot-challenged New York City apartments from Hell’s Kitchen to Brooklyn. Those little pieces in that giant city housed my hopes, nurtured my dreams, and healed my broken heart a time or two.

New York will always live in me, but this year I chose to leave. I wanted to purchase a home, and to have a more permanent living situation. After months of navigating my way through this chaotic housing market, I closed on my first house. It’s many miles away from New York in my hometown of Atlanta, because this move is much bigger than just “wanting space.” It’s about honoring my roots.

Although this is my year of return, the “Year of Return” was in 2019. It marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans, and Black Americans recognized the year’s significance by going to West Africa to connect with their ancestral homeland. I’ve been making plans to take that voyage, and I’m hopeful that I’ll have the opportunity to in the near future.

Still, when I think of what it means to “return,” I can’t help but also think of what it means to return to the South. Just as much as West African roots run through me, so does the legacy of the Black American South. As a descendant of enslaved African people who had identities and stories — many of which were buried with them in this region of what is now known as the U.S. — this is my homeland, too. 

From 1915 to 1970, more than six million Black Americans left the South during what is referred to as the Great Migration. By the 1970s, 47 percent of Black Americans were living in the Northern and Western U.S. Prior to the Great Migration, more than 90 percent of Black Americans lived in the South. Today, with my move to Atlanta, I’m joined by the many Black millennials and entrepreneurs moving south, in what NBC News has referred to as “a Great Migration in reverse.” Today, according to the New York Times, of the roughly 1,200 majority-Black cities and towns in the U.S., more than 1,000 are in the South. 

Moving back is about more than just being here for the vibe — it’s about investing in our communities and continuing the historic civil rights work that began here. As that work for voting rights has come under attack, the continued suppression of Black voices and votes in communities nationwide has taken the spotlight. Mississippi has the highest share of Black people out of any state, but there hasn’t been a single Black person elected for a state-level, statewide office position since Reconstruction. During the most recent election, as we watched the game-changing work of Stacey Abrams help turn Georgia blue for the first time in my memory (the last time was for Bill Clinton, when I was 2 years old) — I couldn’t help but feel inspired by what was happening in my homeland. 

Growing up, we’d have our big family reunions on the land that was once a plantation where our ancestors were enslaved. Someone would read our family history over a microphone, so everyone would be able to hear. The history lesson would end when we reached Lizzie Newton — we know nothing about her other than the fact that she is where our Black American family story begins. We’d run freely with one another on that plantation — which is only about a two-hour drive away from the house I just purchased.

When choosing where to purchase my first home, as a Black American, the South is the only place that made sense to me. It connects me with my past and strengthens me for the work that will follow. The work of creating something better for the generations to come while honoring those who made it possible for me say, “I’m a Black woman living in the U.S., and I just purchased my first home.”

A Retired Mom Built a 400-Square-Foot Studio in a Basement… and It’s Great

A Retired Mom Built a 400-Square-Foot Studio in a Basement… and It’s Great

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Name: Karen Johnson; my son and son-in-law live in separate area of home
Location: Briarcliffe Neighborhood — Atlanta, Georgia
Type of home: Studio apartment in my son’s home
Size: 400 square foot
Years lived in: 2 years, owned

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: I am a retired single woman. I recently moved back to Atlanta after living in the Dominican Republic for 15 years. Feeling unsure where to locate I decided to add an apartment in my son’s unfinished basement. I added an open living space, a spacious bathroom, and a laundry room with plenty of storage. I had no furniture and only two pieces of artwork to start my project. It has been a perfect place to live and downsizing is so freeing.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Boho, inviting, colorful, chic

What is your favorite room and why? All items were selected with love and care so I am enjoying it all.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Use only furniture and accessories you love. Change furniture and accessories to different rooms. Always white towels. And when you can, always add a pop of color. No clutter!

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.

This Elegant and Earthy Home Was Furnished Almost Entirely Secondhand

This Elegant and Earthy Home Was Furnished Almost Entirely Secondhand

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Name: Albrica Tierra and an Italian Greyhound/Terrier mix named Honey
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Type of home: 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home
Size: 1164 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, 2 months, owned

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: My house is located in a predominately Black neighborhood in Southeast Atlanta. My home and neighborhood feels special because of the rich history and culture that blossoms here. There’s a little farm located at the elementary school down the street, both neighbors on each side of me have lived here for over 60 years, and the previous owner of my house even stopped by for a visit to thank me for taking care of the rose bushes she planted in the front garden. Little signs like this makes me feel proud to be a first-time homeowner!

As a Black queer woman, I try to make sure little aspects of my personality and identity are noticeable in my space. The majority of the art in my home come from Black artists, designers, photographers, and makers.

As a photographer myself, you can find a camera collectible in every room! I have an altar in my bedroom where I honor and pray to my ancestors. I always show gratitude by leaving fruit or wine for them! Without their guidance, I wouldn’t even be living here. I also love thrifting and sourcing great finds on a budget, so the entirety of my home was furnished through places like Letgo, Facebook Marketplace, and local secondhand shops.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Elegant, colorful, moody, earthy, cozy.

What is your favorite room and why? My bedroom! It’s so serene and cozy. I went with an earthy color palette to keep myself grounded and relaxed. You can find soft jazz playing, my oil diffuser on, and soft textures throughout. You might just wind down for a nap unintentionally! It’ll do that to you.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? The last thing I bought for my home was a couple of plants from Garden*Hood Atlanta. I think I buy a plant to add to my 50+ plant collection like once a week.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Take your time. Your style is always evolving and your home should be a testament to your journey. Don’t be afraid to mix it up from time to time! It will still be uniquely true to yourself.

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.

A Rental Apartment in a Former School Is Enviably Art & Light Filled

A Rental Apartment in a Former School Is Enviably Art & Light Filled

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Name: Mallory Brooks, my partner, Mike, and two cats, Socks and Pepper
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Type of home: Apartment
Size: 800 square feet
Years lived in: 5 years, renting

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: I live in a converted former 1920s-era school with my partner, Mike, and two cats, Socks and Pepper. I’ve lived here for five years (two with Mike) and I was immediately drawn to my apartment for its unique features and history as a classroom — it retains its original hardwood floors and has large, paned glass windows. It’s bright and airy, yet also cozy and charming (plants LOVE it!). The building still feels like you’re roaming the halls of a school, which remain lined with lockers.

I’m a photographer, artist, and small business owner and Mike is a creative director, writer, and musician. Our space is filled with a colorful, eclectic mix of vintage and modern decor —and over 100 plants! Fortunately, Mike loves my aesthetic so I’ve been able to keep most of what I originally had while blending his pieces into the mix. My love for color, travel, art, plants, and vintage items is reflected everywhere, from the art to the objects to the furniture. My style is a mix of old and new, so we have thrifted/inherited pieces mingling with modern IKEA staples. Plus, most of the art is my own! Our home is also what inspired me to take a leap and start a business, Abe Home Goods, to share my style and help others create a space of their own that they love. Ultimately, the apartment is a place that reflects two creative people and their inspirations.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Colorful, eclectic, inviting, plant-filled

What is your favorite room and why? My favorite room is the main living area, which is really three rooms in one (kitchen, dining, and living rooms). In particular, I’m obsessed with the jungle that’s grown above our kitchen cabinets. I put a few pothos plants up there a few years ago and they just took over! Another favorite in the space is the gallery wall that I call the “wanderlust wall” because it’s filled with my photography and art I’ve collected on my travels and it reminds me of my favorite places. 

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? I’m constantly sourcing vintage and secondhand items for my shop, and inevitably, I end up being unable to part with some of those items, so they find a home in ours. But, one of the most recent additions, however, was a credenza of Mike’s that we painted a peacock blue to hold the TV. It was crafted from salvaged lockers by a local shop, Kaboodle; we love how it gives a nod to the apartment’s former life as a high school. 

Any advice for creating a home you love? Design your home for you; fill it with the things that you love, not solely because something is trendy. If you really love a piece, you can make it work. I also suggest filling your walls and shelves with lots of art, especially from small and local artists if you can. Art and vintage items can add personality and help your space better express “you”. And finally, a home should never be finished nor be perfect; it evolves with us as we live!

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.