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.”