'A Vibe Outside' brings Charlotte's Black residents together for fun and home ownership
As long as Amber Bradshaw can remember, being a homeowner has been on her bucket list. To Bradshaw, owning a home is a sign of upward mobility, but she had no idea where to start.
“I have always thought owning a house is a possibility,” said the 38-year-old Charlotte native. Bradshaw started looking into home ownership when she went to the inaugural A Vibe Called Fresh, the headline event of a three-part festival. Bradshaw credits the event with helping her become a homeowner.
“I knew it would happen. I just did not know when," she said. "I feel it happened sooner than I had anticipated.”
The event's founder, Winston Robinson, 40, said home ownership is a perennial injustice that seems to outlive the solutions thrown at it. He and a group of his friends decided to do something about it. They are using the festivals as a way to bring Black people in contact with the resources needed to become homeowners.
“While you are here … we gonna have food, we gonna have great music, great time, but we are gonna have resources,” Robinson said. “So while you're here having the time of your life, let me introduce you to Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership,” the organization now known as DreamKey Partners.
At the events, attendees can meet financial and real estate experts who can assist them in buying their first homes. They also can connect with job opportunities and, if they are business owners, introduce their businesses to more people.
According to Robinson, the idea came to him after he read the book “Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein and an article “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Those readings made Robinson aware of the history of home ownership in America and how it is connected to a system that disenfranchises Black people.
“Once I read the (book and article), I was infuriated. I was just so angry,” he said. “I just wanted to scream as loudly as possible to let other people know. ‘Like did you know how important housing policies were to the trajectory of our lives?’”
But Robinson acknowledged he wasn’t a teacher, nor was he equipped to fight racial injustice that he considered to be as old as America itself. However, he did know how to throw a great party. He and his friends had hosted an annual cookout event for 10 years before they had to stop because it grew too big to manage.
“I wanted to utilize (the cookout) to get people into a space where I could tell them things that I just found out from the ‘Case for Reparations’ and ‘Color of Law,’" he said. "That was how ‘A Vibe Called Fresh’ started. I have a vessel, I have a reason and I have a platform. So we kind of take the idea of the cookout and change it to A Vibe Called Fresh.”
Bradshaw was one of 47 people who started the process of buying a home after attending the first A Vibe Called Fresh.
“It was 2017, I was out here. He had panels, he had banks, mortgage companies and brokers who were giving information to everybody who was willing,” she said “That provided a lot of information for myself. I did end up purchasing a home not too long after that. I met my real estate agent from there.”
After seeing how much impact the event created, Robinson decided to make it formal. He put together a board, on which Bradshaw now sits, and in 2019, he registered his organization, Applesauce Group, as a nonprofit.
“When I had my son, he had to use medicine that he would not take, and I gave it to him through applesauce,” said Robinson, explaining how he chose the name of the organization to signify “delivering something essential through something enjoyable.”
In Charlotte, there is a huge racial disparity in home ownership. While home ownership by Black households is a notch higher than the national average of 45.1%, there is still a wide gap when compared with White households, according to a report released by the U.S Census Bureau in July 2021. The Housing Finance Agency recently reported that only 47% of Black residents in Charlotte own their homes compared with 75% of white homeowners.
Kay Morrison, a realtor and broker at Keller Williams Realty in Charlotte, said the gap between white people and people of color who own homes is a consequence of the difference in income ratio. People get priced out of their neighborhood because their income did not grow at the same rate with their tax and housing obligations.
“The cost of housing has gone up so much. However, incomes for brown people across the board have not gone up at the same rate,” she said, adding that new college graduates are unable to live in the city because they can not afford the rent or even buy a house.
Robinson grew up in the Wilmore neighborhood on the south end of Charlotte. He watched as it became more gentrified and often wondered why his friends were leaving.
The 40-year-old father believes that many of his friends were displaced because their families could no longer afford their homes. Robinson blamed redlining, a discriminatory practice that puts financial and other services out of reach for residents of certain areas based on race or ethnicity.
Crispin Robinson, an Applesauce Group board member and Winston Robinson’s sister, echoed concerns about the impact of gentrification on Black residents.
“So much growth is going on here now, but I do not see that happening in the Black community,” she said. “A lot of the neighborhoods that were in Charlotte that were historically Black are being … gentrified by the newer people that are coming into Charlotte.”
But Morrison said the city government owes it to the people to ensure they are not displaced from their neighborhoods. “The city has to look out for the residents," she said. "There needs to be more subsidized, rent-controlled housing than what we have.”
Getting Black people like Bradshaw to buy homes in historically Black neighborhoods seems to Robinson a way to ensure that Black communities remain Black even as they start to enjoy development.
Although Bradshaw bought her single bungalow home in Druid Hills, the neighborhood where she grew up, she shares less optimism about protecting longtime residents from the effect of gentrification.
Festival co-founder and Applesauce Group board member Tony Cuthbertson said the organization is addressing that problem by encouraging young Black people to retain their parents' home.
“The mission is to kind of erase the stigma that moving out of your neighborhood, especially neighborhoods that you’ve grown up in, to other neighborhoods is better or is an upgrade,"Cuthbertson said.
“You may sell your grandmother’s house for $300,000 and come back in six months, and that same house is worth $2 million," he continued. "With the same energy you are putting into purchasing a new home, you could have put that energy into refinancing or putting upgrades into (your family) home … as well as, you know, create generational wealth.”
Morrison said for this to happen there must be a balance between the earnings of white professionals and their Black counterparts.
“Gentrification is going to happen,” she said. “We cannot stop the growth, but salaries need to be equal to all counterparts throughout the city.”
Applesauce Group is holding its next event, "A Vibe Called Fresh," in the west end Saturday from 2 to 8 p.m. at Five Points Plaza, Johnson C. Smith University and West Complex.