Editorial Contest: Too close for comfort – a firsthand account of ‘white flight’ in Lansing

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The Lansing Clocktower at Park Plaza. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)
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For The Lansing Journal’s first-ever editorial contest, we partnered with the freshmen class at Unity Christian Academy. Every student in the 26-student class wrote an editorial about something they care about, and submitted them to The Lansing Journal. Publisher Melanie Jongsma and Managing Editor Josh Bootsma read the editorials and picked four winners and one honorable mention based on criteria including: making a claim, persuasion and analysis, evidence, local impact, and language and voice.

Our editorial contest series ends today with Veronica Overstreet’s editorial, which won our Honorable Mention award for its local impact.


Editor’s note: The editorial below contains offensive language. The Lansing Journal opted to publish the editorial as written to maintain the integrity of Veronica’s lived experience.

By Veronica Overstreet

Neighborhood demographic shifts can be prompted by many variables. The culture of Lansing, Illinois, a southland suburb of Chicago, has changed significantly over the past fifteen to twenty years. These significant changes have been detrimental to Lansing because “white flight” has limited experiences in people’s lives, experiences needed for them to grow. I will explore the concept of “white flight” based upon statistical data, as it relates to my community and my lived experience.

“White flight” defined

The main problem with “white flight” is that many people in south suburban areas like Lansing, Illinois, think there is no problem with it. “White flight” is a term defined as “the departure of whites from places (such as urban neighborhoods or schools) increasingly or predominantly populated by minorities,” as stated by Merriam-Webster.

In Illinois, there have been many African Americans moving to south suburban areas to have better experiences and lifestyles, but as they do that they are looked at as if they do not belong because of the color of their skin.

“White flight” personified

I was eight years old when my family moved to Lansing. I remember my third grade class was primarily white and there were only a few Black students. By the time I was in junior high, it was the other way around. I began to notice lots of “For Sale” signs in front of houses in my neighborhood. White families were moving out and more Black families were moving in.

One unfriendly neighbor complained about “too many niggers” and said that he was moving. His dogs attacked my brother and I on our way home from school. We had to go to court and everything! He even told the judge that he planned to move out of the neighborhood but he didn’t dare use the “N” word in court. He paid a fine but it went to the Village of Lansing and I did not even get an apology when I was the one harmed. If these types of things continue to happen, children will not be able to get different views on people and the world will not fully integrate.

Housing values

After that incident, I started paying closer attention to people leaving and coming in. In “White Flight and Urban Decay in Suburban Chicago,” writer Lindsey Haines cites researcher David Harris’s findings as says, “Housing loses at least 16% of its value when located in neighborhoods that are more than 10% Black.”

Haines goes on to reference Harris’ findings that, “Even when controlling for housing characteristics like age and size, housing values in the more diverse inner suburbs declined relative to the outer suburbs from 1980 to 2000.”

Illiana Christian High School

My parents planned to send my brother and me to Illiana Christian High School for a Bible-based education and to help us be better prepared for college. Then, suddenly after 73 years in Lansing, they moved to Dyer IN, practically St. John.

Principal Peter Boonstra said the school moved to a new building in “an area that has seen the most enrollment growth in recent years” according to the Chicago Tribune.

According to the 2020 Census, Lansing has a population of 29,076 — 43.8% being white and 43.3% being Black. However in St. John, Indiana, the population is 20,303 — 85.1% white and 2.3% Black. This disparity is not fair to the children who want a better education and it could hurt children who should be more challenged than what public schools have to offer. Given those numbers, how is it possible that the new school is getting more enrollment if they have fewer people there, or are they just getting the type of enrollment they want?

Starting conversations

People are going to have all types of opinions on Black people moving into suburban areas but that should not change the fact we want better for ourselves. “White flight” is ongoing in Lansing, and no I do not think to will ever stop. Nevertheless, getting to share my story and being able to back it up with evidence proves that conversations need to start happening to minimize “white flight.”

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