After struggling for months through multiple temporary living situations in Durham, my partner and I leased an apartment in a new building that didn’t exist last year. The rent is more than five times what I paid for my first apartment in Durham, and I’m not making five times as much as I made then. The other night, I woke up in a panic about how I’m going to make this work. 

From inside this high-rise building, I can, in fact, see the sky. I can see the sun break the horizon from my bedroom window. But is what I see from my window a new awakening for Durham or another form of slumber?

Out of my window, I can see the steeple of the Hayti Heritage Center, once the historic St. Joseph’s Church, founded in the 1800s with power and inspiration from the Haitian Revolution, a sacred space to sustain the spiritual lives of Black people with their hearts set on freedom. I can see the shape of a veve in honor of the Haitian Vodoun deity Erzulie, who represents love, beauty, and prosperity, at the highest point of that beloved building, where I dance to live West African drums every Monday, look forward to the Hayti Film Festival each year, and where we opened our Black Feminist revival this past September.   

Are we, in Durham, thinking about Haiti’s freedom legacies right now? Haitian environmentalists have pointed out the connections between the fact that, in 1804, France forced Haiti to pay European slaveholders “reparations” for the money they lost from Black freedom. To pay those reparations, Haiti sold massive amounts of timber, leading to deforestation that has left the country vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes, and erosion. Layers of silt that are clogging coral reefs, leading to the disappearance of marine life, would otherwise be swimming off the coasts of Haiti, a key part of the ecology and the people’s food systems. 

What are the long-term layered costs for us, in Durham, of the investments we are making right now?

From here, I can see Highway 147 and how it cuts through what was once one of the most vibrant Black communities in the world. I can see a shard of Pettigrew Street, which once hosted renowned Black musicians and performers, a thoroughfare where Black businesses thrived. Do the people in these cars know they are driving through ghosts?

I can see the Food World shopping center, and I wonder if the residents of the “Spirit of Hayti” housing development are shopping there. The parking lot is mostly empty except for a fleet of U-Haul trucks. I can also see the courthouse and the parking lot full of police cars on the roof of the so-called Justice Center. I cannot quite see the jail, where activists from Southerners on New Ground chained themselves earlier this year to protest money bail and insisted that Black mamas being held pre-trial should be released immediately—and that instead of a “risk assessment,” they should be offered a “needs assessment.”

In other words, the question wasn’t whether people facing poverty-related charges were a flight risk, but whether they had the childcare and transportation and the time off work they’d need to show up in court.  

To prioritize need in a time of speculative capital is a radical stance. I applaud District Attorney Satana Deberry for decreasing cash bail in Durham. The bravery of the activist community and the visionaries we’ve elected are part of the reason I’m committed to this place. 

And yet, while this was once a city with a cost of living that felt sustainable, as I watch birds migrating south out my window, I am becoming a new Durham flight risk. I feel like I am financially risking everything to stay here. 

From this expensive window, I see about four hundred air-conditioning compressors. In the age of global warming, there is a need to stay cool, and yet, we know the hydrofluorocarbons in these compressors are contributing to that global warming and must be phased out. And in the full face of the sun, with a view of so many newly built rooftops, I do not see one solar panel. 

I’m just sitting at my window, knowing that everything is connected and thinking about the presence of Black freedom and the jail next-door, about the environmental legacy of Haiti and debts that cannot be repaid. I am thinking about cost and need and risk as they narrate stories about what Durham does and doesn’t do and who can and cannot live here.  

And as the sun breaks through the horizon, my hope is that my fellow freedom dreamers do not sleep on the significance of the decisions we are making now. 

ALEXIS PAULINE GUMBS is the author of M Archive: After the End of the World, Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, and co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.

NEXT WEEK: CHIKA GUJARATHI, a Raleigh-based writer and author of the Hello Namaste! children’s books, whose work can be found on her blog The Antibland Chronicles.

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INDY Voices—a rotating column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers—is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Visit for more information