By Christine Adams
The play “Growing up in the other Atlantic City: Wash’s and the Northside” reflects the culture of the Black community in Atlantic City in the past that also still makes relevant connections with Atlantic City today. The film captures the essence of what it is like to be an African American living in Atlantic City in the past and the present, by interviewing citizens of all ages and following their daily lives. These interviews truly bring to light the pride within the African American community of Atlantic City, as well as the struggles that some have went through personally and as a community before the decline of Northside, a self-sustaining community and epicenter of Black culture. More recently, with the 2014 casino closures, budget crisis, brain drain, and gentrification, there has been more recent struggles in the community that still have an effect on some citizens today.
As the first city to provide gambling outside of Nevada, it provided those on the East Coast a place to vacation on the beach and gamble. But times have changed and the city has transformed from New Jersey’s number-one tourist attraction that provided jobs and opportunities for its citizens, to a struggling area. When the casino closure happened in 2014, it took away jobs from many of the city’s citizens, causing the city to go through some hard times these past few years. According to the Business Insider “Five of the city’s 12 casinos closed between 2013 and 2016. Atlantic City’s unemployment rate is 7.1 percent (well above the national rate of five percent), and its mortgage-foreclosure rate is America’s highest.”
The Black culture within the city feel as though they have been lied to and let down. This is because for the past three decades, money-making in Atlantic City was only directed towards the gambling. Increasing the popularity of the casinos became the primary goal; taking the opportunity to become a tourist destination from other businesses. The residents initially believed that by their supporting and voting for the casinos, the industry, in order to aid in the casinos’ survival, would help improve their communities outside of the casino areas. Instead, “hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in efforts to bypass the city and take tourist dollars directly to the casinos,” according to TheGrio.
Since casinos became all-inclusive, offering everything a visitor needs so they don’t have to leave the casino, they created a level of exclusion which allowed for the city’s planners to ignore the Black community and think it was ok by providing jobs. “That way of thinking virtually assured that the relatively poor surrounding Black community would continue to serve as the underutilized and unappreciated work force to benefit the privileged,” according to TheGrio. On top of this, casinos that were built called for homes that have been lived in for years to be taken down, and even still in the taking down of the casinos. It is not fair to force people out of their homes and should not be allowed.
It is important that Atlantic City considers the surrounding communities outside of the casinos now, especially since the gambling boom is over. The people of Atlantic City must come together and help each other understand what has been done and take the steps to repair and re-establish their city. This would make the community stronger again as a whole, acknowledging not only the Black community, but all communities. If everyone works together, only positivity and progression will come from it. This is one of the biggest take-home messages in the film “Our Side: The other Atlantic City.” The film truly gives you a true understanding of how important it is to acknowledge, understand, and promote improvement for the people who have suffered from these issues in the city.