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Graduate student Ari Green is studying the experiences of Black people being displaced from their homes and communities in three urban areas.

Headshot of Ari Green leaning on a railing in a Chapel Hill neighborhood
Ari Green, pictured in the Northside neighborhood in Chapel Hill, studies gentrification and the traumatic experiences of Black people being displaced from their communities. (photo by Donn Young)

When Ari Green returned to her hometown of Sacramento, California, in 2015 after studying abroad in Montreal for a year, she noticed big changes happening. The city had begun to pursue massive economic development projects, including building a $500 million NBA arena in an effort to revive the city. Swift gentrification followed, and communities of color were displaced.

After graduating with a B.A. in history from California State University, Sacramento, Green decided to explore what had set gentrification in motion, as well as its legacy, by continuing her master’s studies in public history there. She examined the phenomenon of “root shock,” a term coined by social psychiatrist and author Mindy Thompson Fullilove to describe the traumatic experience of Black people being displaced from their homes and communities. She is now expanding on that research as a doctoral student in American studies at Carolina.

“I saw in real time how my city was changing, but also saw how my peers, their families and just Black residents in general were unable to even voice their opinions about these changes because the changes were happening so quickly,” Green said.

Green said her experiences with gentrification have made her a more empathetic researcher. Affordable quality housing was a challenge for her, a single working professional in her 20s.

“For me to move from my parents’ house to my own space was very difficult in California, even making decent money as a single person with no children,” she said. “I can’t imagine what that would look like if I had a family to care for. That will definitely inform the Sacramento chapter of my dissertation.”

Green said she experienced a bit of root shock herself when, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she moved across the country to begin her Ph.D. in public history at NC State University. “When I moved to Raleigh, everything was closed because of the pandemic,” she said. “I didn’t get to experience the city at its full capacity. It seemed so empty. I almost thought traffic didn’t exist here because it was so dead.”

Green chose NC State in part to work with historian Blair L.M. Kelley, who recently joined Carolina from the university down the road as the Joel R. Williamson Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies and the director of the Center for the Study of the American South. Kelley said she is proud to have Green continue her Ph.D. research at UNC.

“Ari’s doctoral dissertation is an innovative look at the processes of migration, gentrification and displacement in Sacramento, Raleigh and New Orleans,” Kelley said. “Rather than viewing the displacement of Black communities as a dispassionate result of the 2008 housing crisis and rising costs of living near city centers, Ari looks closely at the meaning of these changes within Black communities, tracing the lives of those who have been displaced.”

Green said although public history and American studies use different methods, her work is interdisciplinary, and the transition was seamless. “I’m already borrowing from multiple fields,” she said. “I’m using archival research, oral tradition, GIS mapping, newspapers and geography.”

Green received a 2023 Thomas F. Ferdinand Research Fellowship from The Graduate School to support her summer dissertation work. She recently returned to Sacramento to conduct archival research into public policies and to connect with young people who may agree to provide oral histories in the future. Their stories are often left out of the historical record.

“I’m hoping that they will open up and allow me to interview them the next time I return to Sacramento,” she said.

By Claire Cusick (M.A. ’21)

Read more Tar Heels Up Close in fall ’23 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine.

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