Actress Tyla Abercrumbie Gives Insight on Her Role & A Debate on Gentrification

ATM: Describe the prominence of the word “If” in the black culture as used in an episode of The Chi related your onscreen son Kevin.

TA: It is pretty common in American black culture. This is based on getting used to the idea of believing in the opportunities available. For example, “If I go to college, If I get out of this neighborhood, or if I buy a house” as oppose to white and Asian. It is the sense of if I survive and do this and that.

ATM: How can this viewpoint get changed with a person who is not a part of the black race?

TA: Kevin is growing up in the inner city. He has to go through gang territory to get to and from school. Also, visiting friends and even just going to the store. If you compound everything that he sees and experiences throughout the first season, then the idea of success for him becomes less obtainable. Even if it is not true, he starts to believe it. There is the word again “If.” It is opposed to saying a white family who is living in the suburbs or even in the inner, they are not faced with the constant badgering of the officer, the gangs in their community, and how society sees them.

The other cultures can look at the word “If” and ask, “Why does he say if he goes to school or gets out of the community?” They do not have to wrestle with these daily elements to get through their daily life. This is not talking about getting through the year. On a daily and by the hour, he is faced with some complex energy from the community to gun violence and police brutality. He comes up against a lot.

ATM: In what ways is the law of attraction not related to Kevin’s character?

TA: When talking about the law of attraction in relation to Kevin, you then have to look at the law of attraction of his mother and family unit. He is not just out there thinking bad things and coming up on bad things or consequently running into them. They are real things surrounding him on a daily basis. He is not drawn to them. He might have a great home life. He has two mothers and a sister. The bills are paid, and the lights are on, but he is still exposed to this element. He has no control over this. He is still a child. The opportunity for him to be positive is there.

He has his mother and a family unit that is doing “right.” They are hardworking, providing, and being a part of the community. However, he has to navigate so many elements that are negative. It becomes harder for the positive to come out. For Nina, you can put a positive thing in front of a person, and they go through life forgetting these things.  You can go out to experience one negative thing that is big or small. It can have a lasting impression. Sometimes it can be traumatic. He is a good kid in an environment that exposes him in too much to see progress and what is before him.

ATM: Now, in what ways is your character Nina related to the law of attraction?

TA: Nina is constantly doing right. She is aligned in her children’s lives in the best possible way. Therefore, good comes to them than bad. Granted, we examine in the show the bad things that have come to them thus far. There are a great number of things that have their positives. Nina as a mother is drawing positive things to her and her family. She puts out positive energy. She is a hard worker and takes care of her family. She is part of his community and education. In this, she shows raw positive energy with this and it is the hope.

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ATM: How does Kevin pick up on your positive energy?

TA: When you are this age, you can only see your parent as a disciplinarian. On The Chi, Kevin knows I am his mother and I am doing my best. He is not focused on this. He is at the age where he is an adolescent. He is navigating his own life. The way my positive energy rubs off Kevin is him existing. He is a smart kid. He has his couple of friends. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He tries often to do right. He in fact does right, but because of the community stumbles upon something.

He is not set out to do the wrong thing. This is a part of his upbringing. My character is setting an example for us to make positive choices. I do everything I do so that he can have a better experience than I did. He is a good kid doing the best he can but is exploring his adolescents in the way 12 or 13 years do. He gets from his mother that she provides and works hard and loves him, but he cannot help being a 12-year-old boy.

ATM: What stereotypes are put on a kid who has two mothers and also how does this show break the normal stereotype?

TA: They could potentially be gay. This is very inaccurate. This would be the biggest stereotype that would come out of this. It is profound. I know people do think this. It does not bother to explain it. It does not need to be explained. They are no different than a heterosexual couple raising their children. They do not overdo Nina. A lot of times on television, you want to overplay sex. Both of us are just women. No one is more masculine than the other. This is not the problem, but this is something we feel we “need” to see. This more explains the same-sex couple. They do not do this. I would not have the problem with it because the Williams family on The Chi is not one you would normally see. You do not generally see two middle collar black women raising two children in their community. This has not been on television or film.

ATM: There was a previous episode on The Chi about gentrification. There is a character who is a broker. Her recent client is not providing low-income homes for blacks. A black gentleman walks up to her opposing the decision. The female character who is the broker said this was a good idea to move in middle-class black families. I agree with gentrification to a certain degree. When things start to be taken away in the black race they start to stand for it. It should not take a black investor to tear down a black neighborhood with trash lingering to realize the importance of their community.

TA: When gentrification comes in, the problem is that people in a community for years have to vacate. They have lost resources. So, there are no proper grocery stores, banks, or businesses to maintain the neighborhood. Every dollar spent has to be for the community. Gentrification happens when developers come in and start rebuilding. The problems come in when it forces out the people who had lived in the community. They cannot afford the Starbucks that moved in. They cannot maintain the taxes that come with these new businesses. Developers come in building condos where houses used to be. The condos are 200-300 hundred thousand dollars.

It is not that they do not want their neighborhood beautiful, it is they do not want it gentrified to the point of moving them out of the community. Usually, when gentrification happens, it is a neighborhood that was frown upon and was born out of the white flight. It is usually a community where minorities and immigrants came to create an area. So, gentrification is good in developing a community, but not when the problems start to be taking people out that already lived there. The concept is totally about getting them out of the community. This would create hostility and fight. People do not want to move out to the suburbs to maintain life.

They cannot get to their jobs or get an education. If they do, then they cannot afford the amount of gas it cost to go back and forth to the city. The way gentrification is done makes it not a good thing. Developers do not come in with the concept of helping the community become better. They come in with the concept of changing the color and the movement of the community. I know this has happened in New York. You have Harlem, where before you could not cross a dividing line. This was where the black people lived. Now, Harlem looks like a totally different place.

ATM: Gentrification has taken over a number of cities in various parts of America. From a conservative standpoint, one would ask when you approach a neighborhood such as the ones on the show, you can easily identify which race lives there. You can just correctly guess whether it is a low, middle, or high-income area. Black people in America carry a stereotype. The stereotype is that we cannot take care of things when we are handed nice things.

When we build a nice playground or library in a neighborhood, within a few months it becomes vandalized. Regardless of who did it, black people are going to get blamed for it. Often times, black people do not utilize the resources in their own neighborhoods. I believe the reason for the developers is far more than just pushing people out. It is about thinking how much money a frowned upon neighborhood can make. Now, these stereotypes are not accurate, but they are what some people who are pro gentrification might consider.

TA: Gentrification is not about black or white. It is happening everywhere and all over the country. People who are best served through gentrification are white people. They are coming into the community that they never wanted to live, or these were created because they were pushed out of their communities. People walk around and say, “Chicago is a polarized city.” People live in a community where they found others like them who are from Italy, Swedish, Croatia, and other places.

They were pushed there through the political structure. A political structure is going to give money for a community that has dilapidated but not because of what you said about “black people tearing things down.” This is a ridiculous stereotype. In impoverished communities’ things are going down because there are no jobs, no black education and the community becomes something that is feasting over of one another.

Brown people are often to experience this. Jewish people had ghettos where they were pushed into communities and forced to stay there.  Every immigrant has experienced this like Irish and Italians. This is not a new thing, but because of narrow things black people are seen as bad. We think this minimum of them that within a week everything is going to get tagged. Well, why not put a library in the community to saturated with the gangs, violence, and a lack of education.