Kristyna Jones grew up in family full of urban educators and was fortunate to be raised in a home where education was seen as an adventure, a source of self-discovery, and means to success. One of the greatest influences on her passion for the mission of BE2T was Kris’s grandfather. A life-long learner, 30-year educator, and counsel and sage to generations of young people, he inspired them to see the possibilities beyond there own environment or circumstances.
Kris has a 15-year career in housing and community development with a focus on lending and management strategy. As the COO, she uses these skills to manage the operational and financial needs of the organization.
Born in Cleveland, she’s an IBM kid (I’ve been moved) and lived in a number of cities. Most of her childhood was spent in suburban New York. Kris is an avid reader and writer. She is equally passionate about the Cleveland Browns and the New York Knickerbockers. She also participates in various grassroots political causes.
What brought you to New Orleans?
My friend from grad school, Amber Seely received a fellowship the Rockefeller foundation in 2007. After she moved to New Orleans, I came to visit several times and decided I wanted to move to New Orleans and bring my skills in community development finance and management. From 2007 to 2010 I applied for every job that was available but was never offered a job. Finally in 2010, Amber called me and told me she had found the perfect job for me, but it might only last 18 months. It lasted 12 months and I decided to stay.
I’ve heard you call yourself a gentrifier, explain.
My background is in urban studies and African-American studies. The textbook definition of a gentrifier is someone who is highly educated, upwardly mobile, with disposable income who moves into a neighborhood or city that is economically disenfranchised. I fit that description. The difference between someone like me and a gentrifier who tends to be white is: a black person’s upwardly mobility tends to not impact real estate prices in a poorer neighborhood. Prices, etc. are muted by the mere fact that I am black. There have been a number of studies that show economically strong black communities have real estate values that are less than comparable white communities.
New Orleans is rapidly changing, what advice would you give to Black people in the city about homeownership and why?
If you own a home or property in New Orleans, do everything in your power to keep it. Speculators and house flippers are certainly paying more than what our elders may have paid when they bought their house 20 or 30 years ago– but they are still offering significantly less than it might actually be worth. Keeping a permanent family home means folks will always have some place to live. Those of us who have means in our families need to assist our elders in keeping their homes and paying their rising property taxes–which is the consequence of rising property value–it’s also the way neighborhoods lose their longest term residents.
For young black folk looking to buy a home, I think they need to take a play from white gentrifiers. Be an urban pioneer and move into a transitioning neighborhood and be a good neighbor. Too often too many black folks aren’t willing to do that and then complain later about not being able to live in a neighborhood that is now too expensive. For instance, I keep saying to folks buy property, build, live in the lower 9. The 9 has never gotten the amount of investment or help it has needed post-Katrina. Yet my suggestion that black folk invest there is always met with a scoff. Gentrification is coming to the 9. NORA just selected developers for nearly 200 lots. I just met with a young white woman the other day who is working to build a co-housing development there. This will allow folks to buy lots and build a home or include an existing home in a shared way. It includes shared meeting facility, community meals, and a community center that will hopefully include after school programming. How long will it take before that project is off the ground before more white folks with means decide to make the 9 home? Then we will hear folks upset about not being able to live there.
You’re the co-founder of Brothers Empowered to Teach. Why did you feel it was important as a Black woman to develop and support the initiative?
BE2T has an anti-racist and anti-sexist framework. My co-founder Larry Irvin, and I had several conversations about his experience growing up as a young man in New Orleans. Like many he had one foot on the street and one foot in his education. My own brother had great memories of school until he was in 5th grade and then his academic experience went down hill. I think it is important that I do this work for guys like my brother and Larry.
I also think it is important because not only black boys can benefit from having positive and uplifting experiences in the classroom. Young women benefit too. Young women in low-income communities especially are making choices about who they date and interact with based on the limited interactions some have had with young men. They need to see active, educated Black men. Young men and women have influence on each other and if both buy into owning their future and its possibilities then it’s a win-win.
Additionally, young men in our program need to understand the impact of their perceptions about young women on the young girls they may teach. I think a woman’s perspective is needed as a regular reminder that BE2T is committed to an anti-sexist and anti-racist mission.
I better understand how young men think. I spend a lot of time with them. I also understand how to manage my interactions with them. They process information differently. I have to be direct and give 1 direction or guide at a time. I have also learned how to be more patient. I process information really fast–sometimes too fast and sometimes that causes confusion. In terms of my relationship with Larry, I have learned that respecting him as he grows as a leader. He is a natural, but he did not have the technical skills when we first began this work. At times I’ve had more experience, so I would just get things done. I am learning how to share and let him lead. It has made our work better.
You’ve lived in various cities, what do you love about New Orleans?
I love that it’s a city of families. That folks have been here for generations and know each other well. I love the “Africanness” of NewOrleans. I love the traditions in dance, music, and celebration. I especially love the fact that people protect and take pride in tradition. I love the food–of which I have learned how not to eat all the red beans all the time. (I had to lose that 25 I gained here). I love that I met my love here. I can’t imagine being with a man who was not from New Orleans.