Atlanta rapper T.I., born Clifford Harris Jr., is on a mission to rebuild the now desolate neighborhood of Center Hill where he grew up. In a recent interview with Inc. magazine, Harris explained how he plans to help the community by building a grocery store and affordable housing for its residents.
Having grown up in the city during the crack epidemic, T.I. said it drastically changed the community. “Back then, that part of town was considered the lower end of the middle class. After the crack era, the community stalled, and from 1994 to 2012, it became an extremely desolate area for business,” he told the publication. “There’s no major grocery store chain. There’s no fresh produce. There’s no CVS. There are liquor stores.”
Although Atlanta is experiencing an influx of new residents, the revitalizing efforts have been focused on upper-class areas excluding the working class and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. They are left to live in a food desert with no new attractions being built to secure job opportunities.
“Now, with the BeltLine and Mercedes-Benz Stadium a stone’s throw away, there’s an incentive to redevelop. But I didn’t want it to be one of those situations where luxury condos go up, and people who are native are pushed out to the fringes because they can’t afford to live there,” Harris said. “I wanted to provide development that would allow people from the area, who love the community, to be able to afford to stay.”
Last year, the “About The Money” MC started Buy Back the Block, a real estate company and now he’s partnered with fellow rapper and Atlanta-native Killer Mike to work on projects that will help revitalize life for its Black residents. The company has purchased six buildings, an abandoned grocery store and the Bankhead Seafood building, a beloved neighborhood eatery that closed earlier this year after 50 years in business.
T.I. has reportedly spent over $2.7 million of his own money on these projects and still plans to buy other corner lots to develop the neighborhood further. “Green spaces and gardens are incredibly important. We want a movie theater, bowling, laser tag–stuff I didn’t have,” he said. “I’m trying to build a community where the people within it can be proud. If they’re proud, they’ll have more of a sense of wanting to maintain it.”
The rapper visits the community and speaks with its residents every so often. He was also a part of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s transition team and worked on economic development issues and job creation.
Harris said it’s essential for him to be doing this work because people who succeed usually leave their old neighborhoods. “There’s rarely an intent to get rich and make where you came from better for generations to come. It’s extremely ambitious, but I’ve worked myself to a place where I should be the one leading the charge. In my mind, that’s what it means to be king.”