News & Politics

Black Family Welcomed to Kansas Neighborhood with Racist Vandalism

The Smiths had found their new home in Topeka through Habitat for Humanity.


Racist vandals painted slurs on the grass where a black family will move into a Kansas neighborhood with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

A neighbor discovered the racial slurs spray-painted on the grass and tried to remove them with a weed whacker, and he called Habitat officials — who then notified the homeowner-to-be, reported The Topeka Capital-Journal.

“I wanted to cry,” said Shavonn Smith, who is black. “We’ve worked really hard to get to where we are.”

The vandalism happened Aug. 12, the same day white supremacists rallied hundreds of miles away, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counter-protester was killed when a neo-Nazi intentionally drove into a crowd.

The neighbor who found the racial slurs declined to help Habitat file a police report, because he feared retaliation.

Police have not identified any suspects, and city council members denounced the vandalism at this week’s meeting, the newspaper reported.

The Topeka neighborhood’s city council representative said several residents had expressed concern about the Habitat lots, because they saw three foundations constructed closely together and wondered what would be built there.

“There were no signs, just basements,” City Councilman Tony Emerson told the newspaper. “They were concerned if these were going to be manufactured homes. People get nervous when something comes to their neighborhood and they don’t know what it is.”

The organization has built 102 homes for partner families and rehabilitated more than 25 others this year, and its local executive director said she has offered to explain to Smith’s neighbors what they’re building and the value the homes will bring to their community.

However, residents have declined her offer to make a presentation at a neighborhood meeting.

“Conversations with neighborhood leaders have been filled with undertones of the impoverished bringing a ‘criminal element’ to the neighborhood and overt commentary of Habitat homes and families bringing down the overall quality and value of the neighborhood,” said Janice Watkins, head of the Topeka chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat partner families must go through an intensive, 11-month process before owning their home, including financial education and credit counseling.

They must also put in hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” — as Smith and her four children, ages 16 to 9, have done.

“My kids deserve this,” Smith told the Capital-Journal. “This house wasn’t given to us. They’re not just bringing random people to the neighborhood.”

Smith and her husband must complete 300 hours of work, while children over 12 must complete 50 hours each.

“They have to complete half of that before we even start working on their house,” Watkins said earlier this year. “They’re investing in our program and getting to know us. That is also a time when we get to know them when they’re volunteering with us and we’re seeing what struggles they may have and how we can partner with them successfully to provide support throughout the duration of their build.”

Smith said she plans to go door-to-door with a small group to introduce herself to her new neighbors and explain the process she went through to get her home.

“We hope they’ll get some education and understand it a lot more,” she said. “We just want to be part of the neighborhood.”

Travis Gettys is an editor for Raw Story. 

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