How Far We've Come
Last year an article from 24/7 Wall St. labeled Erie, PA as the worst city in America for African Americans. The article came at a pivotal time for the city: during a mayoral election, referendums on gang violence, and an economy in need for improvement. The quality of life for African Americans was at the forefront of the conversation. Looking back, have things changed?
"Things are changing since that report, to what degree, that's still a question." Pastor Charles Mock said.
The report cited that 24% of African Americans in the Erie metropolitan area were unemployed and 47% lived at or below the poverty line. So, one year later, has enough been done to fix this issue?
"There's still a lack of an aggressive hiring effort to hire minorities. As far as black teachers we have black police officers, black firefighters,” community resource specialist Paul Gambill said.
Erie County council member André Horton proposed several solutions in response to the article’s focus on lack of employment opportunities and economic disparity. He's supported community benefits agreements and a community college to fix the problems of education and employment but neither have been enacted.
"As of right now a year later the silence is really deafening and very disappointing." Horton said.
Bishop Duane Brock also says though much hasn't changed since the article last year, but there are already opportunities for African Americans.
"Do we have situations and problems and enigmas, absolutely, but yet I find now more than ever the door of opportunity is being opened for African Americans and people at large within our community," Brock said. "When the door of opportunity opens we need to be prepared to walk through those doors.”
One of the people charged with creating those initiatives is/was Michael Outlaw. The mayor's choice for community liaison. He's been tasked with improving equity, inclusion, and diversity in the community, as well as the relationships between African Americans and the police. He started a program in association with the department of justice's strengthening police and community partnerships.
“Being homegrown me knowing personally certain struggles within that paradigm is why we felt it was imperative for us to work with the department of justice to push this program forward so we could prevent critical incidents from occurring in Erie."
"That report for me I see it as the glass being half full versus the glass being half empty perspective, We understand what the report says about blacks but if we're going to move Erie forward, we have to reach across different ethnic groups." Outlaw said.