The problem: Students of color are less likely than white students to learn at grade level, gain access to good schools, or graduate from high school.
The data: Nineteen percent of non-white 4th-graders are considered proficient in English, compared with 40 percent of whites. While 98 percent of whites attend schools in good standing, only 72 percent of students of color do. The graduation rate for students of color is 61 percent, compared with 87 percent for white students.
Momentum: Say Yes to Education, which came to Buffalo five years ago, promises a fully paid college education to eligible Buffalo Public School students and offers support services to every school.
The payoff: Ending this inequity would mean an additional 968 students graduating from high school, and 19,550 more earning a college degree. More people would join the workforce, saving $32.4 million a year in Social Services costs.
Frontline view: “We’re starting to see attention to something that has been neglected for the last 40 years,” said parent advocate Samuel L. Radford III.
Creating educational equity will be “extremely difficult,” he said, given the disproportionate numbers of minority students enrolled in special-education and suspended. “Cultural segregation” between white, suburban teachers and minority city youth also exists.
The problem: Non-whites are imprisoned for felonies at a higher rate than whites, and it’s difficult for them to re-enter society as productive citizens.
The data: Fifty percent of non-white 16- and 17-year-olds in Erie County who are convicted of a crime are sentenced to jail or prison, compared with only 29 percent of whites who are convicted. Among those 18 and older, 42 percent of the non-whites who are convicted are sent to jail; 25 percent of whites are.
Momentum: Open Buffalo Justice and Opportunity Table bring together community members and Buffalo police to improve community police relations and foster mutual respect.
The payoff: Ending this inequity would yield roughly 1,330 fewer children being arrested each year, and nearly 54,000 teens and adults avoiding a criminal record over the next 10 years. That would lead to stronger families and a larger work force pool. Correctional system expenses would be cut by $43 million a year.
Frontline view: “The biggest barrier is attitudes,” said retired State Supreme Court Justice Rose Sconiers. “One of the things you have to do is change these attitudes, and you can’t do that unless you have people at the table to listen to you.”
Overworked public defenders urge minority youth to take plea deals that brand them as felons, so many young people of color are denied a second chance to contribute to society, she said.
The problem: People of color are more likely to live in impoverished, blighted neighborhoods with high exposure to pollution and lead poisoning.
The data: Thirty-six percent of non-white residents live in neighborhoods without concentrated poverty, compared with 86 percent of white residents. The median neighborhood home value in neighborhoods of color is $52,489, compared with $137,893 in white neighborhoods. Children in minority neighborhoods are 12 times more likely have high blood-lead levels.
Momentum: The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative brings together numerous community partners to improve housing conditions and reduce lead risks and other health hazards in children in low-income neighborhoods.
The payoff: Ending this inequity would result in nearly 87,500 people of color no longer living in racially segregated areas. Improved neighborhoods with better schools and higher home values would generate $12.3 million more in property taxes.
Frontline view: “Buffalo is rising, but at the expense of the African-American and Latino population,” said Henry Louis Taylor, director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo. “That is not a sustainable model. If you take a look at the eastern side of Buffalo, you have almost half the city that is highly underdeveloped. You are investing in misery industries rather than investing in industries that build hope.”
The problem: Non-whites earn less than whites and are less likely to own homes and be employed.
The data: The median family income for people of color is $33,061, less than half of what it is for whites. Some 87 percent of white children are born to families living above the poverty line, compared to 50 percent of non-white children.
Momentum: Nearly 4,000 individuals and 165 businesses have signed Mayor Byron Browns’s Buffalo Opportunity Pledge to foster diversity, inclusiveness and equity.
The payoff: Ending this inequity would result in additional 61,606 people employed, grow purchasing power to support businesses, diversify the work force, create more homeowners and build wealth.
Frontline view: “There are things that we can do to make a difference, but people need to get serious,” said Taylor, of the University at Buffalo.
Income and wealth are inextricably tied to existing racial inequities in education and neighborhoods. He faults the lack of will among elected leaders to commit to the kind of changes the community needs to shrink the income and wealth divide.
“Will we build a just city?” Taylor said, “Or will we build the unjust latte city, the city for upwardly mobile white folks. That’s the choice.”
A roundtable group formed by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo released a report, "The Racial Equity Dividend: Buffalo’s Great Opportunity," on Tuesday. More information about the work of the roundtable can be found at www.racialequitybuffalo.org.