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30 years after landmark study, UB researchers find little progress on Black poverty in Buffalo

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Scholars from the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College, along with community members, met Thursday in Hayes Hall at the UB South Campus to discuss the findings of a new report on the state of Buffalo’s Black community that was prepared by UB's Center for Urban Studies.

The findings, according to those who produced the study, show that the majority of Buffalo's Black population – judging by the metrics of employment, housing, education and community – is no better off three decades after an initial study on the state of Black Buffalo that preceded it.

The latest report, “The Harder We Run: The State of Black Buffalo in 1990 and the Present,” is a follow-up to a study that was prepared 31 years ago entitled "African Americans and the Rise of Buffalo's Post Industrial City, 1940 to the Present." The 2021 report aimed to determine how the city’s emerging knowledge-based economy was affecting the African American community.

Henry Louis Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies and a professor of urban and regional planning at the UB School of Architecture and Planning, was the lead researcher on both studies.

"This past summer, Pastor George Nicholas and the Buffalo Health Equity Center asked me to review the 1990 state of Black Buffalo and to determine if we had made progress over the past 31 years," Taylor said.

The answer, according to researchers, was largely "no." Nicholas, the forum's moderator, said the opportunity to begin transforming Black Buffalo 31 years ago was not approached with any sense of intentionality.

"Unfortunately, because we weren't intentional, because we didn't make things a priority, and we didn't hold anyone accountable, the condition of Black Buffalo did not get better," Nicholas said.

Taylor said the idea behind the 1990 study was to take a long view of Black Buffalo.

"The idea was to gain insight into the trend lines. We wanted to see where that community was going, whether it was rising or whether it was falling along the trajectory," Taylor said.

He said the studies of sociologist William Julius Wilson on the relationship between Blacks and the post-industrial economy informed the development of the current study's theoretical framework and model.

"Wilson argued that the emerging knowledge economy was creating a new type of Black inequality, that as the economy evolved and developed, some Blacks would be pushed up, but the majority would be pulled down and locked in the low-income sector of the labor market," Taylor said.

He said that Wilson found the problems of joblessness, low wages and poverty were creating social challenges that were to become only more intractable unless policy makers forged more effective strategies to combat inequality.

Other experts taking part in Thursday's forum and offering commentary on the report by Center for Urban Studies were Heather Abraham, an associate professor and director of the Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic in UB’s School of Law; Athena Mutua, a professor and Floyd H. & Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar in the UB School of Law; Robert Silverman, professor of urban and regional planning at the School of Architecture and Planning; and Ron Stuart, chairman and professor of sociology at Buffalo State College.

The two-hour forum ended with a call for a follow-up meetings and future steps that can be taken towards elevating conditions in Buffalo's African American community. 

"Let's figure out how we can take this information and to not make the same mistakes that were made in 1990 ... and make a commitment to work for and towards equity," Nicholas said. 

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