The city of Rochester’s focus on economic equity remains a priority.
At an April 30 service at the First Genesis Baptist Church, citing the efforts of civil rights advocates across history, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans spoke against systemic inequality and for transformational change in the city.
The event—titled “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?”—was organized by the United Christian Leadership Ministries to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Right where we sit here, there was a red line around this area,” said Evans, delivering the keynote address at the church in Rochester’s northeast section. “And you wonder now why these areas have the highest crime and the highest vacancy rates? That was by design. We’re still trying to recover from that.”
As a digital map from the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab shows, Home Owners’ Loan Corp. documents from 1930s classified much of the inner “crescent” area of the city as “hazardous.” HOLC identified it as one of the poorest sections of the city with dilapidated buildings and high rates of foreign and “negro” families.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data on the area, families living there today are less likely to be foreign born, but are still predominantly Black or Hispanic. The median household income is $19,954 and 48.6 percent of households are under the poverty line.
“We must remember and keep in demand that promise that was made in 1865. It’s not what was owed us, it’s what was promised us,” said Evans, referencing the promise of economic equity behind the phrase to former slaves of “40 acres and a mule.”’
“I don’t care what (Gov. Ron) DeSantis says in Florida or any of these other states that want to erase history. You can’t erase history; history is our greatest teacher,” he continued. “When some folks want to whitewash history, they want to erase those promises that were made. Those promises that were not kept and that we are still fighting for today.”
Key aspects of Evans’ plan to fight for economic equity include increasing opportunities for home ownership, youth engagement, and entrepreneurship. Efforts such as Buy the Block, the Office of Financial Empowerment, small loans for business startups and workforce development programs are already in place.
Another future effort the mayor mentioned was the Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program. The program, which Evans said is likely to start later this month, will provide a monthly stipend of $500 to 350 households in need for 12 months. The program will also help determine the impacts of a guaranteed income for future policy decisions. Evans said he already is fairly certain about the success of poverty-reduction programs like this, however.
“As evidence of that, it happened during COVID,” Evans said, referring to the government actions such as the expanded child tax credit. “Did you know that cut childhood poverty by 40 percent? Now, where is childhood poverty? It’s right up where it was before. So we know that guaranteed basic income works.”
ACT Rochester data shows that in the city of Rochester, from 2017 to 2021, 46 percent of children were living in poverty. In 2000, the rate was 38 percent. In Monroe County, the number is around 20 percent.
While Evans calls himself an “optimistic realist” about these programs, creating a mentality shift is just as important for the mayor when it comes to fighting for economic opportunity.
“We need to ensure that these neighborhoods have more than a check cashier, more than a liquor store, more than a smoke shop—they deserve more than that. We must condition our neighbors to know they deserve that,” Evans said. “We need our people to understand they do not need to be a prison to their certainties. Folks in power, like me and other people in here, we must be creating the condition to ensure better opportunity. We must do that.
“This will not be done by Malik Evans alone. It’s not me, it’s we,” the mayor added, highlighting the importance of religious institutions in this effort. “We must do it together with love, something Dr. King said many times. We must carry on where Dr. King left off together. We must press on together.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].
I’d be more impressed by Mayor Evans’ proposal if he opted to reduce its burden on the city taxpayers by simultaneously scrapping such expensive and frivolous projects as Aqueduct Reimagined, the replacement of the Broad Street Bridge with a glorified frog pond. Price tag $85,000,000 to $110,000,000 , of which the state is only kicking in about 10%. Time to prioritize Mr. Mayor.
Michael, those are legacy items. You know these items that indicate accomplishment. Sometimes a plaque is placed mentioning who was the Mayor at the time. That type of accomplishment outweighs education, which is a challenge Mayor Evans will avoid at all cost, because that is difficult and has a significant chance of failure. That failure could cost him in the next election. Better to point fingers than to resolve, apparently. Sadly it keeps one in the political “game”. Education does not score well in risk analysis. Kinda sad.
The mayor has extremely limited influence on what the RCSD does. The city contributes about 15% of the district’s budget with very limited influence on how the money is used. His predecessor asked the state for expanded powers regarding the schools and was quite rightly laughed at. Everyone (well, ALMOST everyone) understands that school and student performance are NOT Evans’ responsibilities. Nor will the continuing failure of the schools have the slightest impact on his future political plans. Criticize those who ARE responsible. The school Board and the district superintendent. Bashing Evans for something outside of his control is a waste of time. What IS his chief responsibility (and that of the city council) is a rational stewardship of city finances. Bill Johnson failed spectacularly with his asinine Less-Than-Fast Ferry and to a lesser extent the High Falls boondoggle. Evans is following in Bill’s footsteps with the scores of millions of tax dollars to be blown on the Aqueduct Reimagined fiasco.
You know what I don’t hear Mayor Evans……let me repeat, you know what I don’t hear is an outcry regarding the RCSD and its failure, it’s FAILURE to provide an education that will allow kids to attend college and or attend a certificate program that will allow for a living wage job. When are you going to point in the direction of school failure? WHEN? If you don’t graduate from high school and drop out to the streets, how will this economic equity ever come to pass? Decades of failure. Lowering the bar toward an education statistic that NYS will be happy with. Then kids that do graduate are unprepared for higher education and drop out in their first semester. That is thee worst thing you can do to our youth, make promises that are lies. Say it, Mr. Mayor, have the guts and the honesty to say it, tell your constituents the truth. The RCSD will not, or cannot provide an educational journey that gives kids a chance. ALL kids have innate skills and or gifts…..ALL KIDS. It’s up to the K-12 journey to help them discover their innate skills/gifts. It’s not being done. And that’s the problem Mr. Mayor. You either don’t know that fact or would rather blame the economic equity on others. You also have an equity problem in the RCSD. You have an East High School that has made strides and have provided educational success. You don’t, however, care to replicate that success to the other high schools in the city. Why is that Mr. Mayor? I’ll debate you anytime, anyplace and anywhere. I have tried to write you and your staff and make suggestions…..zero response. Why? I’m never giving up on urban Rochester and its responsibility to teach kids the way they learn. And I don’t even live there anymore. So why do I care? Because I give a damn about their future. Do you?
As it relates to helping put ALL of Rochester, especially and particularly the suffering Black masses on a road to socioeconomic and sociopolitical equity and prosperity __ as opposed to continuing to pretend that it already is __ Mr. Evans has NOT been acting, and still is NOT acting in ways that indicate he’s totally serious and/or completely committed. Long Standing adages such ‘TALK IS CHEAP,’ and ‘THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING’ still hold true (perhaps more so than ever). The recent speech at the church and others, such as the recent, so-called ‘State of the City’ address __ represents TALK.
HERE’S THE REALITY:
I don’t seem to be getting a response to my assessment of the “economic equity” issue. Mayor Malik Evans either hasn’t read my comment, or is quietly avoiding the education subject. Education is thee answer to economic equity. The RCSD, the system, doesn’t seem to understand or care about this economic equity. It can’t tie or connect the education with living wage jobs. It can’t connect the profession and careers to a required education. Urban Rochester has had, for decades now, the worst school system in NYS, when are we going to wake up to that fact? When? Could it be that the Mayor is a bit shy about entering the education arena? To address that issue of failure takes guts. It will tick-off the status quo. It will….and then some. But if we don’t address the education, it won’t get done. Period. So lets start by admitting that education is thee issue in economic equity. Then take the considerable success we have seen with East High School and replicate that throughout the urban district. Then bring back the Edison Technical and Industrial High School of old and address to many, many trade opportunities that exist. Vocational school is not a four letter word. That would be a great start. I’ll pitch in where I can for the duration of my time on this planet. Why? Because our kids are the future. And ALL kids have innate skills and or gifts. They need to be discovered in the K-12 educational journey. Again…that simple. Show them professions and careers. Allow them to connect the boring academics with those opportunities. If that cannot or will not be done Mayor Evans, stop with the complaining already. Also, that simple. I’m waiting.