Friday 30 September 2022
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New Community Group Wants to Reclaim the Power of Black Activism

By Tyronda James

Black activist, educator and poet Shaq Payne said community programs changed his life.

Today black activists, black-led grassroots organizations and black city residents met on a city corner to announce a recent formation to “reclaim the power, the voices, ideas and demands of black activism.”

The Coalition for Black Lives met on the corner of North Clinton Avenue and Kelly Street, a site where 6 recent shootings took place.

Their goal is to work toward redirecting funds, resources, creative brainpower, and trauma-informed solutions back to the communities to address root causes.

The Coalition says their call to #RefundRochester “rests in the belief that black pain has far too often subsidized white wealth” and believes in community self-healing and demands the economic resources to do so.

“It is because black lives matter that we stand in solidarity for all black lives and commit to working together toward solutions to preserve black life in our community. We are calling on our elected officials to end the band-aid approach to crime and activate real solutions,” according to the group’s press release.

Local attorney and musician Danielle Ponder said the social problems that plague white communities are met with treatment or diversion programs like Project Hope, while the black communities’ social problems are met with more police and programs like Project Exile.

“These punitive measures are destroying our communities and are not eradicating the problem. An increase in police manpower will not prevent shootings, and for the shootings that happened this weekend, there is only a 20% chance that RPD will clear those cases. RPD has been ineffective at preventing crimes and solving crimes. It is time to reimagine public safety and invest in our communities,” she said.

“The problem we see in this community right now is an economic problem, and the only way to fix it is to invest in this neighborhood.”

The Coalition is calling on investment in education, housing, employment, mental health programs, and more. Investing in programs that sincerely aim to help the black community.

Ashley Gantt, Free the People ROC says programs like the crime and gun violence reduction strategy program Project Exile are praised and says no data shows its crime reduction effectiveness.

“Project exile is a project that has been used against the Black community to boost a DA’s conviction rate. Project exile has no remorse or regard for the Black community,” Gantt said.

“Project Exile is one of those tools that has not only boosted the careers of DA’s, but also fuel mass incarceration. Project Exile is violent, and I am here as a survivor of project exile to tell you this is not the way to build public safety. We demand change.”  

The Coalition seeks change now for Black lives!

“It is time to reimagine a distribution of funds that is equitable and puts Rochester residents’ livelihoods first. There is too much money leaving this city to blame Rochesterians for its woes. There are not enough black salaries committed to the work of addressing root causes on the ground and repairing the damage that structural racism has done to our communities,” said Reenah Golden, Avenue Blackbox Theatre.

Golden said grassroots organizations like The Avenue Blackbox Theatre, Flower City Noire Collective, Rochester Black Pride, 540W Main and more are forced to crowdsource to raise funds and never see government funds, grants and resources received by larger organizations who have little to no impact or presence in black and brown communities.

Shaq Payne of ‘Starvin’ Artist Productions and Vertus H.S. educator said programs should not have to raise funds for years when there is money right here in the city.

“A lot of our youth are lacking opportunities, not because the programs aren’t out there, it’s the funding. The only way that you’re going to see change is if you pour into the community, Payne said.

“We’re only going to affect these children if we pour into their direct spaces. There are organizations and opportunities out there that need the funding,”