Reflections: Our Personal & Professional Efforts Toward Racial Equity is a monthly blog. Each month, we will reflect on what we are doing either personally or professionally to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in our work. View more
I was recently watching an interview of Roger Wilkins, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General under President Johnson. Referring to Ralph Ellison’s great American novel, The Invisible Man, Wilkins stated, “One of the great indignities that Black people suffered was being invisible. White people not seeing them or as Ellison said, ‘What you see is something on the fringe of me or what you see is a figment of your imagination, but you refuse to see me’… and the worst thing you can do to a human being is to make her or him believe he doesn’t count…”
Black people have been discounted for far too long in Syracuse and Onondaga County. I grew up here; I spent my formative years primarily in public housing — the James-Geddes projects, Pioneer Homes, and Eastwood Housing, which is a short distance from the Palace Theater and Shop City. As a preteen in the early 70s, I would frequently go to a nearby park, Norwood, to play basketball. One day, one of my white peers, Dominick, who lived in a house on a street closer to the park, got angry about something and took his ball. Although I can’t recall why he was upset, I remember clearly what he said to me and the other Black boys as he was walking away. “You guys need to get out of here; leave my park and go back to where you’re from.” We respond, “Your park? This is our park, too. Go back? We live in Eastwood.” He looked at us and with an air of disgust says, “You don’t live in Eastwood. You live in the projects!” In an instant, Dominick articulated what I and many Black people who live in neighborhoods with high poverty and other parts of Syracuse believe that White folks think about us: even though Black people live IN this community, Black people aren’t necessarily a legitimate part OF it. Therefore, as Ellison noted, we are invisible; we don’t count.
For the past thirty-plus years, I have been committed to serving the most vulnerable people, particularly those in need of advocacy or representation. As an educator and student-minister of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, I have been a critical ally to those engaged in grassroots efforts for equality and/or equal justice and have supported issues that positively impact Black, Latino, and people living in poverty. I continue to support various initiatives throughout Syracuse that foster building a strong, vibrant community.
The Central New York Community Foundation’s Black Equity and Excellence Fund is one such initiative. It acknowledges that Black people can identify issues that need to be addressed and, more importantly, it acknowledges that they can contribute to resolving them.
Supporting the magnificent work of Black-led organizations makes their excellence more visible to the greater community, where, up to now, it has been invisible. Through its commitment of $1 million to the fund, the Community Foundation is attempting to intentionally see, and financially support, Black-led efforts to implement solutions. While it is not nearly enough money, by publicly acknowledging the fact that there is a racial equity gap in Syracuse and that Black excellence exists, the Community Foundation is making an important START in impacting the inequities that are the result of the past and present practices and policies.
The following are few examples of Black organizations doing excellent work. NRJ Consulting, LLC has an online training series to help Black business owners increase awareness about their services and products. UrbanTsyr created a digital information repository for social, cultural and educational events, activities and programming for Black people and people of color. Jubilee Homes of Syracuse, which has made a significant impact in housing and economic development on the southwest area of the city, has Build to Work workforce development programming. It helps bridge the gap between “employers’ wants and workers’ needs” through hands-on case management. There are many more efforts that the Black Equity and Excellence Fund has supported over the past two years – from academics and art to wealth and wellness. Although the total measure of its impact remains to be seen, we are hopeful that every effort, large and small, is increasing the visibility and viability of the Central New York Black community.
View a listing of Black Equity & Excellence grants here.