Rolanda Ward photo

Dr. Rolanda Ward of Niagara University speaks during Thursday evening’s talk at the TReC building about various racial disparities in Niagara County and how to address them.

The conversations about improving the lives of racial minorities have to start somewhere.

That is what the Entrepreneur School of Thought hopes to address through a series of talks at the Niagara Global Tourism Institute’s TReC building on Niagara Street, which first started on Sept. 15. The second session took place Thursday evening and the next session is on Nov. 17.

Dr. Rolanda Ward, director of Niagara University’s Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity and Mission, led the discussions, which centered around racial disparities in Niagara County and what could be done to address them.

“There was a need to unite all the different organizations in Niagara Falls, and press forward to make some positive changes in the communities of Niagara Falls,” said Trent Hamilton, president of the Entrepreneur School of Thought.

The first session in September centered on what racial oppression looks like, not on an individual level, but as systemic and institutional measures.

Attendees on Thursday like Rev. Raymond Allen and Curtis Griggs came out to learn more about what was going on in the community and get a better understanding of what they can do to help out.

“The good thing about these sessions is it moves from talking to doing,” Allen said. “The first part was the presentation. This part is about, ‘now let’s get to work and get to building.’ ”

Ward and her assistants shared statistics dealing with issues like housing, employment, transportation, and food security in Niagara County, showing disadvantages for African-Americans.

In 2022, 11.8% of Niagara County residents and 10.5% of Erie County residents reported being food insecure, compared to 10.5% in New York state and nationwide.

In 2020, 4.1% of white households in New York state reported low food security and an additional 3% of white households reported very low food security. That is compared to 13.1% of black households who reported low food security and an additional 8% of black households reporting very low food security.

In 2018, 31% of Niagara Falls residents reported having no money for food as an urgent need. In 2017, 49% of the city’s population was either in poverty of struggling financially, compared to 12.7% of New York state residents and 11.9% of United States citizens.

Roughly 54% of homeowners in Niagara County are overburdened, or using more than 30% of income for housing costs, in 2017 compared to 28% across New York state. For renters, 78% in Niagara County are overburdened compared to 50% of the state.

As of 2019, African-Americans make up 38% of the homeless population in Niagara County even though they make up 7.2% of the population. That trend is present nationwide with African-Americans making up 45% of the homeless population while making up 13.6% of the overall population. National rates of homeless people in shelters did decrease by 8% from 2020 to 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is hard to tell if that was due to government financial assistance or a fear of being in close contact with others in shelters.

One in five households in Niagara Falls do not have cars and 58% of residents travels by other means like walking, taking the bus, or a taxi. 36% of the city’s most vulnerable reported walking to work. Public transportation is not available for those working on nights and weekends, with the distance walked to work adding up to four hours to a person’s workday.

From 2014 through 2018, with approximately 106,000 people working in Niagara County, 88.8% of those employed were white and 5.7% were black. In 2021, the state unemployment rate for white populations was 6% while the unemployment rate for black populations was 10.1%.

With those statistics in mind, Ward wanted those in attendance to dream up with what they want to see in their communities.

Hamilton has been grateful for the turnout, with Thursday’s event drawing more than 60 people.

“I’m hoping for positive change systemically and institutionally throughout the city,” he said. “We want a better quality of life for our most marginalized communities and community members in Niagara Falls.”

The next session of this series takes place at 5 p.m., Nov. 17 at the TReC building, that one focusing on a call to action for turning those dreams people have into reality.

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