Young People of Buffalo

young man wants change

Since Common Core; a state-led effort in 2009 to improve English and Mathematical standards for High School students to be better prepared for college or the workforce, the percentage of students graduating from High School has dropped by five percent, to now, 53 percent. And less than two percent of the city’s budget is spent on economic development, culture and recreation, health and community services. Without the latter, and when you sprinkle in the former, what kind of economy will young people have to participate in? Who will give them jobs and offer spaces for them to rest their anxious and troubled minds? And what axioms will they respect, let alone, choose to follow?

Buffalo, the city that I love dearly,  is the third highest poverty-stricken city in the nation. Again, Buffalo, and despite what our local, optimistic politicians are saying and always waging their fingers about, is the ward of the the state and can barely afford to cover sixty percent of its operating budget. Income inequality is visible and rampant in Buffalo, as well—-the average household income in Erie and Niagara counties is more than twice as high among whites ($55,000) as it is among African Americans ($25,000) and Hispanics ($27,000).

This is very alarming. I cannot imagine such abnormalities continuing for another decade without there being massive uprisings and talk(s) of Revolution. Too much? Then, excuse my brassiness, common reader, I was not trying to provoke repressed inklings of anxiety and fear…..what I am getting at is, that, the more marginalized members of our city—especially, the young folks, realize that they are not apart of the gigantic brush of prosperity that politicians are always raving about, then the more likely it is for them to have discourse about Revolution.

“….Buffalo is experiencing a renaissance,” I’ve heard some people say, ” Canal side and infrastructure are on the upswing, in Buffalo.” Soon, those same people would typically add, ” businesses are investing in Buffalo. heck, we have Terry Pegula, the guy is single-handedly keeping Buffalo Hockey and Football alive!” Such individuals are often thirtysomethings living in the suburbs and driving fancy cars. When I would ask them about young people of color in the city who, maybe because of income inequality or subtle racism, cannot afford to share such sentiments, they often snicker and blame the short-comings of the said group on their parents. ” It’s all about the parents, bro,” I remember one white guy saying to me. ” If your parents didn’t emphasize education and getting a decent job, then so will the children.”

Naturally, it is easy to blame parents for the inappropriate behaviors of young people, but that’s just too easy and narrow-minded. Nowadays, parents have no control of what, someone, like a Terry Pegula does with his money and what communities or businesses he chooses to support. Parents, have no lobbying power nor the economic fullness to force businesses to stop gentrifying their communities or banks to stop circumventing funds out of their communities. And we’re not even scratching the surface. The socio-economic footprints of the many parents of young people, thesedays, were prescribed to them due to poor public policies, deindustrialization, capital flight, suburban sprawl, ever-more concentrated poverty, and much more.

Sure, parents have to be held under the same microscope of accountability, but so does municipalities, businesses, and government.  What I am getting at is, we are all apart of this exciting Buffalo—that is doing well and experiencing a modest recovery, that, we cannot, no matter how well we’re doing, forget about the younger generation. The reality that they inherited was not constructed by their parents alone….everyone had something to do with it.  Thus, personal, ignorant sentiments aside, it is our collective responsibility to reinvest in the city, both morally and financially.

If Common Core is choosing to make it more difficult for our young people to graduate High school, If politicians are electing to paint a picture of a more gentrified Buffalo, If municipalities agree to continue disinvesting in economic development, culture, and recreational centers, health and community services, then, whom amongst us will speak up?

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