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The silence of our white leadership

How many of us are uncomfortable about the recent, damning report that Rochester's poverty rate is among the highest in the nation? The "Hard Facts" report released in August by ACT Rochester confirms that zoning codes, employment practices, voting laws, criminal justice policies: all of these have helped keep people of color impoverished.

CITY quotes Ed Dougherty, the author of the report, saying that "the racial disparity isn't accidental. It's the result of deliberate actions, by individuals, businesses, and more significantly, government. It's the result of decade after decade of racism, much of it intentional."

That's an indictment of us all. And since the report is meant to "spur action," I need help. We all need help in order to help. I need a list of actions I can take.

When I was a Rochester City School District educator, I had the privilege of working with professionals of color who taught me great lessons in how to be an equalizer. I learned that the white population's mistrust of anyone who is different – be it a person of color, of different ability, of gender uniqueness – is prevalent. So what do I do?

As a retiree, I've been volunteering at St. Martin's soup kitchen on Ontario Street off Scio Street. It has been a well-run mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph for more than 35 years. It's helping me do something, but it doesn't feel like enough. I go home to my suburban home, where the garbage is picked up along with any litter that dares to deface the area. I have sufficient police protection. I see very few faces of color. And I stay connected with former students from my career who are working jobs without benefits, raising families in one-bedroom apartments they can barely afford.

The divide is deep. Reaching out across it isn't that difficult. Yet what more can I do?

Walmart continues to keep employees in poverty.

Once, when I was with a 7-year-old student in a suburban grocery store and I asked him to go pick out the cereal he'd like, he said: "You better come with me. They'll think I'm trying to steal something." How did he get to know that at such a young age? How do white people get those attitudes?

I would love a list of ways that we can all do better: individuals, businesses, and most significant, government. I don't need to be convinced by the "Hard Facts" report, grateful as I am for the information. I don't need to be on a committee or a task force. I need the leadership of the Rochester community to remind me what steps I can take to reduce racism.

I need ways to show businesses how they can welcome little boys of color, not make them afraid. I need specific ways to hold government accountable when disparities are perpetuated by laws that should be changed.

And most of all, I need the silence ended.


Paying for the arts

On Urban Journal's "Our Quest to Become a 'City of the Arts'": My wife and I enjoy going to Geva and the Eastman Theatre to see the RPO a few times every year. But I don't agree that we should support the arts with a mandatory 1 percent off the top with any building project in Rochester.

Last week you stated: "Poverty, home ownership, unemployment, student achievement are all worse for people of color." Isn't addressing that financially more important than the arts?

You also mention that we need to "create more affordable housing for low-income artists." That tells me we have too many artists in this town. Simple supply and demand.

Instead of constantly finding ways to spend other people's money, how about telling all these artists to treat it as a hobby until they make it big and get a good job. I understand that people become artists for the love of it. But maybe they should think of the financial consequences of going down that path. Get a business degree instead. Then the supply of artists will go down, and those left will be able to flourish.

You also stated: "The arts can't support themselves. We said for years that we're a City of the Arts." Who's "we"? And if the arts can't support themselves, maybe they shouldn't be here. Just like the Fast Ferry.

Why do people push for things where there isn't demand to support it? Why doesn't Wegmans build a store at the end of everyone's street? It would benefit so many people as each store would be far less crowded, and we could all walk to the store. Supply and demand.

And please don't compare us to Boston, where there are far more millionaires than there are in Rochester. Also, salaries are 25 to 35 percent higher.


"...the life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose – and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization." – John F. Kennedy, 1962.

John Quincy Adams called on Congress to promote ''the cultivation and encouragement of the mechanic and of the elegant arts, the advancement of literature, and the progress of the sciences.''

George Washington, in his first address to Congress, implored them that "there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature.''

The notion of reducing the arts in our society to a mere calculation of supply versus demand is appalling.