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Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable suggests closing gaps will boost economic renaissance

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A panel of 30 leaders from the local public, business, not-for-profit and faith-based sectors has released a report, suggesting the region can build on recent improvements and realize a full economic renaissance if it takes steps to reduce the gaps in racial equity.

The Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable formally released its report Tuesday morning inside the Buffalo History Museum in a presentation that lasted nearly an hour.

"We're seeing and we're feeling a new energy and excitement about the economic turnaround in Western New York," said Alphonse O'Neil White, the Roundtable chairman, in his opening remarks. "One thing is absolutely clear. We have a moment in time, and in order for us to continue the momentum and to accelerate this momentum,  we need to make sure that every member of our community has the opportunity to take part in it, and fulfill their potential."

The report focuses on four categories: Education and Job Readiness, Criminal Justice and Safety, Quality of Life and Neighborhoods, and Income and Wealth. Those who prepared the report say that in all categories, bridging racial equity gaps will put more people into the workforce and, in turn, create more wealth for the overall community.

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and a member of the Roundtable, stated while delivering the report that more equitable treatment of individuals under the law, especially for non-violent offenses, will save Erie County up to $40 million per year. 

"When we employ alternative approaches, rather than incarceration, 2,000 fewer people will be sentenced to jail or prison each year, keeping more families intact and increasing the number of youth and adults thta are learning and earning," she said.

Creating equal education and job training opportunities by closing racial equity gaps, Roundtable members say, would boost the local gross domestic product by more than one billion dollars annually. That, according to the report, would allow 36,000 additional families to buy homes while the community would enjoy an additional $12 billion in wealth.

The Roundtable first assembled two years ago and says its findings are backed by measurable research.

"It's really all data-based. There's nothing here that really based on emotion," said State Assemblywoman and Roundtable member Crystal Peoples-Stokes. "Everything is based on the data and the numbers prove that if we change things, the richest people in our community will get richer, the poorer people in our community will earn more money and the middle class will increase."

Business executives are among those sitting among the Roundtable members. Paul Vukelic, president and CEO of Try-It Distributing, spoke of fostering training within his company to create opportunities for all.

"My goal, in providing racial equity impact analysis throughout my organization, is to build a more inclusive culture in which all my employees feel welcome, supported and most importantly safe," he said. 

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, during the presentation, hinted of more initiatives to come from his administration.

"I will soon be announcing the next phase of the city's Opportunity Agenda, a series of executive orders that will formalize and enhance current policies and new policies, targeted to further grow and diversify our workforce in Buffalo and support the growth of minority and women-owned businesses, including professional services companies," Mayor Brown said.