WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- The latest report from the financial news website 24/7 Wall Street has the Cedar Valley as the 5th worst city for African-Americans. In 2018, Waterloo and Cedar Falls were named the worst cities in the country for African-Americans. In 2019, the report put them in the number three spot.
To create the rankings, the report looks at several factors in each of the country’s 386 metropolitan areas. They include the gap between white and Black residents in poverty, education, income, homeownership, unemployment, mortality, and incarceration.
THE 2020 REPORT
The report combines both Waterloo and Cedar Falls. Black residents account for 7.3% of the two cities’ population, though there is a larger African-American population in Waterloo.
The report found the median income for black residents was $28,700, nearly half the white median income.
Unemployment for black residents is 16%, nearly five times the 3.4% unemployment rate for white residents.
“Black workers are far more likely to struggle to find a job than their white counterparts, as over the last five years,” the report said. “Such disparity in employment opportunities has pronounced financial consequences.”
According to the report, about 72% of white residents in the two cities own homes, more than double the 34% of black residents who do.
“We are Making Some Slow Movements”
After the Cedar Valley first topped the worst cities for African Americans, KWWL gathered community leaders to discuss the Cedar Valley’s economic disparities and what was needed to close the gap.
A year and a half later, we are checking back in with some of those same leaders to see what has changed and what still needs to be done.
“It was shocking for people to see that in black and white the disparities that would land us in the number one position so in 2018,” Joy Briscoe said. “I wasn’t in shock because those very factors are things that my loved ones and myself have experienced as part of our lived experiences.”
The report made the issues front and center and opened the community’s eyes to them. Though Briscoe said, it will take more than just action.
“I know people are that dedicated, and I know that we do have people in the community that are understanding,” she said. “It is time for us to be less talking and more acting with intent.”
The report lays bare the action that still needs our attention. Briscoe said the wage disparity and level of income should be a focal point for the community.
“We’re talking about a rate of income that is at a poverty level,” she said. “If we focus there, that’s going to cross over into homeownership right because if I can make more money, then I get out of poverty, and I can get out of a mode of survival into a mode of setting goals.”
In the wake of the 2018 report, Briscoe and others founded the 24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium. It aims to increase personal and professional development, amplify leadership and growth strategies and build networks of influence for Black Professionals in the Cedar Valley.
The non-profit has worked with community and business leaders to improve their culture when it comes to diversity in hiring.
“They have to be intentional and casting their net farther wider to get a diverse enough slate, and then actually hire people,” 24/7 Black President Sharina Sallis said. “You have to create a space where people can feel like they can thrive, belong, and do their best work. That takes an internal look at the system and organization to say, ‘we haven’t always shown up the best, but we want to be better.’ It’s going to take some acknowledgment and self-reflection.”
Both of the cities mayors and business leaders have been on-board.
Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said the initiative is “encouraging.”
In addition to getting local businesses to take an internal look, Sallis said the community needs to take a step back and listen.
“If our end goal is to create a community where everyone can feel valued, thrive, make financial decisions have the earning power that they want, we have to start with the people who have been marginalized the most,” Sallis said. “You have to amplify and ask for their voices in their opinions but not just ask and amplify their voices. You got to listen to their voices, and you got to allow them to lead.”
Change can move slowly, but Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green said he believes it isn’t just about getting off the 24/7 Wall Street report. It is about fostering a community that is inclusive and allows everyone to thrive.
“It’s not something that will be fixed in a year,” he said.
He said addressing it will take the city government, the public safety department, and community stakeholders all working together.
“When we look at policies,” he said. “I’m looking for the Human Rights Commission to help us understand through research, data, and qualitative research like stories anecdotes to help us understand where we’re missing the mark in terms of social justice and racial injustice and to work forward from there.”
“It is why I ran”
Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said he doesn’t want his city on any list, regardless of if it is first, third, or fifth.
“I want to have the city that is the best place for African Americans to live in the entire country,” he said. “That’s the goal.”
He ran for office to forge new partnerships and bring people together.
“There should be no one within our community that doesn’t have an equal shot at success,” he said. “Whether you’re black or you’re white, or whoever you are, you need to be able to have a fair opportunity for success.”
Hart said several businesses like John Deere and Veridian Credit Union have reached out to him to see how they can be a part of the solution. He’d like more businesses to do the same.
“When we take a look at overall homeownership, we have a few programs that are doing incredible things,” he said. “We need to have our banks come together and say, hey, what can we do with regards to homeownership and making sure that everyone has equitable access.”
Hart touted the cities 2019 $17 million investment in the historic Walnut area.
“We have to be sensitive to those opportunities for engagement and investment,” he said. “That’s what’s going to turn this community around by making sure that we support and push all those initiatives that create overall change.”
This isn’t a Waterloo issue or a Cedar Falls issue, it is a Cedar Valley issue. It isn’t just numbers on a list either.
“This is saying that most black people in our community aren’t thriving,” Briscoe said. “We have to look at it like this, not even just about the numbers, but these are actually individuals who are affected by this and decide we’re going to put an intentional focus on creating transformation for black people in this community.”
Instead of a problem, Sallis said we should look at it as an opportunity.
“There has to be an intentional focus and a commitment to creating and being innovative enough in this space,” she said. “We can really create the kind of beloved community that we want and desire to see.”
Hart said the issues won’t be easy to solve, but it will take all of us to do it.
“We need to figure out how we can take a look at some of these systematic challenges that we faced, and how to take this to the next level,” he said. “That is more than just one black mayor. That is all of us coming together as an entire community and saying that at this point in our history, we want it to be written that we stepped in to challenge took care of some of the systemic problems and challenges.”
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