A New Year, A New Peoria? By Chama St. Louis

With each new year, comes the idea that humanity gets a new start. People are usually bubbling with excitement and optimism for what the new year could potentially bring.

It seems to be the time where even those who are suffering under the hand of oppression and systemic racism are hopeful that a new year will bring about positive change.

Those who have suffered loss by gun violence, in 2018, move into the new year with heavy hearts, but still find solace in the idea of a new start that will bring about healing.

A new year is probably one of the few times where seemingly the entire country is letting go of what went wrong in the past and celebrating what positivity could be manifested for the future.

However, under current leadership, what is not so promising for Peorians is a decrease in gun violence, homicides and poverty. What is not so promising is an increase in opportunity for those of us who have been severely neglected and forgotten about.

Peoria still ranks as one of the worst places in the country for blacks to live. At some point, someone has to be willing to take the unpopular approach of treating the disease not symptoms.

More police and more arrests as a solution to violence without addressing the root of the problem, is a band-aid over a much larger issue of inequity in communities of color that repeatedly goes unaddressed.

Poverty. Inequality and inequity is a direct correlation to poverty. Poverty is directly tied to high crime rates. We must ask ourselves, why are Peoria’s leaders unwilling to invest in building up black and brown communities? Why are Peoria’s leaders continuously fostering an environment that breeds poverty?

In order to answer this question, we must look at what thriving black communities mean for a city: Black Empowerment. With financial resources and opportunity, comes power. This would mean fully funded public education. It would mean better housing in black communities. It would mean black-owned grocery stores and thriving businesses. It would mean the ability to not just have a seat at the table, but, to build the table and choose who sits at the table.

There’s a wealth of studies that prove that crime rates reduce significantly the more affluent an area is. Cities who perpetually neglect whole groups of people economically see more crime rates among those who are neglected.

Peoria has created a “hunger game” atmosphere, within the black community. Our current elected leaders are unwilling to push a progressive agenda and take BOLD stances on behalf of empowering black and brown people in the city. Our communities are suffering because to put it bluntly, no one wants to share power with black people.

There’s a network in the city who like things exactly the way they are – A city that benefits a few on the backs of the poor. This is why each new year, brings no new promises of a better Peoria.

We have the power to change Peoria. We could literally turn the city’s current leadership structure upside down with intentionality at the voting polls. We must be unafraid to push for accountability and demand change.

Power has never been given. You have to take it. With 2019, comes another city council at-large election. There are five seats to fill and with that comes another chance to take back our power. Do not let another opportunity pass by.

Chama St. Louis is a Community Organizer for the Peoria People’s Project and the founder of the Black Justice Project