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The Other Peoria By Spanky Edwards, Social Justice Engineer

In 1967 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech at Stanford University. The subject that he chose was “The Other America.” In this speech, Dr. King depicts one America that is beautiful and flows in milk and honey. This America has an overflow of resources and opportunities that maintains generational wealth for White America. This America has the freedoms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “But tragically, and unfortunately, there is another America,” King exclaims.

“This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America, millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America, millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America, people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Over a half-century later, Dr. King’s analysis of America then is still social phenomena in 2019.

Last year, I read two articles about Peoria. The first one was by Nick Vlahos of the Journal Star, entitled “Peoria Among Top U.S. Areas for High Salaries, Low Cost of Living.” Nick got this information from The Ascent, a personal-finance website operated by The Motley Fool investment company, that lists Peoria among the top 10 metro areas nationally regarding the ratio between salaries and costs of living. Peoria checks in at 10th.” (Journal Star). They claim that the average salary in Peoria is about $50,000. Nick credited Caterpillar and the hospitals for creating jobs in that pay range.

The second article that I read was “The Worst Cities for Black Americans,” written by Evan Comen of Peoria came in at the 7th worst city for Black people in America. Black people average about $28,000, that’s almost 50% less money earned than our White counterparts. There is literally two Peorias!; Two experiences that perpetuate two different outcomes. 24/7 Wall St. claims that this is a by-product of the Jim Crow Era, when separate but equal was the law of the land. The federal government intentionally constructed a system where Black people would have low homeownership, low education, high incarceration, and, consequently, high unemployment rates. After the Supreme Court ruled in the “Brown vs. Board of Education” decision, that separate but equal was unconstitutional, the government did very little to repair the damage that institutional racism had caused. This is the primary cause of this huge income gap between Blacks and Whites.

Nevertheless, we remain hopeful, knowing that God is on our side and that we are never forsaken. And old preacher once said, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going!” This amazing opportunity for community uplift is a social engineer’s dream! This is a challenge that we welcome wholeheartedly, and the main reason that I decided to move back to Peoria after graduating from Morehouse College. Black Peoria has everything we need to fix ourselves. When we reconstruct our resources in a system that works in our favor, we’ll build a modern Black Wall Street! In 2020, my goal is to use my international network to help provide resources that will create much-needed peace in Peoria. The Peoria Peace & Nonviolence Leadership Institute, in partnership with other community organizations, plans to host town hall meetings that address Black unemployment, Black mental health, nonviolent parenting and effective educational success plans for students throughout the year.

One honest criticism that we get as community leaders is that “Peorians all work in silos,” or we “hardly ever work together”! I’d like to challenge that notion and argue that we do work together a lot, but also give it credence and say that we can improve. In 2020, I challenge my friends, who co-labor with me in the fields, to form alliances and harmonize our collective efforts to serve better Peorians who need our resources. Together, we can have some tough conversations that may bring about a Black Agenda and action plans to hold each other accountable.

UBUNTU- I AM BECAUSE WE ARE: An African proverb, which means none of us are successful until we all are successful. White Peoria can’t be great until Black Peoria is doing great! Rich Peoria can’t be great until people who are experiencing poverty are great! We challenge the status quo with solidarity! We sincerely need each other to survive! In Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” address, he described the notion of “ubuntu” like this, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

To become who we’re supposed to be, Black people must establish a collective agenda, The Peoria Black Agenda, that is inclusive of all of our ideals and passions. Our agenda includes Sports, Service, and Socials, activities, and recreation for both young minds and seasoned citizens; a first-class education for all students in Peoria Public Schools District 150; a Black Male Initiative, where we create an ecosystem that perpetually produces healthy Black men; Nonviolent Parenting Classes, taught by parents who’ve had major success using the resources in Peoria to raise their children; HBCU Initiative, reconstruct our students’ trajectory from the “school to prison pipeline” to construct a new pipeline from the hood to HBCUs and from HBCUs back to the hood; Council of Elders, a mentorship organization, made up of Black retirees who are the foundation of our community and advise younger upcoming leaders with wisdom to make victory sure; Black Democratic Enterprises– grocery stores, restaurants, clothing stores, recreational facilities, transportation companies, weed dispensaries, whiskey distilleries, cigar bars, culture lounges, etc…. a democratic enterprise is privately owned business that is employee-owned and operated. The decisions are made by the employees who are also the shareholders. This business structure will create a 100% employment rate for people who would like to work and also create higher-paying jobs for people who are underemployed and are working as modern sharecroppers, living from check to check. Black Mental Health Initiative- partner with mental health care providers to heal the minds of people who’ve experienced trauma and poverty.

If we are to have “Peace in Peoria” and deconstruct this “other Peoria,” then we must reconstruct a city that works best for us all! In 2020, we envision a Black town that has fully operated FUBU (for us and by us) by 2030.

Together we can do this!