Coalition for Black Lives wants funding directed to grassroots programs

Jul 13, 2020

Shaq Payne, an educator at Vertus charter school, said grassroots programs he participated in as a teen made a positive difference in his life.
Credit Jeremy Moule / CITY Newspaper

Shaq Payne was 17 when he got involved with Slam High, a slam poetry program for Rochester youth run by future Avenue Blackbox Theater founder Reenah Oshun Golden, and Cypher, a drop-in after school program where students learned rap music production and dance.

That was 10 years ago and Payne is now an educator at Vertus High School, as well as a poet and a rapper.

“I would not be on the career path that I am on right now and honestly I do not know where I would be if it were not for those programs,” Payne said.

On Monday, Payne stood with other Black activists, artists, and community workers to announce the formation of the Coalition for Black Lives and issued a call for elected leaders to direct funding to Black-run community based and grassroots programs for arts, education, mental health, substance abuse, social work, and violence intervention.

“We believe that we can heal our communities, we can enact solutions to our problems, and we demand the economic resources to do so,” said activist and musician Danielle Ponder.

The coalition framed its call around ongoing violence in some city neighborhoods, holding its news conference on a corner of North Clinton Avenue and Kelly Street. According to the Rochester Police Department, six people were shot at that intersection during a fight around 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

Activist and musician Danielle Ponder said struggling city neighborhoods can heal themselves, but they need the resources to do so.
Credit Jeremy Moule / CITY Newspaper

Too often, officials respond to gun violence with more police and aggressive prosecution tactics, which eat up resources that could be put to better use, Ponder said. Many problems in struggling city neighborhoods — including violence — are economic in nature, and the only way to fix them is to invest in those neighborhoods, she added.

“It is clear that when young people are given opportunities, quality education, they thrive,” Ponder said. “When parents are given living wages and affordable housing, they thrive.”

The coalition also wants funding to go directly to people or grassroots organizations, instead of through large nonprofit organizations with overhead costs and workforces that live predominantly in the suburbs.

“It is time to reimagine a distribution of funds that is equitable and puts Rochester residents’ livelihoods first,” said Golden, who in addition to her work with the Avenue Blackbox Theatre has run after school and arts programs. “There is too much money leaving this city to blame Rochesterians for its woes. There are not enough black salaries committed to the work of addressing root causes on the ground and repairing the damage that structural racism has done to our communities.”

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.