Dr. Lydia Hollie (center), who gathered statistics for “The State of Black Long Beach: A Call to Action” speaking with two people who attended the convention on Saturday, February 23.
Uduak Ntuk, chair of the African American Convening Committee speaks at The State of Black Long Beach: A Call to Action convention. He and 55 members of the AACC are responsible for organizing the convention.
“Black people are endangered people in Long Beach”
It was an early morning in the 8th district of Long Beach where a group of around 150 black leaders in the community gathered at the Art EXPO center for the 2013 State of Black Long Beach: A Call to Action. The conference was held to educate people about the problems existing in their community. Stirring speeches and community statistics were presented, all calling this February 23, 2013 morning as a day in history for Long Beach and those who live there.
Long Beach is considered to be a prime place for one to live the “American Dream”. It is a place with a thriving downtown bordering the coast, which not only brings wonderful weather, but great purchasing power and voting power. It is also the second largest city in Los Angeles County and is home to a large African American population. Earlier statistics showed Blacks leading the city’s population but as of 2010, those numbers have decreased. Alex J. Norman, D.S.W spoke at the gathering with research that over a course of five months, he and Lydia A. Hollie, J.D. conducted to be a part of “The State of Black Long Beach: A Call to Action”.
“You know, the demographers during the mid-2000’s, they expected that we would have a population of a half million people and people were already saying ‘well they’re a city of already a half million people’. A surprising thing happened along the way. Long Beach only had an increase of 735 people from 2000-2010. That was a shock for a lot of demographers,” said Norman.
The research done for The State of Black Long Beach was the result of The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative, a 10-year effort to improve the quality of life in Long Beach and 13 other California cities.
Statistics the doctors’ research showed that there was a 10% decrease in Long Beach’s Black population, and an increase of other races like Latinos and Asians rising. Besides the decrease in population, Blacks in Long Beach are struggling with high unemployment rates and high incarceration. The study also showed that most younger Black men and women in Long Beach die from homicide. Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) also has its fair share of problems. Blacks are struggling in proficiency scores, graduating at the lowest rate compared to other races and dropping out at a high rate. Being that Long Beach is home to local colleges/universities, many Blacks are failing to even get into college because of failed performances in high school. Beyond all of these problems lies one troubling statistic: life expectancy of an African American living in Long Beach is lowest compared to other races. But these statistics weren’t the only ones discovered, which made the situation very clear for Blacks of Long Beach: something needs to change.
“There is this African Proverb: If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” said Uduak Ntuk, chair of the AACC, who organized the conference along with 55 other members.
“We have some of the worst infant mortality rates in the city. We have the lowest life expectancy in the city. When you know those kind of factoids, it gives you a better perspective of how you make a plan to address that and that the plan actually addresses the root causes and not just the superficial or whatever’s in the newspaper this week because it may not be the true underlying issue,” Ntuk said.
Those were some of the similar thoughts of Dr. Alex Norman as he presented the data collected.
“When you look at the cause of death among 15-24 year olds, homicide is the leading cause of death among young Black men and women in the target area. So maybe, we need to reframe homicide as not being a law enforcement issue, but maybe it’s a public health issue,” Norman said.
Norman also added that large amounts of Blacks living in Long Beach work for the local government and some are those mentioned in the statistics as living in the circumstances included in the study. He says that some Black government workers are afraid to get involved or speak up due to the repercussions they could possibly face. Norman quotes that because of that ,“Blacks in Long Beach are living like they’re on plantations.” Now that the AACC was able to bring together leaders of the community, including political leaders, those who attended are indulging in the information and giving feedback.
One of those Leaders of the Black community giving feedback is Dr. Maulana Karenga who is a professor and chair for the Department of Africana Studies at CSU Long Beach. He said the conference was pivotal for the Black community.
“The conference was an excellent experience of data sharing, collective planning, networking and reaffirmation. For it not only offered data on the continued racial and social disadvantaging of Black people, but also pointed to the need to struggle in unity to radically change the situation. And the conference reaffirmed that if our initiatives are to be successful, they must be culturally rooted and relevant, people focused, reflective of our best ideas and practices, grounded in community engagement, and rooted in sustainable strategies and ongoing struggle,” Karenga said.
Other leaders who attended, got the chance to express their ideas as groups gathered to discuss these issues. Prior to breakout groups, a Priority Response Survey was conducted to address which problems the community considered to be the most urgent. The voting began and many of the leaders considered education, nutrition/fitness, youth violence, training the youth to be leaders and many more specific areas to be primary areas of need. These areas would be gathered as a continuation of the study for The State of Black Long Beach, bringing the community efforts one more step closer to their ultimate goal: creating a community wide action plan. The AACC hopes to hold another conference with a much larger community audience some time during the summer. They say that they are honoring the pioneers who have brought Blacks thus far and that it is their responsibility to create a good path for the youth.