In December, the Philadelphia branch of the National Urban League released a report titled “The State of Black Philadelphia.”
It was by no means a pleasant holiday surprise.
In areas of economics, education, health, civic engagement and social justice, researchers found there are still notable disparities in quality of life for blacks in comparison to whites.
Under former Mayor John F. Street’s leadership, some of Philadelphia’s most neglected neighborhoods were revitalized through his Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. But when whites are more likely to own homes than blacks and the median value of homes owned by whites exceeds that of homes owned by blacks by nearly $100,000, it’s easy to wonder whether the ex-mayor’s program did more harm than good.
If you consider that the average black household in Philadelphia lives on $15,000 less than the average white family and probably falls below the poverty line, it makes perfect sense.
So does the fact that black Philadelphians are about twice as unlikely as whites to have jobs, health insurance or bachelor’s degrees.
And as troubling as it is to admit it, with the odds stacked up this high, it’s not surprising that the arrest and homicide rates for black residents are exponentially higher than that of whites. Seventy percent of serious offenders are black, and for every seven white homicide victims in Philadelphia, there are 43 black ones.
This gloomy portrait of life for black Philadelphians – one that depicts how social and economic inequality can infect every corner of a person’s life – sounds more like an American nightmare.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but newly-elected Mayor Michael Nutter says he gets it.
About a month before he took office, Nutter told the Daily News that jobs, education and public safety “are inextricably tied together” and require simultaneous attention.
“It’s a spinning triangle all day long,” he said.
Nutter made equally impressive remarks during his inauguration earlier this month, where he announced plans to spark “the renaissance of a great American city” by slicing the murder rate in five years and halving the dropout rate in seven.
That Nutter even dares to dream big for this city is a good thing. After all, if the quality of life for black Philadelphians does not improve soon, the blame will fall on his shoulders first.
Unlike Mayors Street and W. Wilson Goode, who preceded Street and Ed Rendell in City Hall, Nutter was never the favored candidate among the city’s black political heavyweights, some of whom chastised him for catering to white interests. Despite the criticism, his well-intentioned sack full of promises may not be enough.
That politics might keep poor, black Philadelphians from living well is as scary as it is unfair, yet it’s a notion as real as the desolation in the forgotten corners of this city.
Michael Nutter wants to be the change we’ve all been waiting for.
It’s a long shot – maybe something close to a fairy tale. But there’s never been more at stake.
We should be willing to try almost anything.
Benae Mosby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.