“In order for us to move forward as a community we need to acknowledge that we have a few problems.”
That's what the James Norman, the President and CEO of Action for a Better Community told the crowd at a Poverty Symposium at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center Tuesday. ABC is marking 50 years of service.
Following the symposium, Norman told WXXI he can point to a lot of victories, but he can't yet say the war is won. "We won a skirmish here or there, but there's a lot of work still yet to do, to deal with issues of education, employment, housing, health care and other areas."
Norman says ABC still works to energize the community to improve the lives of those living in poverty, and by connecting people with organizations that can help. He says the agency's mission remains similar to when it started in the days of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, in an environment of increasing prosperity.
"Particularly in the last 30 years, we've had increasing inequality in regard to income and wealth in our country. And so, that has in a sense made our job a lot harder."
What’s changed? ABC is looking at more than how many people or families can they serve. "You know, we're looking upstream in terms of why is it that they need to come here in the first place, and what can we do to change a policy or a practice, or a structure, to benefit a lot of people so that they wouldn't have to depend upon organizations like ABC," said Norman.
Last spring, ABC came up with twenty goals to focus on over the next two years to lead to positive changes in Rochester.
What's on his wish list? Norman said, "We'd have to make some changes in regard to school district boundaries, we'd have to make some changes in regard to access to affordable housing in the suburban part of the county."
Norman feels the reluctance of suburban school district to join the fight against concentrated poverty is a "big" problem.
Following the morning symposium on poverty, ABC paid tribute to supporters such as auto dealer Randy Henderson, Avery Blackman, Dorothy Hall and Dyrell Jackson.
WXXI was a sponsor of the luncheon.