(Ed. Note:)The following commentary was published in the Challenger in 2016 following a protest and  rally   for jobs and inclusion at the Solar City Plant. It was  spearheaded by then Legislator Betty Grant and BUILDs’ Charley Fisher  in the wake of a breaking Investigative Report expose. Joan Simmons, Human Rights Activist, presented  the following remarks at that demonstration.                                                                                                               

by Joan Simmons 

Buffalo is a tale of two cities. A city in renaissance and at the same time one of extreme poverty and decay. 

A city of inclusion and exclusion. 

 A city that promotes a program calling for diversity while at the same time remaining the most racially segregated city in the country. 

A city that desires to be a national model for recovery and renewal while at the same time  being the third or fourth poorest in the nation. A city where the gap between the haves and the have nots widens daily. 

A city where progress and prosperity are measured not by the well-being of all of its citizens but by the increased wealth of a few. 

A city that spends thousands of dollars planting flowers on Elmwood Avenue, while streets like East Utica have no or crumbling sidewalks.

A city where what is good for all is determined by what is good for the wealthy and/or politically connected. 

A city that had to  be sued or threaten with civil disobedience in to doing what is best for all. A city with no visible moral compass and no apparent social conscience. 

 A city where the very quality of life that full, fair and equality in employment would bring to its minority citizens is negotiable and negotiated away. A city, for example,  that views the reduction of the 25 percent minority hiring objective at Solar City to 15 percent as just the cost of doing business and not the deprivation of jobs which would translate into improved quality of life, in a city in where the unemployment rate for Black and Hispanic males is at 40 percent or higher. 

A city where the improvement of the quality of life for its minority residents is an afterthought and not part of the master plan. 

A city that applauds itself for attracting new businesses using our tax dollars and creating new jobs for some while at the same time  failing to monitor or hold accountable those same companies that fail to meet their  employment commitment that won them the tax credits to locate in Buffalo in the first place. 

A city where access to equality in education opportunity  for all children has become politicized, racialized, resulting in a higher rate of school segregation than was prevalent in the 1950’s. 

A city where access to equality of education opportunity is undermined by special interests and far too often determined by zip code. 

A city where the success of a few comes at the expense of the disenfranchised and the poor. 

Buffalo is a city that has not grasped the concept of “ a chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link.” Thomas Jefferson said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We must be and remain vigilant. We have a voice. We can participate in this democracy by registering and going to the polls and vote.

Hold your elected officials accountable for not serving you and your families’ best interests. Hold them accountable for selling your right to a decent standard of living to the richest highest bidder. For those of you who use the cop out that it makes no difference if you vote, I say look around you and then ask yourselves what difference has not going out to vote cost you. The powers to be count on a low   Black  voter turnout and to date Buffalo, you have not disappointed them. If you do not vote, do not complain. You get the government you deserve. 

Make no mistake, the future can and will happen with or without you. You decide what kind of legacy you want to leave your children and grandchildren.