The second in a series of virtual community round-tables on racial issues called "Bridging the Gap" addressed diverse economic opportunity in Tuscaloosa and West Alabama. A panel of community leaders defined the problems facing communities of color and made suggestions on how to address the issues. Pastor Tyshawn Garner of Stillman College points to historic neglect and a lack of investment in infrastructure as a core problem in under-served communities of West Alabama, including Tuscaloosa’s West End, "Addressing the systemic and social injustices and needs of the past starts with investment. And investment means financial investment and a real collaboration across the board to see a thriving West Tuscaloosa".

Stillman College President Dr. Cynthia Warrick says the key questions centers around why the African-American community of Alabama is not benefiting from the economic progress achieved over the last decade. "Why is it the failing schools are in the black community?" she asked. "Why is it that the unemployment rates are significantly higher, almost double the state average or more, in the black community? And why isn't there more investment in terms of small businesses and training and those kinds of activities in the black community?"

Dr. Warrick is a member of a task force that is charged with making recommendations on how to answer those questions. They will deliver their findings to Gov. Kay Ivey at the end of the month.

An issue that has been brought forth several times in recent years and was brought up again today, is the lack of community programs for at-risk youth. The programs are there in more affluent communities in the city but they cost more than a person on limited budget can afford, plus, there is a lack of transportation to get that child to the program if the money was available.

Another glaring shortfall is the lack of across-the-board internet access. Minority dominated schools in West Alabama and rural areas of Tuscaloosa County are largely without it. Tuscaloosa County Schools, like county schools across the Black Belt, were forced to turn to paper packets instead of online instruction during the COVID-19 caused shutdown of in-class education in K-12 schools. This placed students at a disadvantage.

These are issues that more affluent communities don't give a second thought to but in poor and minority dominated areas they are roadblocks to success.

Virtual round-table participants agreed the resources are there but they need to be focused on where they are needed most.

The third "Bridging the Gap" virtual round-table is next Wednesday at 1:30 pm. You can register for it at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama website.

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