Rochester NY Focusing on Revitalization and Equity

Rochester NY is working toward a brighter future, with a new mayor and energetic community foundation leading efforts to combat crime, eradicate poverty and improve racial equity. League president Doug Linkhart was in this All-America City last month and saw some of this work first-hand.

Mayor Malik Evans spoke to a group of civic leaders and journalists last month, saying that his focus on economic revitalization will combat both poverty and crime in the city. Evans’ comments followed earlier remarks by former Mayor Bill Johnson, who presided over the city at the turn of the century, who said “it still has some vigor left in it today, but it has struggled.”

Dana Miller, the city’s Neighborhood and Business Development Commissioner, seconded the mayor’s remarks and led the group through the High Falls area, showing how the city plans to redevelop the river and falls to challenge San Antonio’s lead on riverfront development. Dana participated in the city’s successful bid to become an All-America City two years ago and was involved in a successful effort to become an All-America City in 1998.

Rochester’s economy struggled following huge reductions in employment at Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb in the last two decades of the 20th century, though it is now more diverse, with new technology companies and other businesses filling the gap.

One of the key assets and contributors to well-being in the city is the Rochester Area Community Foundation. The foundation focuses on only two issues, “creating an equitable community” and “strengthening our region’s vitality.” The Foundation has twice published a “Hard Facts” report on racial disparities in the area that would serve as a good model for other cities and community foundations.

A participant in the city’s All-America City award application, the Rochester Area Community Foundation will soon be led by a new president and CEO, the current vice president for community programs, Simeon Banister, who will succeed Jennifer Leonard, who served in this role for 28 years. Simeon has already helped our League to publicize civic work in the area as an active player in the foundation’s work to help reform the school district’s disciplinary policies.

The Foundation’s involvement with school discipline began in 2014, when a study by the Rochester City School District (RCSD) showed that most student suspensions were for nonviolent offenses and that Black students were suspended 2.5 times as often as their White peers, and students with disabilities were suspended twice as often as their general education peers. The Foundation worked with local civic and youth groups to develop recommendations to improve school climate in the district and make sure that these would be informed by the community.

The new code of conduct developed by CTF removed criminal language, clarified vague guidelines, made suspensions a last resort and promoted alternatives to suspension such as restorative practices. In the new code’s first year alone, total suspensions dropped a remarkable 27% and a further 8.4% the following year. Additionally, RCSD adopted several other interventions, including professional development in restorative practices and help zones replacing in-school suspension rooms.

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