South Bend Community Leaders Discuss Notre Dame’s Role in Black Civil Rights Fight // The Observer
The Notre Dame Race and Resilience Initiative hosted a panel on Wednesday at DeBartolo Hall on Black Civil Rights in South Bend, featuring some of South Bend’s key community leaders.
The panel, which intended to explore the immense social inequalities facing black residents of South Bend, included Trina Robinson, president of the NAACP-South Bend; Regina Williams-Preston, president of Community Action for Education and former representative of the South Bend Common Council; Jorden Giger, co-founder of Black Lives Matter South Bend and Deacon Mel Tardy, Deacon of St. Augustine Parish and University Counseling Professor.
The panelists offered their experiences and recommendations towards a stronger future for civil rights within the local community. They called for action to tackle systemic racism – a historic model of denying equitable education, health and housing opportunities in South Bend.
“Whoever wins the war can tell the story, so now we believe it. Today we see how this story is discovered, ”said Williams-Preston.
For more than a century, Tardy explained, African Americans have moved north with the intention of looking for work after the Great Migration.
“We have about 27% of [the] African American population, ”Tardy said.
However, the promise of work quickly shifted to the lack of employment opportunities for people of color.
“A lot of families have a hard time finding homes where there is some kind of consistency,” Tardy said.
As mentioned in the panel, South Bend’s eviction rate is three times the national average. Low wages, damaging state policies and a lack of affordable housing are the three main explanations for the drastic increase in evictions in the city, explained Williams Preston – and many displaced citizens are people of color.
In addition to the difficulties people of color face in finding employment, Robinson said the systematic racism that exists will not let these communities break out of this endless loop of neglect.
Panelists then discussed the persistent disparities in the racial education gap, agreeing that the first step in improving the system is to recognize that there is a problem: Systematic racism causes children to underachieve in school. colored.
“There is a systematic problem… Black children have no less ability; the system is against them, ”said Williams-Preston.
Tardy stressed the importance of educational resources and of having a strong focus on elementary schools where foundational skills are taught, such as reading and writing. He also highlighted the increased accessibility of mental health resources.
Robinson spoke of the need for reliable institutions in the education system.
“We should hold corporations accountable for educating our children and recognizing things that don’t work,” Robinson said.
Black-owned businesses are struggling to grow due to lack of support from major institutions and the Indiana state government, Williams-Preston said.
“It’s killing us,” she said.
Williams-Preston said young people of color, including students, entrepreneurs and community members, are leaving South Bend due to a lack of opportunities.
There is also room for improvement in the community of Notre Dame to eradicate “nepotism and favoritism,” said Williams-Preston. She argued that Notre Dame should support the efforts of the black community in “mining [their] gold ”from black communities in Westside to make them feel more connected.
The panelists also suggested efforts to improve cooperation between local businesses and Notre Dame, including direct funding from the University to support small local black-owned businesses. Efforts such as these, Williams-Preston explained, would provide much needed space for business growth, talent training and inclusion within the community.
“If we can do it, we won’t even be the first, but this is the kind of thing Notre Dame needs to invest in… commit to becoming a leader in this community by investing in cooperative businesses right here at the house, “Williams- says Preston.