At the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, workers at traditionally low-end jobs are paid a living wage, young people are given educational and training opportunities and there are low-cost transportation options.
In schools, resolving conflicts through “restorative justice,” rather than punitive action, is responsible for reducing out-of-school suspensions, keeping kids out of jail and helping ex-offenders re-enter society.
Over at the new Worker Center in the Tri-Main Building, refugees and others stuck in temporary and other contingent jobs learn their legal rights and are connected to better job opportunities and training programs.
These outcomes are among those envisioned by Open Buffalo – a collaboration between four local nonprofit groups that has been awarded a two-year, $1.9 million grant to combat economic injustice and inequality in Buffalo.
Open Society Foundations, a grant-making organization founded by liberal billionaire George Soros – a lightning rod to conservatives for the large sums of money he gives to progressive causes – announced Thursday that proposals from Buffalo, Puerto Rico and San Diego were chosen among 16 original entrees.
Buffalo’s proposal was crafted by Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH Buffalo, the Coalition for Economic Justice and VOICE-Buffalo, which have worked together to promote a living wage, utility reform and green sustainability.
The proposal – which is eligible to receive about $1 million annually for up to 10 years – received input and support from city, county and state government officials, other local organizations, foundations and regular citizens.
“This is a great victory for all of Buffalo, and for the hundreds of people who worked to create the Open Buffalo plan,” said Lou Jean Fleron, co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good, and the project director during the planning process. “Buffalo is experiencing a resurgence right now, and Open Buffalo will help to make sure we capitalize on that resurgence to make real progress on poverty and inequality.”
“I think the most exciting thing about this process is the ability to be able to look at things long-term,” said Jenn Diagostino, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice. “We have this tendency, because of the way funding goes, to do ad hoc campaigns on what’s immediately in front of us. This is an opportunity to build a vision for a more open Buffalo 10 years from now.”
The plan encourages civic and artistic engagement, and underpins its campaigns with research and data while enlisting the involvement of 13 local organizations. It also calls for recruiting 100 people to participate in a year-long leadership program; provides a mobile exhibit on social change that includes information on citizen advocacy and voter registration; and incorporates artistic performances, exhibits and projects.
Addressing economic opportunity in the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, on the edge of the East Side’s Fruit Belt, is seen as a gateway to improving lives in a city overwhelmed by poverty.
Sam Magavern, the partnership’s co-director, said the considerable public investment and the campus’ location along the Main Street divide make it an ideal starting point.
“If we’re going to work on bridging that divide and addressing some of the segregation and inequality in the region, it’s a very logical place to do it,” Magavern said, adding he believes the medical campus leadership is open to working with Open Buffalo.
Aaron Bartley, PUSH’s executive director, said Open Buffalo provided an opportunity to address long-term challenges that have hampered Buffalo for generations. Among them, he said, were “a lack of quality jobs and the structural racism evident through our criminal justice and education systems.”