By Henry Louis Taylor Jr.
The Buffalo Common Council voted on April 29 to sell School 71 to the King Center Charter School, which paves the way for the charter school to disinvest and abandon the King Urban Life Center, its neighborhood and the people who live there.
The center’s quest to keep the charter school from severing its relationship with KULC and the neighborhood was a just and righteous cause. Why?
Many East Side children are underachieving academically. Buffalo’s growing economy has not catalyzed an East Side transformation, so persistent neighborhood-level “non-academic barriers to educational achievement” are producing high dropout rates and low graduation rates and causing schools to underperform.
Alone, building-centered strategies will not change this reality, because only some obstacles to academic success are found in the school. Others are found in the neighborhood, including low incomes, high unemployment, poor housing, few quality after-school programs, limited early childhood learning programs, gangs and violence.
We can run, but we cannot hide from this truth.
Bottom line: Saving the children requires simultaneously changing the schools and their neighborhoods, but government does not have the resources to do this without help.
Therefore, communities will be transformed only if “place-based” institutions lead the effort. The center was the first to demonstrate the role that place-based organizations could play in neighborhood revitalization efforts anchored by school reform.
For more than a decade the center, through its founding and support of the charter school, its Parent Child Home Program, technology and after-school programs, has stabilized its immediate community. Even so, the neighborhood is still among the most troubled in Buffalo. It still has a high concentration of vacant, abandoned and zombie houses. Many of the shops and stores have left, and its residents battle daily against the odds and its children battle daily to stay in school and achieve academically.
Still, community members are hopeful. They will continue the fight to make their neighborhood a great place to live, learn, work and play. The center will stand with them. Our organization will not run away. We will stay the course.
The center cannot, however, do this alone. We will need help. The city must step forward to provide support and assistance. The center will also need to find new partners – not tenants – to join the quest to transform the neighborhood and improve education outcomes for the children.
Although great challenges are on the horizon, the King Urban Life Center remains optimistic and confident.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. is director of the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Studies and a board member of the King Urban Life Center.