An aerial view of one of San Diego’s underserved neighborhoods. Image from RISE San Diego video

It is no secret that in times of crisis — be it economic or a natural disaster — underserved populations are hit the hardest. That undeniable and constant fact has been painfully clear to the Black community in San Diego County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Blacks have actually been infected at a lesser rate — 3.6%, while making up 5.5% of the population — they have been unfairly affected in areas of education, employment and housing.

The urgency of our reality has driven RISE San Diego to encourage and give a platform for local leaders and community members to voice their opinions, concerns, and discuss policy recommendations through its SUNRISE series on the state of urban neighborhoods. Launched in mid 2020, the Series has featured local urban leaders spearheading conversations focused on social injustice and racism in the County.

In addition to discussing the problems the Black community faces, these webinars also served as a platform to design action plans and solve those issues. In the area of education, participants discussed the efforts of San Diego’s learning institutions, as well as how to implement racial equity in academic improvement plans. Experts in the field shared that roughly 100,000 students don’t have internet access in our county, as a result of their parents not qualifying to receive CARES Act funds.

Additionally, due to isolation, families are increasingly needing physical and mental health support. We also uncovered an increase in the number of students absent from school, most of whom are part of vulnerable populations.

Regarding equitable employment opportunities and social diversity, our discussions covered employment disparities, promoted opportunities for job readiness training, and fostered entrepreneurial opportunities to promote job creation in the community. Again, experts in the matter reported that California’s stay-at-home orders put the Black and Latinx populations at a higher disadvantage of being laid off, especially those who are younger, work part-time, earn a lower wage, and are less educated.

Policy recommendations were made to invest in Black and Latinx entrepreneurs to not only help them grow, but also to encourage job creation in San Diego, as well as repurposing vacant real estate buildings into urban civic areas in order to reimage public places.

Economic disparity and equitable housing opportunities in San Diego were also a topic of conversation, including the high demand for, and scarcity of affordable housing. Our county’s population continues to grow exponentially and new housing does not keep up with the growth.

With home prices averaging $750,000, only about 27% of the county’s population can afford to live here. Communities of color need to have a seat at the table, and participate in the process of increasing housing in order to voice their concerns on gentrification and displacement.

What This Means for Moving San Diego Forward

RISE will continue bringing discussions about change to improve the urban community of San Diego, and we invite county residents to join our events and learn how to get involved. Everyone can do their part by addressing racial and social bias in their own organization, as well as supporting businesses and institutions that invest in the Black community.

Tony Young is president and CEO of RISE San Diego and a former City Council member. The organization’s mission is to elevate and advance urban leadership through dialogue-based civic engagement, dynamic nonprofit partnerships, and direct training and support to increase the capacity of urban residents to effect meaningful community change.

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