|January 12, 2024
On the morning of Friday, January 12th, 2024, Partnership for the Public Good (PPG) and community advocates convened to unveil the 2024 PPG Community Agenda at Frank E. Merriweather Library. The program began by acknowledging the historical legacy of the ancestral community who sought to make a change. “If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country…. One goes to the unprotected – those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! – and listens to their testimony,” quoting James Baldwin, renowned civil rights activist, and American writer. “Why do we do this work? Because we have no choice,” stated Dejia Marie James, Policy Advancement & Media Manager at PPG, reflecting on empowering communities through the PPG Community Agenda.
Each fall, Partnership for the Public Good (PPG) leads a democratic process among its more than 330 partners to determine the Community Agenda for the coming year. In the sixteen years of creating and supporting a Community Agenda, PPG partners have seen many of their goals realized on various issues. Policy wins of 2023 include the passage of the Erie County Language Access Act, a county-wide, comprehensive language access law and a new County Budget line of $400,000 adopted for support and programs of foster care alumni. Erie County Legislature Chairwoman April Baskin highlighted the tremendous 2023 County policy wins while thanking the community members that made these wins and this focus possible. “I understand that [this] agenda is framed by the people,” she said. “It’s helped not just shape my policy, but it’s literally shaped my leadership and my career.”
The 2024 Community Agenda includes eleven policy change priorities:
The full text of each plank is available at PPG’s web site, ppgbuffalo.org/community-agenda
For the number one priority of Piloting a Community Responder Team in Erie County, Alia Williams of Voice Buffalo stated that since 2020, our community has become more aware of the importance of mental health. "Now is the time to do something with our awareness,” she said. To answer emergency calls, “we need folks who are trained in de-escalation and problem solving. We can save lives, and increase the overall quality of health in our county."
On reforming Buffalo Public School (BPS) suspension policy according to the NYS Education Department Recommendations, Samantha White, Esq. of the Western New York Law Center explained that BPS suspensions disproportionately impact kids of color and kids with learning disabilities. Sam Radford of the Community Action Organization said, “This affects the youngest of our children…. If we want to address the issues associated with the school-to-prison pipeline, it starts off by addressing these suspensions.”
On enhancing human rights by increasing legislator oversight of Erie County jails, Jerome Wright of WNY Halt Solitary pointed out that in New York, county legislators have to approve funding for jails, but legislators aren’t even allowed to go into them! Allowing these legislators to monitor jails is crucial for encouraging safer, more humane conditions. He explained, “because any time you give people absolute control, absolutely there’s some human rights violations that happen.” He went on,“You can’t legislate behavior. You can legislate oversight, which helps behavior.”
On continued support of foster care alumni Leah Angel Daniel of Fostering Greatness and the African American Cultural Center asked audience members to put themselves in the shoes of those foster care alumni. She said, "Think about a time in your life where you needed concrete support during your time of need… Who did you have? Who could you call?.... Imagine being a person who has nobody.”
Several elected officials joined the meeting to voice their support for the agenda:
When speaking about his support for implementing performance-based learning and assessments for New Americans and refugees, NYS Senator Sean Ryan said, “Instead of rewarding [school] districts that are open to newcomers, that are willing to accept the challenges of educating kids with not optimal English language skills… the state punishes us for this.”
NYS Assemblymember Jon Rivera spoke about why he would be supporting PPG and the New York Immigration Coalition’s expansion of language access in New York State. “This issue has been in my heart for a very long time,” he said, because of his “earliest memories with my grandmother, who was named America.” Like many children of immigrants, he had to accompany her to doctors’ visits and government offices to translate. He went on to speak of the importance of offering services in the many languages of our residents. He said, “There is no real, true democracy if we’re simply standing on the sidelines and accepting that the government doesn’t have to be accessible for millions of people.”
Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson, affirmed his support for funding resources for foster care alumni. “It was a great honor to get that money appropriated for the Fostering Greatness program and for that RFP…. I will definitely be supporting that plank, and I encourage others [to support].”
Buffalo Common Council Member Mitch Nowakowski spoke up in support of implementing the City of Buffalo’s Proactive Rental Inspection (PRI) program. He said “We need to now make sure that we have inspectors that are specifically dedicated to PRI. And that’s what my goal is for 2024 in the Common Council. Because when we’re talking about healthy and sustainable housing, we have to talk about lead.
Buffalo Common Council Member Joel Feroleto spoke about his support for robust arts funding from the City of Buffalo. “Having the budget be more clear” is important, he said, as well as having clarity about how to apply for arts grants. “I certainly will commit to working on this,” he said.
A video of the event with all participants’ remarks is available at PPG’s youtube page.