San Jose experiences a ‘Black exodus’
Symone Sanders-Townsend, a political strategist and commentator, speaks at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event hosted by the African American Community Service Agency on Jan. 16, 2023. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Signs of segregation may not be as brazen as the days of Martin Luther King Jr., but Black leaders in San Jose say racism still rears its head and is why the Black community keeps shrinking.

    It’s something Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium CEO Walter Wilson calls the “Black exodus.” Thousands of Black residents have left over time because of the historic lack of investment from segregation and redlining to the inequity in social programs, public contracts, education and policing.

    “People are not going to stay in a place that they don’t have economic opportunity, where their families don’t feel welcome, because they can’t afford to live here,” Wilson told San José Spotlight. “The dollars are here, but it’s a matter of how do we get these dollars into the hands of not just deserving people, but people who have the wherewithal, the expertise and the background to do the work?”

    Data collected by Wilson found Santa Clara County and San Jose do not equitably allocate contracts for public infrastructure projects. Though Black people make up just under 3% of the county’s population, they get less than 1% of public contracts. The county is currently conducting its own disparity study that will be released in the summer.

    “These dollars belong to the public, and not just a handful of people,” Wilson said. “We have billions of dollars in government contracts. We want to make sure that we include the rest of us in this process.”

    Hundreds of people gathered Monday at the Holiday Inn in downtown San Jose for the 43rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Luncheon, hosted by the African American Community Service Agency. The keynote speaker was Symone Sanders-Townsend, a political strategist and commentator.

    “MLK’s dream has not yet been fulfilled. The work is still very much unfinished, but he left us a roadmap,” Sanders-Townsend said. “The work that every single person in this room is doing every day will determine the lives that people live in this county 50 years from now. Much like (how) the work that happened 50 years ago dictates the lives we live every single day.”

    U.S. Census data shows that between 1990 and 2019, San Jose lost about 17.6% of its Black population and from 2000-2012, San Jose’s Black population decreased by 12%, according to city data. As of 2020, census data shows there are 30,288 Black residents in San Jose and 45,968 countywide. Local leaders said the Bay Area has seen a steady decline of Black residents since the 1960s.

    Carmen Brammer, a political strategist and community advocate, said the reason Black people are leaving is because there hasn’t been any real effort from the county or city to equitably uplift historically disenfranchised communities.

    “MLK Jr. was all about breaking down these structural racist barriers that prevent poor and low wealth people from achieving equity,” Brammer told San José Spotlight. “If you look at his speeches and you compare to what we’re doing today, we haven’t changed. It’s just been packaged up differently.”

    She said the answer is genuine and equitable support for small local businesses, more affordable housing and investment in education. Because the Black community has not had access to better schools, certain neighborhoods or better earning jobs, they haven’t had the opportunity to build generational wealth.

    “Sure this is the land of opportunity and people tell me, ‘Why don’t you just pull yourselves up from your bootstraps?'” Brammer said. “But what if you don’t have boots? Then you are walking around barefoot and that is a completely different journey.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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