Combating poverty and other barriers, Wayne County coalition focuses on equitable economic development

Marking nearly a year of planning and progress in Goldsboro, a group of community residents, nonprofit leaders and elected officials that have been part of an initiative focusing on equitable economic development known as WAYne Forward, hosted a Fall Summit to discuss the ways in which the community can address poverty through collective effort. With high energy and deep conversations, the event highlighted the value of sustained work that brings many stakeholders together to promote opportunity for all.

These aren’t always easy conversations. A history of exclusion and discrimination that persists in eastern North Carolina creates barriers for current residents, as have policy choices and systems that block opportunity. Problems ranging from disproportionate suspension rates of minorities to disproportionate juvenile court rates and detention admittance rates to the lack of affordable housing and too few good paying jobs with career pathways. As well, multiple census tracts or neighborhoods in the county experience a poverty rate of over 30 percent, delivering what is considered a double burden on residents poor and not poor.

Yet, for the past year, the community organized around these troubling outcomes and has been working to understand the landscape of opportunity in their community. Building from community-based outreach such as food drives or school reading initiatives, these are just some of the ways Wayne County aims to bridge the gaps to fight poverty. Along with a continued emphasis on building a strong civic leadership, and grassroots network that can mobilize and organize residents, and a growing effort to revitalize main streets and lift up the arts and regional connections the community has proven assets to build on.

Still like many places, Goldsboro has its obstacles to overcome. In 2014, it was ranked as one of the areas with the greatest decline in the middle class by Pew Research Center. Research by the UNC Poverty Fund released last year found the persistent and concentrated poverty in Goldsboro along with systemic exclusion of communities of color was creating a toxic environment for children.

The opportunity to demonstrate solutions that have been proven to work and advance the wellbeing of all residents is available in Wayne County. As poverty initiatives like WAYne Forward which aim to engage the community on solutions that can advance health, workforce industry alignment, affordable housing, and of course education. They are seeking to get at the root causes of the city’s persistent challenges.

Despite these positive steps forward, the recent event was overshadowed by the looming threat of a state takeover of the local Carver Heights Elementary school. This week, the state will determine if it will move ahead with the ISD takeover of the school. Since that time frame was announced, Goldsboro has amped up its efforts as well. In an emergency city council meeting held last Wednesday the topic of ISD was the central focus and agreement was reached that a community-based approach is needed to address the immediate concerns.

The leadership of elected officials in combination with the consistent engagement of community leaders is just the combination that could change the trajectory for Carver Heights and the surrounding neighborhood. It can also be a demonstration of the ways to get at the deep root cause of the schools’ education challenges—poverty.

The ideas discussed through WAYne Forward would provide support to the goal of strengthening the neighborhood by aligning systems beyond education to support the success of children. For example, making sure that children have quality health care and access to healthy food and are in safe neighborhoods, ensuring housing is safe, affordable, and stable for families and providing pathways to advance in the workforce for parents are all pieces to addressing the hardship experienced by Carver Heights student body. It could also prove to be a model for how to tackle the challenge of persistent and concentrated poverty in eastern North Carolina.

Allysa Rouse joined the Justice Center as a Public Allies Apprentice via AmeriCorps. Previously she studied at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is now pursuing a Masters in Public Administration degree. Allysa has worked closely with various non-profits across the state of North Carolina.

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