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Good morning, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Saturday, August 22nd.
This week in Fresnoland, Monica reported on well water woes in Madera County and how some communities are running out of water. Dympna’s second “Fresno Voices” story ‘Black businesses are hurting now.’ Racism, inequality, COVID-19 shatter Fresno business dreams focuses on Black entrepreneurs and their struggles with accomplishing routine business things like getting financing, etc.
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It’s Dympna Ugwu-Oju, editor of Fresnoland, here.
At the start of the recent social justice movement, The Fresno Bee, like many newsrooms throughout the U.S., encouraged writers to explore the various aspects of the Black experience. I set out to write about the economic participation of Blacks in Fresno’s economy, but I found the topic to be so vast that I broke it into two stories. The stories took on a whole new life with the creation of Fresno Voices.
I am Black, an identity I discovered when I was already 22 years old and in graduate school. Still, I find talking and writing about blackness heart wrenching because it unearths all my fears and bares them right in my face, and I must reach deep down and figure out how to move forward.
It is difficult because, but for a few variations, the stories are all similar. The story — whether it is about education, health, economy or crime — is the same statistically-driven narrative that illustrates the hopelessness of Black America.
Blacks have higher unemployment, higher unemployability, higher chance of being fired, lower wages, higher incarceration rate, lower academic achievement, higher rate of school dropout, lower life expectancy, higher incidents of racial profiling and police brutality, higher infant and maternal mortality. The list goes on.
If you are a journalist and Black, these stats are more than numbers. They tell the story of people you may know — real human men and women and children — whose pain you know first hand. But you must put on a brave face and tell these stories in a distantly detached way.
The most disheartening element of all of this is knowing — knowing that very little is likely to change because the powers that be will vow to fix things but when things quiet down, everything returns to normal, and you, the journalist, will be writing the same story in a few years with maybe a different cast of characters.
So why do I write these stories? Because despite my personal discomfort, these stories must be told — of loss, pain, joy, and yes, resilience and victory. We owe it to our readers as well as the people about whom we write. People should know that we live in a city that is really two cities — one white and the other Black and brown. The white city is filled with new structures — roads, street lights, parks, supermarkets, bike paths, sidewalks and curb appeal. The Black city is crumbling — potholes, half-finished sidewalks, boarded up buildings and at least one liquor store on every street corner.
The two stories that I have written examined the economic participation of Blacks in Fresno. The stories led me to interview dozens of people — policymakers, business owners, employers and entrepreneurs. I generally found that people were eager to share their stories with hope of finding solutions. They spoke of their frustrations about the state of their neighborhoods and their dreams but also about their dreams.
The first story — “How racism leaves a lingering economic ‘glass ceiling’ for Fresno’s Black residents” — is about the general economic well being and concluded that “Fresno’s Black residents lag behind other races in economic participation. They are more likely to be unemployed and to live in poverty. Racial disparities in employment rates, wages, wealth, housing, income, and poverty persist. They also have fewer prospects for economic success because of myriad factors, including what Esmeralda Soria, a member of the Fresno City Council for District 1, calls a systemic “disinvestment in the (city’s) African American community.”
The second story — “‘Black businesses are hurting now.’ Racism, inequality, COVID-19 shatter Fresno business dreams” — focuses on Black businesses and entrepreneurs and the challenges — “For Blacks seeking business opportunities in Fresno, the pattern is familiar: Black entrepreneurs are starved of funding, guidance, logistical support and mentoring, all of which are critical to starting and sustaining a business.”
I started the second story with “Harlem,” a poem by Langston Hughes, one of my all-time favorites. Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” I couldn’t think of a more suitable opening for a story about lost dreams.
I learned a lot about Fresno’s economy and opportunity and job training and unemployment. I also talked to business owners who have lost their livelihood because of the pandemic — this phenomenon that has claimed so many Black lives and robbed them of their dreams. I heard the pain in their voices, but their determination to soldier on is unquestionable.
I am grateful to have had this chance and for the many people who guided and shaped these stories.
And now, the week’s top reads:
(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)
The heat is on. Fresno’s daily triple-digit temperatures continue for another week with no end in sight. Fresno Bee
Residents of Fresno, Merced, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties have a health warning to reduce exposure to bad air by remaining indoors as much as possible. Fresno Bee
The Fresno City Council extended its rental assistance program and implemented contact tracing programs related to the coronavirus. Fresno Bee
If you need to go into a DMV building, be prepared for a temperature check and to answer a few questions. Fresno Bee
Why are thousands of cows dying in the central San Joaquin Valley? Fresno Bee
A property-based improvement district is being considered for Blackstone Avenue in Fresno, as organizations and business owners seek to revitalize the strip mall corridor. The Business Journal
Do you identify as Black or as a person of color and live in Tulare County? The Visalia Times-Delta is wanting to hear about your personal stories related to racism and prejudice. Visalia Times-Delta
Already strained by the pandemic, Cal Fire is asking out-of-state agencies for help in containing the wildfires. Fresno Bee
Answers to 7 burning questions about California’s rolling blackouts. CalMatters
Here are 8 ideas on how California can keep the lights on while meeting the state’s clean energy goals. Los Angeles Times
California to the Friant-Kern Canal proponents: “No money for you!” SJV Water
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to 1.1 million last week after two weeks of declines. Los Angeles Times
Uber and Lyft will continue operating in California after a judge gave them more time to file their appeals. Fresno Bee
California lawmakers on Thursday declined to back a plan that would have provided some relief to tenants and landlords. Los Angeles Times
Across America, eviction filings are down. Why? Bloomberg CityLab
They’re making the rent. Is it costing their future? New York Times