A new, comprehensive report details the opportunity gaps that San Antonio’s Black community faces across business, criminal justice, education, financial and health sectors.
“We’re committed to making sure that this report does not sit on the shelf, that we’re actively raising the community awareness around the issue so that we can create better solutions,” said Patricia Mejia, vice president of Community Engagement and Impact at the Area Foundation.
“Having this report really gives us a baseline,” said Bobby Blount, who chairs the African American Community Fund’s board of directors. “We realize to really have an impact, we gotta have more collaboration.”
The report comes as many cities in the U.S. and around the world are considering social justice reforms in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Work to end racial inequity has taken a center stage.
“It’s perfect timing [to] get more people who aren’t doing this work day-to-day, to really understand what’s happening in our communities,” Mejia said.
Quantifying inequities facing Black residents
The data shows that San Antonio’s Black or African American residents, compared to all or most other races, have the lowest rate of homeownership, a lower median income ($48,509) than the county average ($57,157), are more likely to be unemployed and have medical debt. They are less likely to have health insurance or own a business with employees.
In other large urban areas, Black residents are more likely to test positive for or die from coronavirus. That’s not the case in Bexar County.
“If anything, Black or African Americans are slightly underrepresented among both
COVID-19 cases and deaths,” the report notes, “but that may reflect under-diagnosis rather than a true difference.”
Black residents make up 7% of San Antonio’s population, which is majority Hispanic/Latino, but are overrepresented in public housing (20% of all HUD-subsidized households) and in police arrests as well as in criminal court cases. Blacks and Latinos are the least likely to be released in cite and release cases for some misdemeanor offenses.
“Overall the 2021 data presents a picture of unintended but undeniable consequences for the Black and African American demographic within the criminal justice domain,” Assistant District Attorney Daryl E. Harris, chief of Bexar County District Attorney’s Civil Rights Division, wrote in a commentary included in the report.
“Recognition of these consequences has been a motivation for many of the reform policies implemented by this administration,” Harris continued, “and we are committed to continuing assessment of our policies going forward with the objective of increasing public safety — in every community — while identifying those policies that have a disparate impact on select communities.”
In school, black students are overrepresented in several school districts’ disciplinary alternative programs and out-of-school suspensions, while underrepresented in gifted and talented programs and career and technical education programs.
The data research for the report was performed by local nonprofit Community Information Now (CI:Now), which develops data resources for the South Texas region, while the policy recommendations were developed by Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based nonprofit public policy center that advocates for social, economic and racial justice.
There are 110 indicators in the report that pull data from local, state and federal sources, said Laura McKieran, executive director of CI:Now. “It’s really intended to serve as a current snapshot, not to show past trends, and certainly we can’t cover every issue that matters.”
In some cases, the only data available is a few years old and the U.S. Census Bureau’s five-year estimates for 2020 are still not available, McKieran said. “So it is a little bit of a smattering of different time periods. And unfortunately … a lot of it is so out of date. If we had collected data six months ago, it would have been out of date. The COVID pandemic is still changing things in ways that we don’t understand.”
Data allows for policy recommendations
For the first time, the community has all the most relevant data in one place, Mejia said. The report could help those “who are newer to looking at these issues, to see the interrelationship or the interconnection and how policies and funding need to reflect that connection.”
The report makes policy recommendations in three areas: criminal justice, education and financial well-being.
“We looked at the data … and looked for inequities and disparate impacts that struck our policy team and our policy experts,” said Ann Baddour of Texas Appleseed.
Baddour’s team then crafted recommendations using local, state and national policy solutions that have worked elsewhere, in addition to input from local residents through focus groups.
Several of the report’s recommendations for criminal justice aim to “reduce unnecessary contact with the police,” Baddour said, such as restricting or eliminating a police officer’s ability to search a car or make an arrest during a traffic stop or other routine stops.
Other recommendations have to do with better data collection to, for instance, get a better understanding of the disparities in cite-and-release cases.
Education recommendations include improving access and expanding eligibility for pre-kindergarten programs, using disciplinary programs that don’t exclude the student from school and increasing the number of Black teachers. During the 2019-2020 school year, fewer than 5% of teachers in the region were Black, the report found.
In financial well-being, the report recommends expanded efforts to enroll young adults in workforce development and training programs, support of paid sick leave, expanded lending and support services to Black small-business owners and investing in benefit navigators to help connect families to the federal child tax credit, housing assistance, or other pandemic-related services.
The report sponsors are planning to host several community meetings to discuss the data and possible solutions, but some partnerships and initiatives have already been formed since research for the report concluded in December, Blount said.
For example, the African American Community Fund established the Social Justice Fund, which provides bail and legal aid to those facing low-level offenses, and launched a San Antonio Equity Fellowship Program, a unique professional development program to help nonprofit leaders of color.
Additionally, the Area Foundation is partnering with Local Initiatives Support Corp. on a program that focuses on equitable outcomes in affordable housing and with UP Partnership to offer national youth leadership development and workforce development grants to nonprofits that are primarily focused on helping communities of color.
People from all sectors — educators, activists, elected officials, business leaders — have been waiting for this report, Blount said. “We see it being utilized literally by everybody.”
That includes philanthropists and organizations who work to improve outcomes for the Black community, he said. “We hope they use this as the reference guide.”