“Black Money Matters! Brown Business Matters” protesters chanted at a rally outside City Hall, demanding more jobs for Black and Hispanic New Haveners on the Dixwell Community “Q” House project.
The event was organized by the anti-violence youth development organization “Ice The Beef” to protest the lack of Black contractors and construction workers on the Q House project on Dixwell Avenue.
A third of the way through the construction of the new Q House, only 9 percent of subcontractors working on the project have been African American-owned companies, and less than 8 percent of the total construction workforce for the project has been Black. (Read more about that here.)
More than 60 people gathered to hear speeches from members of the community including Rev. D’Hati Burgess, who lost his niece to a shooting last month; Jaylen Evans, a teenaged aspiring carpenter; and Rodney Williams, who organized another recent protest on the subject with fellow Black contractors.
Chaz Carmon (pictured), president of Ice The Beef, said he sees a strong correlation between a rise in gun violence and poverty.
“When there’s no jobs and opportunities, you see a rise in domestic violence, hunger, homelessness, and gun violence,” he said during the rally. The solution he sees: jobs. And Carmon said the city has an obligation to hire more Black and Hispanic workers on the Q House project to increase economic opportunities for low-income communities.
Carmon said he has experienced firsthand how poverty can leave a lasting legacy of violence on young people. He has witnessed how growing up in housing projects where broken elevators and urine on the walls are an everyday sight can wear heavily on a person. “When you’re born into poverty, you’re born with PTSD,” he told the Independent.
He also saw how the old Q House kept kids in poorer communities off the streets and safe from violent crime. He grew up playing in the old Q House. At 13, he got his first job as a camp counselor there. Today, he works at a middle school with students who are at risk of being suspended.
“I do believe that if the Q House was erected years and decades ago like it was promised in the Dixwell community, then maybe possibly, our young people would have had something to do besides hang on a street corner,” said Rev. D’Hati Burgess, who lost his 19-year-old niece, Kiana Brown, to gun violence last month when she was shot dead in her sleep.
The old Q house building was closed in 2003. I took until 2017 before it was demolished. It took another two years before construction on the new Q House commenced.
“When you hire people, it gives them jobs, it gives them hope,” said Carmon. He emphasized the wide-ranging benefits that come from hiring more local residents including reducing crime and gun violence, advancing economic development, and making the city a more desirable place to live, which benefits big companies seeking to set up here.
Carmon said big conglomerates have to give more jobs and construction contracts to the residents of the city.
“Gold Mine WIth No Money”
At 18, Jaylen Evans (picture) has ambitions of becoming a carpenter, joining a union and starting a career in the construction industry. He’s doing online classes at the Shriver Job Corps Center in Massachusetts, learning how to put up drywall, construct metal frames, and other essential skills of the trade.
“New Haven is not doing enough,”said Evans, who grew up in the Dwight neighborhood. He said the city needs to do more to ensure minority youth can secure employment.
“New Haven is a gold mine for white contractors, and blacks can make no money,” said Rodney Williams (pictured), who has been in New Haven since 1978. He has owned several drywall companies and now runs his own company, Green Elm Construction.
He has seen the city undergo an economic boom in recent years but has not seen the growth translated into jobs and benefits for the African-American and Hispanic community in the city.
“The truth is this: this city right here has always had a foot on our neck and led us down a path of crime because we didn’t have opportunities,” said Williams.
Marcey Jones (pictured) has worked for 30 years as a business consultant helping to build up businesses and nonprofits in New Haven. She’s witnessed how black-owned and women-owned companies are disadvantaged from the moment they start due to systemic racial discrimination, and a lack of government and financial support. She has seen how aspiring entrepreneurs end up becoming low-wage labourers, working for another company.
She recently worked with a young woman who ran a construction company.
“If she was to try to bid for the Q House, she wouldn’t have been chosen because she wasn’t already established,” she told the Independent. She questioned how the young woman could ever become established if she never got the opportunity to win construction contracts.
Charlie Delgado, a lifelong New Havener, said he has had trouble finding employment after graduating from Southern Connecticut State University with a double major.
“How can we earn wealth if they’re not giving us opportunities? Yale is worth $30 billion,” he said during the rally. “They can solve this.” He called for Yale University to help the city close its structural deficit and provide jobs for more New Haven residents.
Delgado read a list 22 black-owned restaurants in New Haven including Lalibella Ethiopian Restaurant, Mama Mary’ Soul Food, Rhythm Brewing Co. and called for people to support them.
“We’re not asking you to feed our children,” Remidy Shareef, who is a youth mentor for Ice the Beef, said during the rally. “What we’re telling you is we are prepared, we are skilled, we have the mental and spiritual fortitude to feed our children in our communities ourselves.”