Midwestern States Face Challenge of Keeping Black Families From Leaving


As Rust Belt cities focus on attracting immigrants to boost their economy, some longtime African American residents fear that plans for revitalization will leave them out.

It’s become quite popular for city leaders in the Rust Belt to talk about their efforts to attract immigrants and international talent. And the strategy makes sense: Their populations are shrinking, and immigrants are known for opening small businesses and reviving decaying urban neighborhoods. Nonprofits called Global Detroit, Global St. Louis, and Global Cleveland have popped up in response to this trend.

But these efforts have also brought up an uncomfortable reality in Midwestern cities. Many black community leaders are not thrilled with the focus on helping immigrants. A recurring theme heard here is: Why not invest in the people who are already here? In the urban Midwest, black residents face unemployment rates of up to 20 percent.

The lack of job opportunities in post-industrial, Midwestern cities is largely responsible for an exodus of black residents, who are moving south in what has been dubbed the New Great Migration. Cities like Cleveland, Austin, and San Francisco have all tried different methods to stop the departure of black families. From 2000 to 2010, Cleveland lost 32,000 African Americans (In 2000 there were about 244,000), the largest “black flight” in the city’s history.

While many city leaders have tried to avoid invoking these racial tensions, Cleveland is facing them straight on. Global Cleveland, which largely focuses on attracting high-skilled immigrants to the city’s growing healthcare and information technology workforce, recently launched an African American initiative. “We have a lot of people who don’t feel welcome here, so we needed to find a way to make African Americans feel comfortable with our work,” says Jazmin Long, director of community relations and strategic partnerships for Global Cleveland. She says that if African Americans feel that Cleveland is a good place to live, they will tell their friends and relatives in other cities. “It’s all about word of mouth,” she says.

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The Atlantic