How Erie’s Black Wall Street is trying to change the city

  • Ed Mahon/PA Post

In northwestern Pennsylvania, the city of Erie has seen hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments for building projects in recent years. That’s a promising sign for what been a struggling economy in the former manufacturing center. 

But Erie consistently ranks as one of the worst metro areas for black residents, based on racial disparities in income, education achievement gaps and other factors.

For America Amplified, PA Post’s Ed Mahon explains how a grassroots group of Black residents are trying to change that.

Listen: “If you know better, you do better.”

edmahonreporter · Listen: Erie’s Black Wall Street

Watch: A conversation with an Erie’s Black Wall Street founder and two business owners.

About this story

Ed Mahon produced this story as part of the America Amplified initiative using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. PA Post is part of the America Amplified network.
Ed made two trips to Erie: one at the end of June, another in July. He attended a Juneteenth protest during his first trip, which is when he met Angelica Spraggins, one of the founders of Erie’s Black Wall Street. The interview with Angelica and others in Erie appeared in the radio feature. The coverage also included a Facebook live video session with another founder of the group, as well as two business owners.

Q: What did the people you talked to say about the experience of being interviewed for public radio?
We received good feedback about the Facebook live video interview. One of the participants suggested we organize similar sessions with other business owners — which I think is a great idea.
And as with many stories, it was tough to leave some parts out of the radio feature. One example: Rhonda Matthews, one of the leaders of Erie’s Black Wall Street, talked about the power of the business directory to inspire others.
“The history of the United States, for me, in terms of representation of people from various ethnic groups is really about erasure, right? Or at the very least, if it’s not about erasure, it’s about ignorance,” Matthews said.
And she said the creation of the business directory is one way to ensure the contributions of Black people are not ignored. That perspective informed the reporting.

Q: What surprised you about this type of community engagement?
I interviewed several people before my June trip to Erie, but I didn’t learn about Erie’s Black Wall Street until I attended the Juneteenth demonstration. One of the organizers of the protest mentioned the group’s work during the event and I interviewed one of the founders of the group after the protest. That led to further coverage. The experience shows the value of spending time in a community.

Q: What lessons do you have for others who want to do the same?
The Facebook live video interviews worked well to make an impression in Erie, and they did reach a variety of people in the community. It would be useful to do more of these.

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