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A new report on PA’s Black population revealed positive socioeconomic trends. Now the work begins at a local level.

Reading education advocates, health professionals and business owners discussed specific issues facing their community

  • Gabriela Martínez/WITF
On March, Democratic Sen. Art Haywood held a community roundtable with community leader and business owners in Reading.

 James Robinson / Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus

On March, Democratic Sen. Art Haywood held a community roundtable with community leader and business owners in Reading.

A report by Democratic Senator Art Haywood shows Black Pennsylvanians made significant gains in income and living conditions between 2010 and 2021.

In that time period, annual median income increased by over $10,000, the amount of households that earn over $100,000 went up by about 54,000, and the total population living in poverty decreased by 55,591. 

Haywood’s team is now doing a statewide tour to gather feedback from African-American and Afro-Latino communities. It held its first community roundtable at Zion Baptist Church in Reading. Haywood plans to host roundtables in Allentown, Erie, Pittsburgh, Lancaster and Philadelphia.

James Robinson / Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus

Senator Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) presented his new State of Black Pennsylvania report on Feb.28

 A group of about 30 people – community advocates, business owners and elected leaders of color – gathered at Zion Baptist Church in Reading on March 15 to share their thoughts on issues they want to see improve and to propose some solutions.

While most agreed the report shows positive trends, the participants raised concerns about high rates of gun violence and how they affect education outcomes. Some advocates who work directly with youth and their families argued that there is a disconnect between data and what actually happens on the ground level in communities.

Radarra McLendon, founder of The Village – a nonprofit that works on providing a space for community at-risk youth in Reading – highlighted the report’s findings on education, which showed that the number of Black students enrolled in school dropped from 436,990 students in 2010 to 353,490 in 2021.

James Robinson

Berks County State Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz gave opening remarks before a community roundtable at Zion Baptist Church in Reading. |

 She noted that gun violence is often one of the main educational barriers among low-income Black youth.

“Until we tap into those young people’s home lives and really address trauma, we can expect to see this number continue to incline in the amount of dropouts,” McLendon said.

Seleda Simmons, founder of Real Deal 610, a nonprofit in Reading that provides mental health and recovery services to youth, had similar concerns. She highlighted the need for more and better quality food at Reading School District and the need for more Latino and Black teachers who understand their students’ cultural background. 

Reading School District’s graduation rate is 71%, according to Public School Review.

“One of the things that we need to understand is we need to start holding people accountable for the decrease when it comes to our children and their education,” Simmons said. 

While the report showed a drop in school enrollment, it also showed that higher education enrollment increased by about 75% among males and 50% among females.  

The conversation generated about 12 recommendations for going forward, including creating a directory so that Black-led nonprofits, community organizations and businesses can stay connected and informed about funding opportunities. 

Several roundtable participants raised the need for more hyper-localized data that reflect Black population at a city and county level, as well as data that can help identify trends and correlations between issues like parent incarceration and the impact on children. 

State Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz, (D)-Berks County, who attended  the roundtable discussion, said the work at a local level is just getting started. She sensed that “people are not connecting to the data,” and that tangible solutions will come from the individual workgroups that will follow.

She says her constituents, like Simmons, often voice concerns about low food quality in urban schools and the disparities between Reading’s city district and suburban districts nearby. She said this is an area she might be able to address in collaboration with other Berks County state lawmakers.

“Let’s figure out if we can have an impact and make sure that all children not only are provided with free breakfast and lunch, but it’s quality breakfast and lunch, and it’s quantity appropriate for the age or grade, because I’ve often heard that the portions are the same throughout all the grades,” Cepeda-Freytiz said.

The 28-page report also shows that state incarceration of Black people has gone down by 32% between 2010 and 2021. It also showed that the amount of people without health insurance went down from 14.6% to. 6.1%


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