How are the candidates for governor planning to take on the issues in the commonwealth’s African American community?
That’s what a coalition of African American organizations want to find out during its forum April 22nd.
The coalition invited the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates - Robert McCord and Kathleen McGinty accepted, but Thomas Wolf and Allyson Schwartz were unable to clear their schedules.
Reverend Victor Grigsby said they want to know how the candidates would fund education in the commonwealth, how they plan to close the academic achievement gap and decrease the high school dropout rate.
He said education funding needs to be a higher priority.
“Education in the commonwealth is funded primarily by property tax which for urban centers is a problematic funding base which has seen urban property values decline in recent years,” Grigsby said.
Esther Bush, President and CEO of Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, called the commonwealth’s education dilemma a civil rights issue.
She said history has shown that change and equality happen in the classroom and she believes all American children need a quality education.
“I am pretty certain that the classroom is where our future lies in terms of our change,” Bush said. “We have to look at equality, and we have to continue to teach them and educate them because they are our future.”
Rick Adams, co-convener of the Western PA Black Political Assembly, said economic and community development and employment are issues that are paramount and rise to the level of a civil rights issue.
“We’re interested what role the governor will play, whoever he or she may be, in terms of helping us develop our communities and make sure people that traditionally live in these communities have the opportunity to stay there, be employed there, buy and rent homes there and live like all commonwealth citizens,” Adams said.
Tim Stevens, Chair of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said another concern is that people in western Pennsylvania feel that they are not considered as much as those in the eastern part of the commonwealth.
“Will they respond to western Pennsylvania to the level that they do in the east?” Stevens said. “Secondly, will they be willing to come back and meet with our…collective leadership group either quarterly or semi-annually so we keep in contact with them and they with us in terms of our concerns, aspirations and needs?”
The coalition said they sent each candidate a list of seven questions to be answered at the forum or in writing for those who cannot attend.
The forum will be held at the Central Baptist Church in the Hill District at 6 p.m.