Members of Spokane’s black community said Wednesday they are being neglected in an important new program to combat youth problems.
Only one black person now sits on a 23-member Spokane County planning board that could hand out millions of dollars in the county.
Money from the state program will go to fight teenage pregnancy, youth violence and drug abuse and other youth-related problems.
“I don’t think we have enough representation on this committee,” said Fran Hammond. “Can we trust these people to put in a program for us that’s good and solid?”
Hammond spoke at a meeting at East Central Community Center that drew about 40 blacks and a handful of whites. The gathering was organized by the Washington State Commission on African-American Affairs.
Attendees said issues in the black community are different from those in the white community, and they fear a program dominated by whites will ignore black efforts to solve the problems.
The meeting was supposed to be a forum to talk about problems facing black families and youths, but much of the discussion focused on the politics of black representation on the board.
The Legislature has proposed spending as much as $36 million statewide on programs designed and funded by local planning boards.
To do that, the Legislature told Spokane leaders to form a Community Public Health and Safety Network board, which will have the power to develop a local spending plan. It’s not known how much money will be sent to Spokane for the programs, but it could be a few million dollars.
Some of the comments made at Wednesday’s meeting will be used in that planning.
Alfonse Hill, the only black named to the network board, said he would like to have other blacks on the board to back him up when it comes time to hand out the money.
Valerie Marshall, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center in Spokane, said the network board has too many familiar names and not enough diversity.
James Kelly, executive director of the state African-American Affairs Commission, said blacks will have a hard time supporting the community planning without more representation.
The current membership was appointed by the Spokane City Council, county commissioners, school districts, the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and representatives from 10 government agencies.
Linda Urquhart, chairwoman of the network board, said diversity was sought on the panel, which also includes two American Indians and one Hispanic.
Despite concerns about insufficient black representation, Urquhart urged those at the meeting to get involved.
“We need your energy and emotion,” she said.