Over the past few years, there's been a lot of excitement over the new economic developments and community revivals in Buffalo. Canalside, the nearby HarborCenter, Larkinville and the Buffalo medical corridor have seen lots of new construction, businesses and people come to the city.
But there is also growing criticism that Buffalo's revival has, thus far, been limited to those areas and hasn't helped the city's poorest neighborhoods. Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic diocese and Bishop R. William Franklin of the Episcopal diocese have been working together for the past year to advocate opening up these economic opportunities to the entire city and its residents.
"One day (Bishop Franklin and I) were having a casual conversation, celebrating the good things that are happening now that we see," Bishop Malone said. "But then, we immediately turned to the fact that we have to remember that not everybody who lives in this community feels caught up in this hope. We have to make sure that everybody, people of color and other ethnic backgrounds in particular, are able to be involved. That doesn't mean just offering jobs, but also finding ways to help these folks become capable of applying for these jobs, maybe with some training. We need to work together to make sure Buffalo is truly the inclusive community it ought to be, and I think it's happening."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and many other religious leaders joined the cause, as Brown announced the Buffalo Opportunity Pledge in a press conference outside City Hall Wednesday morning.
"The goal of the pledge is to encourage business, organizations and residents to demonstrate a commitment to building a culture of inclusion and equity in Buffalo," the mayor said. "I'm confident, and statistics show this, that if everyone in our community advocates for inclusion and equity, and supports the diversity that we have, we will see an even more vibrant Buffalo."
During the press conference, Bishop Malone spoke of spreading the "new hope" he sees in Buffalo.
"We see the great developments here in Buffalo, (and we) hope it won't be a narrow hope that will benefit just a few, but hope that can draw so many others into this opportunity," he said. "Hope is such an important value in our lives, but it can't be simply a value of optimism and wishing good things will happen. When we talk about hope, it means finding and making ways for people to know that hope, and we want this new renaissance to be something that has a wide embrace that can draw those who maybe don't feel too hopeful about themselves, to know that there's going to be a real role, time of development and growth for them as well."
Over a dozen religious leaders of all denominations signed the pledge after the press conference. Brown said over 90 organizations have committed to the pledge, as have more than 1,000 individuals.
"We are seeing great economic development and momentum in the city of Buffalo," the mayor said. "Since 2012, we are up over $5.5 billion of economic development projects that have started. As the economic momentum continues, the momentum for opportunity for all residents of this community continues with these faith leaders signing the Buffalo Opportunity Pledge today. Diversity, inclusion and equity are the core values of (the pledge) and shared by those who are here today to sign the pledge."
"This group shows racial and religious unity," Bishop Franklin said. "We are in a moment where this nation is changing. No longer is racist language, no longer are racist symbols and no longer is religious prejudice acceptable in our country. Buffalo is leading the way in taking stands to show such unity. My hope is that we can move from talk to action, to make sure that in the time of the renewal of our city, jobs, opportunity and education are open to all races, religions, genders and cultures."
"As a son of Buffalo, I grew up on the East Side of Buffalo," said Bishop Michael Badger of Bethesda World Harvest International Church. "We've all heard that Buffalo is the third poorest city in the nation. I believe we are at a renaissance. I believe that we are at a tipping point where we're going to see great change, and we want that change to be for everyone. I think we all have to say that what happens to the least of us, determines what happens to the rest of us."
Bishop Malone said they are already working with some corporate and private leaders to ensure the tenets of the pledge are filtered into their company's hiring, and are looking to recruit even more leaders.
"There are conversations," Bishop Malone said. "I want to acknowledge and thank those business leaders who are already committed to this. This whole effort is to expand this, but that's not to say there are not already people in corporate leadership, or other kinds of leaders, who are not trying to advance this cause. They are there, but we need to sharpen it."