Mayor Ransburg recently announced his intentions to do a broad range community planning effort. He talked about economic development and neighborhoods, the school system and other critical issues for our community to discuss.
A serious, though delicate, topic that needs to be discussed openly in one or more of these forums is the issue of diversity and race relations in Peoria.
For 2000, the Illinois Bureau of the Budget indicates Peoria County’s population is 186,400. The ethnic composition is 154,800 Caucasian and 31,600 people of color. The City of Peoria Census 2000 indicates its population is approximately 113,000, with Caucasians comprising 69 percent and people of color 31 percent.
According to a recent article, during the 1990s many Peoria neighborhoods saw significant shifts of ethnic groups. About 5,000 Caucasians moved out of Peoria while 11,000 people of color moved in. Given where our African-American population is concentrated, Peoria is the 24th most segregated city in the United States and in the top five for communities of its size.
On top of these facts is a conservative environment where the term "colored" is still used, and a white supremacist and the KKK occasionally get headlines.
I bet companies around Peoria experience the same situation we have at Methodist when it comes to recruiting people of color to our institutions. Questions regarding the conservative environment and related issues are topics of concern about moving to Peoria.
As someone who spent his entire professional career in more ethnically diverse environments, the open discussion of race relations and ethnic diversity is not an easy one to conduct. It is a very sensitive topic. My sense is there is an underlying level of racial issues beneath the surface in Peoria. Anything other than a positive forum to discuss these issues potentially could lead to a dangerous situation for Peoria under the wrong circumstances.
As I meet people of color it’s clear to me there is a disconnect. For example, a conversation I had recently with several African American ministers was about how the "white" business community doesn’t reach out to the African-American community. The "white" business community doesn’t ask about or know the quality of many of the African-American young adults attending college now.
One minister indicated two of his children are in college pursuing engineering degrees and could meet the professional needs of a number of businesses in Peoria. Like all parents, he would like for his children to live in this area, but won’t be able to unless opportunities present themselves.
Openly discussing these issues and creating mechanisms that allow dialogue is another great way to demonstrate to other communities we come together for the best interest of all—and we are all better for it. IBI