Ariz. Blacks a study in contradictions
Arizona Republic
Feb. 28, 2008


JJ Hensley

Blacks in Arizona are more likely to have a college degree and earn more than African-Americans around the nation.

Blacks are also less likely in Arizona to complete a four-year college degree and more likely to die of heart disease or cancer, a new study finds.

That's a small part of the dichotomy the authors of the "State of Black Arizona" discovered: As life has improved for many Blacks in Arizona compared with the rest of the country, the quality of life for African-Americans has consistently lagged what other races experience in the state.

Blacks represent about 3 percent of Arizonans, with more than 180,00 residents, according to a 2005 U.S. Census estimate, but today's report marks the first time in a decade that anyone has taken such a thorough look at the state's African-American population.

It comes at a time when the state is dealing with a myriad of economic and growth-related issues, and all Arizonans need to be aware of the state's strengths and weaknesses, said George Dean, president of the Greater Phoenix Urban League.

The study's authors, including teams from Arizona State University and the Greater Phoenix Urban League, want the project to serve as a baseline to be updated annually and to coincide with the National Urban League's yearly report on the "State of Black America."

Many of the findings mirrored national trends sociologists have discussed for decades, while others pointed to an emerging Black middle class in Arizona that outpaces that of many other, older states.

But many Black Arizonans have relocated from out of state, which helps to create a problem in the community that the study touches on repeatedly: a fleeting sense of a Black community in the Valley.

Bridget Williams is a Valley native who said that lack of a community has become more noticeable in recent years, particularly after her Brooklyn-born husband, Keyan, pointed out the support their catering business would get in his native New York.

"I think that we've always had a problem but I know it's getting worse," said Williams, who worked in the corporate world for more than 20 years before opening BridgeKey Catering with Keyan three years ago. "I know that more people are moving into the Valley from other areas and I'm sure they're noticing it."

Beyond the nebulous concept of a community, the study pointed to a lack of leaders who have emerged to carry the standard borne before them by Valley civil-rights pioneers like the late Rev. George Brooks Sr., an active figure who took the helm of Maricopa County's NAACP chapter in 1961 and eventually served as a state legislator.

"I don't think there's a lack of leadership, there's a dispersal of leadership. In the civil-rights movement, there were one to two people who were the leaders," said the Rev. Warren H. Stewart, senior minister at the First Institutional Baptist Church. "It is not as centralized as it used to be, or as personality-focused."

One goal of the survey, said Michael Kelly, who contributed a personal essay and served as an adviser on the project, is to help leaders identify issues and use the data to help craft public policies that address these problems.

Stewart, a pastor who has served a post at the church on 12th and Jefferson streets in Phoenix for 30 years, said issues are as varied as they are self-evident in the Valley's Black community, they just require a new generation of leaders to cope with them.

"We get sicker, die quicker and score lower on tests than any race in the nation," Stewart said. "Those are common issues around which we must rally. There are multifaceted issues in the African-American community that require multifaceted leadership. It requires more than a charismatic personality."