Local leaders reflect on changes 50 years after MLK's death - WEEK.com: Peoria-area News, Weather, Sports

Local leaders reflect on changes 50 years after MLK's death

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Many people are took time out Wednesday to reflect on Dr.  Martin Luther King Junior.  Fifty years ago the civil rights leader was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.  
We asked some local residents what King might say now about  Peoria, once ranked the worst city for blacks to reside in according to a Wall Street 24-7 survey.  
"Seem like we've lost some of the gains we had and I think he'd be disappointed in that," said local NAACP board member Gene Petty. 

Petty said today's civil rights challenges include voter suppression, racial profiling, and higher minority unemployment some of the same things King fought against.   Tri-County Urban League President Laraine Bryson calls the 50th anniversary bittersweet. 

"I think that we have made some progress .  I can remember as a young girl just in this neighborhood having restaurants where that didn't serve people who look like me, those don't exist anymore in Peoria.  that's progress.  Many people have been employed in certain positions that is progress,"  she said. 

Two years ago a 24/7 Wall Street survey ranked Peoria the worst city in the country for African Americans, citing issues like joblessness for blacks at 15 percent,  three times that of their white counterparts.   Mayor Jim Ardis says issues that  King fought against in the 60's are still tough to deal with now.   

"I think the thing that all of us are dealing with almost on a daily basis are a lot of the relationships between the minority communities, specifically the African American community and our police departments," he said.

Gene Petty said there's been a return to segregation.

"60-percent of our teachers in public schools don't live in the city, probably that many police don't live in the city, same way with firemen, they don't have any vested interest in the city," he said. 

He said city leaders need to ecnourage people from moving out of the Peoria and instead promote more inclusiveness and diversity.  


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