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NY Times Wonders About Racism Playing in Peoria

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When Peoria City Councilwoman Denise Moore was asked by a reporter for the New York Times why black-owned shops were spared here in the spate of vandalism that followed some of the protests after the death of George Floyd, she explained there just weren’t that many black-owned businesses in Peoria.

That’s something that Moore wants to change. The African American councilwoman, who opened the Minority Business Development Center on the city’s impoverished South Side, using space once occupied by a Ben Franklin store at 2139 SW Adams St. in 2016, said the present national discussion about a racial divide is nothing new for Peoria.

“We started down that road after the 24/7 report came out,” said Moore, referring to a 24/7 Wall Street website listing released four years ago that cited Peoria as the worst place in the country for an African American to live.

The data used in that survey focused largely on the high poverty and unemployment numbers in the 61605 ZIP code, part of the First District that Moore represents on the Peoria council.

While a flurry of community meetings and committees calling for action came out of the 24/7 report, Moore said the recent focus on racial problems this year has brought far greater attention to the need for change.

“I’ve had more calls to our office, more Zoom calls, more calls offering help than ever before. We didn’t get this level of engagement before,” she said.

Along with helping business development, Moore’s development center is now seeking to train people for IT jobs, she said.

“Information Technology is all the rage now. With so many low-income and minority people employed in the hospitality sector, working in hotels and restaurants hit so hard by coronavirus, we’ve opened an IT training program in our building complete with a computer lab thanks to the help of a retired Caterpillar manager,” said Moore.

“We aren’t just teaching people how to use computers but how to repair and program them,” said Moore.

As for the New York Times article on Peoria, reviews were mixed.

“The New York Times took a very narrow look at the city through the lens of the post-Minneapolis protests and vandalism,” said Mayor Jim Ardis, who wasn’t quoted in the Times article.

“If they would have used a wider angle, it may have painted a different picture,” the mayor said.

Chuck Grayeb, a member of the Peoria City Council, said the Times story with its focus on protest activities could have been written by any number of cities at that time.

Peter Kobak, a former member of the city’s Innovation Team and now a recruiter with Peoria Public Schools, said the Times piece “had some interesting interviews and perspectives but missed an opportunity to really make sense of Peoria in the national reckoning on racial injustice.”

Kobak said the “it plays in Peoria” line was “not only poorly executed it missed a powerful opportunity.”

“While national brands don’t test products in Peoria like they used to, it may be that our racist divide and the varying perspectives on looting actually reinforce how representative of America we continue to be,” said Kobak.

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