Statewide conference addresses disparities still faced by African Americans in W.Va.

Marshall University collaborated with HOPE Community Development Corporation, a non-profit corporation based in Charleston that works to assist in inner city development, to organize the first State of African Americans in West Virginia Summit in the Don Morris Room of the Memorial Student Center.

The summit entailed a day-long event of speakers and panels that examined the state of African Americans in West Virginia, by focusing on various disparities African Americans in the state are facing.

Reverend Matthew J. Watts, executive director of HOPE CDC, led the discussion with statistical data about the major challenges and socio-economic differences African Americans are confronted with in the mountain state.

Watts said “closing the socio-economic gap, educational achievement gap, and health disparity gap” must be targeted heavily in order to see progression in overcoming the inequalities African Americans have experienced.

The first breakout session of the summit had three sections that focused on the state’s discrepancies of African Americans in K-12 education, the juvenile and adult criminal justice system and workforce and economic development and housing. The second session detailed health and human services, higher education and the importance of public service.

“It’s not only about just gathering this information and seeing what the issues are,” Kelli Johnson, co-director of the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equality & Inclusion, said. “But actually discussing those issues in the African American community in West Virginia and hopefully coming up with some concrete, forward moving steps to address a lot of those issues.”

Johnson said she hopes that attendees leave the summit with a better understanding of issues discussed and “a plan-in-place of how to make a better community for African Americans here in the state.”

Watts said he hopes to not only make change in his own neighborhood and state, but to one day positively affect the nation through inner city development.

Danite Belay can be contacted at [email protected]