Minority aldermen address city problems

Ward 28 Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe delivered the Black and Hispanic Caucus’s annual State of the City Address before the Board of Aldermen and about thirty community members Monday evening.

Robinson-Thorpe focused on jobs and unemployment in her address, which was accompanied by speeches from two city residents. In the address, Robinson-Thorpe reiterated the major features of the legislative agenda that the Board unanimously signed in January, including a commitment to a “jobs pipeline” program, community policing at the New Haven Police Department, and services for the city’s youth.

“Our vision is ambitious, but it’s necessary,” Robinson-Thorpe said. “The vast majority of unemployed are black and Hispanic. It’s hit our community the hardest.”

She put particular emphasis on the so-called “jobs pipeline” — a municipal program aimed at job creation in the city — citing her personal success with a similar program. Twenty years ago, she said, she enrolled in the New Haven Residents Training Program, a partnership between Yale, Connecticut and local unions. The program allowed her to get an associate’s degree, as well as a part-time job with the University. With the program’s help, she also completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

“I stand before you today saying that more people should have the opportunities that I had,” she said.

She also praised the diversity of this year’s Board of Aldermen. The Black and Hispanic Caucus currently claims 21 members, she said — the largest membership in the Board’s history.

Two New Haven residents also shared their experiences before the chamber, which marks the first time community involvement has been a part of the address. “There are stories people need to hear,” said Robinson-Thorpe of her decision to include them in the ceremony.

Jazmine Vega, a high school student in New Haven, spoke about the struggles her family is facing.

“My mother has a master’s degree, but she still struggles,” Vega said. She told the assembly about a recent time when her mother needed “to choose between buying toilet paper and milk.”

Shelton Tucker, a community activist and co-founder of My Brother’s Keeper, a community advocacy organization, also spoke about the economic problems facing New Haven neighborhoods.

“My story started out like a lot of kids in my neighborhood. When drugs emerged in our community, it was seen more as a way out of our impoverished situation,” he said. “Within a few years, I had lost over a dozen friends to violence.”

Tucker also praised the jobs pipeline program as a potential solution to violence in the community. “Destitution will eventually lead to desperation, and a community of desperate and hopeless people is an unsafe community,” he said.

City Hall’s latest surveys show that 12.9 percent of New Haveners are unemployed.

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