A smattering of sticky notes posted on the wall of an adjacent sitting room spell out other concerns: Employers who take advantage of young workers. No control of housing and leasing requirements. A lack of paid leave. Unlivable minimum wage. Meager networking opportunities. Language barriers. Undocumented status. Rules against hiring people with criminal backgrounds. A dearth of mental health services.
These barriers, the group at Casa Blue said, seem to fall disproportionately on young, working-class people of color. They worry that any positive change happening isn’t making its way to the communities who have long called neighborhoods like the Third Ward home. In fact, they worry, gentrification may be slowly pushing communities of color out of historically significant places such as Emancipation Park, a long-time gathering place for black families, and away from informal support networks.
Young people of color, Sánchez added, “see that maybe, even though our city has been doing well economically, they haven’t always benefited equally from that, and so they still face some of these challenges, maybe harsher than their peers.”
There are other, more malevolent forces at play, too.
The group initially skirts around the topic of racism. Yes, it’s real. Yes, it’s painful, they say before almost everyone becomes interested in staring down at their own shoelaces.
When I press for specifics, Marquis Wiley, a college student, and Dartalian Harris, a 25-year-old accounting student, both young black men, offer a litany of examples almost mechanically, resigned. They’ve been spat on, told to shut up by a police officer, called the n-word, embarrassed at a restaurant for trying to correct a wrong meal. Sometimes the racism is subtle, Harris said, but he feels people staring, and it takes a toll. Wiley’s coworkers in one adjacent town told him to be careful driving home because of what the police might do. Driving home makes him nervous. “It’s made me want to leave on a number of occasions,” Wiley, a generally affable guy who attended Houston Community College and plans to study science at Texas Southern University, said.
Most of the incidents involve other people of color, Latinos specifically, they say when I dig deeper.
Although Houston is a demographically diverse city, its makeup is changing. The Latino share of the population has climbed 35 percent since 2000. Yet people of color remain continuously more likely to attend failing schools, to experience poverty and to be unemployed, which can lead to clashes that obscure the broader issue: that both blacks and Latinos are disproportionately less likely to be in positions of power when it comes to shaping where Houston is headed. Median income in 2014 for whites was close to $79,000. For blacks and Latinos, it was $33,000 and $36,000, respectively. Blacks make up nearly a quarter of the population, but own only around 15 percent of businesses. Latinos own just 23 percent of businesses, but make up nearly 44 percent of the population.