Changing Perceptions of Rochester

Prompt: Reflecting back on orientation and the tour of Rochester, how have your assumptions/preconceived notions been challenged since your service started?

      During the four years I have lived in Rochester while attending Nazareth College, while I did experience a great deal of what the city has to offer I never truly learned much about this place I have come to call home. Upon stepping into Rochester Youth Year orientation, the only things I really knew about Rochester were the locations of the best restaurants, museums and running routes. While I understood that rampant nature of poverty throughout the city when signing up for Rochester Youth Year, I did not truly understand the scope or historical context of this issue.

     One of the most helpful activities that was part of orientation was to watch the film 1964 which really opened my eyes to the reasons why there has been and continues to be such a huge disparity between the rich and poor in this city. Historically, Rochester was a city that took a great deal of pride in wealth and those who were able to accumulate it; consequently frowning upon those who were not as well off. As a result, minorities were confined to particular parts of the city and denied job opportunities because of both their race and economic background. This persistent treatment spurred a series of race riots where minorities attempted to rise against their oppressors and literally fight for what they deserved.

     Perhaps what surprised me the most about this video was that in my four years of living in Rochester, not one had I heard mention of the race riots. Once the film had concluded, I found myself grappling with the questions of why such a huge historical event did not receive more publicity in either schools or out in the community and how many other people throughout the city had never heard of these events either. From what I have seen, talking about historical issues such as this, rather than simply pushing them under the rug is the only way to prevent history from repeating itself. While taking a tour of Rochester after watching this video, I noticed that not much has really changed as far as the city layout essentially being divided between the rich and the poor. As we drove down East Avenue, past all of the gorgeous homes towards the more run down and poverty-stricken areas of the city, it became clear that while there are no longer riots taking place, many issues of the past still exist and contribute to a concept called cyclical poverty. Essentially, individuals who are members of families that have had numerous generations living in poverty are likely to continue to experience hardships as there is no one for them to look to as a successful role model.

     After watching 1964 and taking the tour of Rochester as part of RYY orientation, I definitely felt much better prepared for my year of Vista work on terms of giving my work a particular context and inspiring an even greater passion within me. The main goal of Americorps Vista is to fight poverty and from what I learned during orientation this is a much larger problem in Rochester than I originally thought but certainly one that is able to be addressed in a meaningful way. I truly believe that Rochester has a great resource in its people to overcome this challenge of cyclical poverty. There simply needs to be more dialogue about the issues, past, present, and future. By working together, this economic divide can certainly be bridged.




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