A Call to Marginal Communities to Look Inward for Empowerment
By Isaiah Murray
This summer I had the privilege of interning with Measure of America at the Social Science Research Council. I was intrigued by big data and big cities (hence New York) and saw this to be a great opportunity to learn how to “breathe life into numbers.” as stated in Measure of America’s mission statement. We were tasked with updating Data2Go.NYC, an online mapping and data tool that allows the public to explore New York City data in a digestible and visually appealing way. While doing this, I identified those variables that pertained to me. I wanted to know how Black, Latino, queer, low-income people fared through the lens of New York City data — and the numbers were quite depressing, not only for the groups I personally identified with but for any marginalized group.
Recognizing that this is the story that the data tells, I compared this to my life story and asked myself, “How is it that I was able to go against the odds that were stacked against me?” Looking only at the data, marginalized people appear to be doomed, but I know and feel that there is magic in these communities; it is just not being recorded.
Looking at data across the community districts of NYC, there are various indicators strongly related to the percentage of households headed by a single mother. The higher the rate of single mothers in a community district, the more likely it is that residents are obese, have diabetes, eat few fruits or vegetables, receive public assistance, are in poverty, or are unemployed. The rates of youth disconnection and teenage pregnancy also increase. Not surprisingly, these community districts are predominantly non-white.
This narrative is one that may sound like common knowledge when discussing inequality in New York City and more broadly. But I argue we should be doing more to uncover the revolutionary data in these communities that keep residents alive despite their living conditions. There are more people like myself who were able to overcome the stats that were against me. Whether the story is coming from a single parent whose child is a first-generation college student or a first-generation immigrant starting a successful business, these stories have data that can liberate and empower. Many call it hard work and grit, but that’s a broad name to give to things we could measure like how many youth have mentors, what percentage of English as a second language speakers are enrolled in courses, and community pride.
I understand that these questions may at surface level sound political, but they are apolitical when you observe them from a humanitarian perspective. Barriers that keep people from having a life of agency and success should be lifted. Data should encourage not discourage. Yes, it is important to recognize the issues, but when people are plagued by bad news it would be nice to have some positivity sprinkled in. To find this data, we must look within our own communities and collect our own data.
This is a call to New Yorkers and people at large to place importance on collecting data that make your community shine despite the recurring surveys in your area that can discourage a hopeful perspective. Marginalized groups have the power; it just needs to be identified, recorded, and mobilized.
Please complete this survey if you feel there is something you would like to have a statistic for in New York City. From your input, we can develop a more robust web tool for New Yorkers to access the information they find important.