A group of citizens gathered in front of The Community Haven on Hughes Avenue Tuesday evening to hear "The People's State of the City," a direct rebuttal to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's April State of the City address.
Speakers called out the mayor's choice to hold the address at the Westin Chattanooga, a four-star hotel in the middle of downtown Chattanooga, less than a mile away from the city's most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Berke pointed out during his address that the Westin Hotel is an example of an act of creation that turned a worn-out insurance building into a luxury destination.
They said the address only told the story of the "pretty" side of Chattanooga and ignored the realities of those who live in poorer areas of the city.
Kevin Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, asked what the city would gain by building "magnificent structures, beautiful buildings, magnificent bridges built with magnificent technology" while some of its citizens are living in underdeveloped neighborhoods.
"Chattanooga has lost its soul," Kevin Muhammad said. "It's rotting from within."
But the mayor did address certain issues that affect some of the more disadvantaged neighborhoods. Issues such as gang violence and concerns for safety. He pointed to the Family Justice Center and the Citizen Safety Coalition that build stronger communities to help victims of crime.
Timothy Careathers, pastor of Westside Baptist Church, said he thinks the mayor's focus has remained on bringing more businesses to the area rather than investing in ways to improve living conditions for the poor.
"The city must focus more on building human potential of the people," Muhammad said. "If you invest in smarter students and build stronger families, they will turn the neighborhood into safer neighborhoods."
Speakers also called out many local organizations and foundations for having predominantly white board members. Organizations such as UnifiEd, the Public Education Foundation and EPB were named.
Of those, six of 11 UnifiEd board members are black, one of eight PEF board members are black and one of five EPB board members are black.
Regardless, speakers emphasized the need for more people of color in leadership positions in both the public and private sector.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.