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Duane Diggs: President, VOICE-Buffalo

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Duane Diggs: President, VOICE-Buffalo

As president of VOICE-Buffalo, Dunae Diggs has earned a reputation for calm, deliberate, but steadfast activism on behalf of the community he represents. We asked him to talk about some of the organization’s goals, especially in regard to transforming our notion of economic development so that its benefits are directed toward the entire community.

Tell us about VOICE-Buffalo.

VOICE Buffalo is a faith based organization that is affiliated with the Gamaliel Foundation. The membership of VOICE is comprised primarily of city and suburban congregations. PUSH, Catholic Charities and SEIU are also members. Our organization is very diverse, representing people of different religious denominations, socio economic classes, races and ethnic backgrounds. We work through our membership to develop our issues of social justice. VOICE-Buffalo trains and invests in leadership. As a faith based organization VOICE sets forth our values in the public arena by taking responsibility for ourselves and our community. We believe that government be accountable, inclusive, transparent, and equitable. The current goals of VOICE are related to economic development, public investments, and the creation of employment opportunities for our region and community. In terms of issues we are in fighting for the creation of a bi-regional planning entity which would include light rail rapid transit system extensions to Amherst, the airport and the South Towns. Also we believe quality education is a right to all children, and want to reform our public education system. Our community must be invested in and we are pushing for the extension of the Millionaire’s Tax that will maintain $5 Billion dollars in our budget for these issues. It will also enable us to continue services without reductions.

What has been your role in the Canal Side Community Alliance?

I have represented VOICE as a member of the Canal Side Community Alliance since July 2010. During that time I have been a part of the strategic planning team. I have been responsible for determining positions regarding the redevelopment of our waterfront by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. I have served as a spokesperson for CSCA at press conferences, forums and other related events. In my role I have encouraged and advocated transparency and accountability as well as redevelopment of our waterfront. I also want public funds utilized for the Erie Canal Redevelopment to benefit the Western New York region and ALL of its citizens. I also want diversity in construction contractors, businesses, and the workforce. Economic Development in Western New York should be inclusive rather than exclusive.

If Governor Cuomo were to name you to the ECHDC, what would you bring to the position?

Being appointed to the ECHDC board would be a blessing for me. I am a lifelong resident of Buffalo, and have personally witnessed our region’s decline in population, industry, business, and along with it, a great loss of jobs over the past 50 years. We have made a number of urban planning decisions that have negatively impacted our region and produced both urban decay and urban sprawl. As a faith based leader I will bring a community based approach to waterfront development. As an African American man I will bring much needed perspective and diversity to the board. Most importantly, I would represent those individuals that currently feel left out of the decision making process. I have had personal struggles in my life that I had to overcome. These struggles helped to shape and define my perspective, my faith, and my determination to make a difference here. I have been one of the people I am trying to uplift in our community. I could just as easily given up on life, be in prison, or dead. However, I never gave up on myself and I found a way to persevere in relationship with individuals that believed in me. Now, it is my turn to give back by fighting for social justice. I have found my VOICE. I have had the opportunity to work and build relationships with ECHDC Board members and staff regarding waterfront development. In building these relationships have come to appreciate that they share some of the same aspirations and dreams that I have for our community.

Why is it important for community members to be more involved in policy decisions?

I believe that community members must be involved in decisions effecting their lives. For far too long our community has suffered because poor decisions made by the few have ultimately impacted the many. We need to open up the process to allow community involvement and participation. It is so important that individuals participate in the public hearings that shape the decisions and determine public policy. That is what happened when VOICE, CEJ and other community organizations formed an alliance to open up the planning process for the Erie Canal Harbor project. We cannot leave important decisions to others. Community organizations and ordinary citizens must engage in how public moneys are spent.

What are some good ways for citizens to get involved in local issues?

The best way for citizens to get involved in local issues is to develop relationships with other concerned citizens or organizations. Networking, fellowshipping, and relationship building around issues that are important to you gets you a seat at the decision making table. I would also suggest joining my organization VOICE-Buffalo, or other community based organizations such as PUSH, NOAH and CEJ.

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