“Why are we locked out?” was the theme at a May 20 meeting hosted by Westside Health Authority concerning the lack of jobs made available to the Austin community on the multi-million dollar Eisenhower Expressway resurfacing project.

Community residents and activists voiced their concerns at WHA’s 5417 W. Division office to discuss why there are no Austin community residents working on the current construction project, they argue.

Virgil Crawford and Roger Eheman of the Westside Health Authority conducted a packed, lively meeting.

“What must we do to open up the hiring process?” asked Crawford, following by asking the audience, “What role will you play?”

“We know of two projects that are going on that is being funded by stimulus dollars. The question is: who is doing the work on the I-290?” Crawford said. “We know that there are four constructions companies over there…The question is: who in the community has skills to work on the Eisenhower Expressway? We got some people in here-anybody here knows of anyone working out there?”

Crawford again asked if the community was being locked out of those jobs.

“The real jobs are on the expressway paying $25, $30, and $40 per hour,” he said. “I drive that expressway everyday and don’t see anyone that looks like us working out there.”

Also, addressing the forum was Rev. Michael Stinson of General Assembly Church, 938 W. 59th St. Stinson stressed that not having a job can be another avenue to incarceration. The pastor then laid out various strategies for addressing the stifling job situation in the community.

“If there is no unity why would a contractor, or business, or a state, or a government have to stop by your block? They are going to keep on going in the direction they have been going and get to those communities that are organized,” he said.

Crawford then directed criticism to elected leaders who, he argues, are not watching out for the community.

“There are those who are in positions in our community that are supposed to be representing us that have not done a good job,” he said. “They have failed, and they refuse to be held accountable. What we know is this: we have representation in this community that is 100 percent African American, and we know that there is stimulus money coming down the pipe. We know that President Barack Obama said he wants to rebuild the infrastructure of the entire country-bridges, roads, everything. We have people who are representing us; who have the responsibility to bring the information to us and to open the process out to make sure we can take advantage of these opportunities.

“Our first stop has to be with those who represent us,” Crawford added.

An audience member interrupted by asking: “what if you asked 150 of us to go out onto the Eisenhower and say ‘if we don’t work, nobody works?'”

Crawford responded that the first step is to confront those who represent the community. A follow-up strategy meeting will be scheduled in the next upcoming weeks, he said. Every Block A Village-a WHA citizen-led initiative- said they will be contacting Austin’s elected officials for help regarding the Ike expressway project: State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th); U.S. Danny Davis (7th), aldermen Deborah Graham (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th); state Sen. Don Harmon (39th); and newly appointed state representative Camille Lilly (78th).