Published April 14, 2021
Chiwuike "Chi-Chi" Owunwanne of the University at Buffalo Regional Institute serves as the Program Director for the East Side Avenues initiative, which provides capital and organizational support to transformational projects in targeted areas along four commercial corridors on Buffalo’s East Side.
As part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion investment plan, East Side Avenues provides capacity building, funding and organizational support for critical development corridors on the East Side. Chi-Chi coordinates these activities in close collaboration with community members, funders, individual nonprofits, consultants, and the Advisory Committee.
How do you view your role in advancing racial justice in our communities?
Forty-two percent of the City’s residents live on the East Side and about 80% of them are people of color. The East Side Avenues comprise of public/private funding dedicated to economic development and revitalization efforts on Buffalo’s East Side. My role as Program Director is guided and driven by the need to advance racial equity and ensure that the East Side community shares in the regional prosperity. I am helping advance these causes through training programs such as the Community-Based Real Estate Development Training and projects that reflects the need of the community garnered through a multi-faceted and ongoing community engagement process.
How do you hope to assert your role in this space as a practitioner? Tell us about your future plans.
Because the East Side Avenues is a five-year grant funded initiative, aside from my day-to-day programmatic responsibilities, I continue to cultivate and build relationships with community leaders, current and potential funders. The work we set out to do will outlast the five-year funding and there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges. I hope to assert myself by leveraging relationships to advocate for more resources. It’s rare having a group of funders –some competitors, come together for a long-term grant program and judging by their unwavering commitment in the midst of a global pandemic, I am confident that they will continue to lend their support in our effort to advance racial justice in our East Side communities. We recently took a major step in other future plans. Last month, we applied for a $20M, highly competitive, racial equity national grant to help further the work. It’s certainly a long shot, but this is how confident we are and how proud of work we’re doing to advance racial justice in our East Side communities.
Please tell us about an African American/ Black professional, community advocate, and/ or scholar whose contribution inspires you and why?
I am inspired by ordinary people, the young, black and brown people who, despite grave risk to themselves from opposing forces, still go out and protest these centuries-old injustices –getting into “good trouble, necessary trouble, [to] help redeem the soul of America.” Although I know deep down that I am also doing my part within my circumstance as a husband and a father of two toddlers –one with special needs, I often wonder why I’m not out there with them on the frontlines.
"My role as Program Director [of East Side Avenues] is guided and driven by the need to advance racial equity and ensure that the East Side community shares in the regional prosperity."
- Chiwuike "Chi-Chi" Owunwanne