BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) Hundreds of lawmakers, educators and community leaders will gather in Albany starting Friday for what’s become a traditional annual event. It’s the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators annual caucus weekend.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes used to be the chair of the New York State Asssociation of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, but since a new chair took over after 2015, there are delays in public financial filings, and questions about how many scholarships were handed out in recent years. The New York Post ran a story earlier this year claiming the group hasn’t handed out any scholarships in the past two years.
For decades now the group has held an annual weekend conference in February, Just two weeks ago, the online ticket site for this year’s event mentioned in the first paragraph that the conference “allows the Association to raise scholarship funds for the educational advancement of minority youth.” That sentence was removed in the past two weeks.
Although not the chair anymore, Crystal Peoples-Stokes is still a member and says they are still giving out scholarships. She knows of four just in the past year that she gave out through Buffalo churches. “I’ve been there for 16 years, and I would say I’ve probably given 25 to 30 or more scholarships to people around Buffalo and Western New York. Sometimes we were able to give one scholarship. Sometimes we were able to give two. Most times we were able to give two and sometimes it was in the amount of a $1,000, and sometimes it was 500 or sometimes it was 250.”
Since mid-January, News 4 has been trying to get updated numbers from the group itself, but the Associaton isn’t providing any information. Through the website www.ProPublica.com we were able to pull up the association’s financial filings but only up to the year 2016, and even then it’s not clear what the group paid out in scholarships that year.
In 2015, they provided thirty five thousand dollars in total scholarships. The year before 32 thousand and the year before that $43,000, but the past few years remain a mystery.
Peoples-Stokes can’t speak for why there’s a lag in making the recent numbers public, but she does say she was astounded at the expense of the annual event. The group often brings in a half million dollars a year in sponsorships and ticket sales but more than 90 pecent of it is needed to put on the weekend long conference. some of the expense is because the State Office of General Services mandates who can provide the food services for the dinners and receptions.”It’s kind of like a captive economic environment. This is your choice.. I think for me, I thought they were charging too much, so I think we were able to help get them to negotiate down a little bit, and kept pressing the fact that we have to have something left at the end of the day to give scholarships to people in our districts.”
As frustrating as it is to her how little is often left over for scholarships, the Assembly Majority Leader says that a lot of good networking and good ideas come out of the annual event. She notes how former Deputy Assembly Speaker Arther Eve was one of the founding members of the group four decades ago and that it still serves as a valuable exchange of ideas for helping underserved communities and for providing educational opportunity.