This Black History Month should be different. After enduring months of overlapping crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color to the uprisings against anti-Black racism and police brutality to the White supremacist insurrection just a few weeks ago, it’s beyond time for our sector not only to commit to anti-racism, equity, and opportunity for all but to take action this month and beyond.
We cannot talk about the roots of this ongoing inequality and growing racial wealth gap without addressing America’s legacy of structural racism. Structural racism refers to the larger systems, beyond individual racist behavior, that perpetuate inequality based on race. Remember that our country was founded on the premise that white males—and no one else—should have the right to own property. And that history includes the land that was stolen from Native people, and wealth and labor that has been extracted from Black and Latino folks to benefit the few. The way our country was founded and the system of government that was created – and the culture and narratives that resulted from this – are still very much a part of how wealth and prosperity are defined, and who benefits from those systems and structures today.
As the year 2020 presented numerous challenges to families across the country, systems borne from racial injustices in America persist in multiple forms in this new year—from barriers to health care, to quality jobs, to housing, to healthy food, and to education opportunities. Racial injustice is also seen, glaringly, in the epidemic of police brutality and mass incarceration. In many instances, these and other factors contribute to multiple generations of families who are unable to break out of poverty because our systems fail to provide them the same opportunities as others. In order for us to move forward, and to create the community we want, we must not only recognize these ongoing inequities but step in and provide the resources, money, and power needed to make progress toward housing and economic justice. A core belief in this country is that the circumstances into which a person is born should not limit our outcomes. That is why it’s critical that we find new ways of coming together to reframe the narratives and create systems that provide opportunity for all of our communities to prosper.
At Neighborhood Partnerships, one way we are doing that is through our economic justice work. What is economic justice? Simply put, economic justice is about developing systems and policies that provide everyone the opportunity for a dignified, productive, safe, and creative life—a life in which we can prosper for ourselves, and for our loved ones. Economic justice is also about shared values—strong guiding principles that we believe in, which center us and help guide us in trying times. Some of these core values include: Centering race and doing things differently (we can’t continue doing business in the same old ways that lead to the same outcomes that perpetuate racism and racial inequality); Centering those most impacted (solutions are closest to those impacted and thus our systems, practices a narrative should be co-created with and by BIPOC communities); Community Building (recognizing that we can’t do this work alone and should work together and support each other); and Opportunity (the chance to reach our dreams and go far in life).
To understand how economic justice is achievable, we must start by visioning a world where these shared values can thrive. I hope you will join us in making that a reality.