Sunday, November 1, 2015

We Are Not Alone

           Many thanks to the Incarnate Word Foundation and PolicyLink, the national research and action institute dedicated to advancing economic and social equity throughout the country. Thanks to these two agencies, about 20 of us St. Louis nonprofit heads attended PolicyLink’s “Equity Summit” in Los Angeles, CA last week. 
For me, a life-long St. Louisan fed up with the seeming disconcert between powerful city leaders and the overwhelming health and economic disparities among the city’s poor and minorities, it was empowering. Like me, I’m certain other delegation members suffer from fund-raising fatigue and the sense that our missions are not at the top of regional leader’s priority lists. “Equity Summit 2015: All In for Inclusion, Justice & Prosperity” was a reminder that we are not alone.
          PolicyLink, founded in 1999 by Angela Glover Blackwell, focuses on policies affecting low-income communities and communities of color. Its guiding principle, EQUITY, is defined as “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” It was really cool spending a few days in sunny California surrounded by 3,000 leaders, advocates and “equity stakeholders” working to enact this powerful principle. Through a series of mobile workshops, plenary sessions and presentations we were given cutting-edge strategies to help us organize, communicate, advocate and, yes, demand real and lasting change.

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         I needed the boost the summit provided as it stressed our individual roles in America’s “transformational change.” There are literally thousands of us nudging the country toward racial and economic justice, ending police brutality, demanding workers’ rights and addressing widening income inequality.  In a real sense, we’re prepping the nation for its future. By 2044, people of color will be the majority population in the United States. This nation will never live up to its full potential until leaders start thinking about  prosperity, education, the broken justice system, and just and fair inclusion for minorities in transportation, health and jobs. 
           The Obama administration chose the Equity Summit to announce “Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth (P3). It’s a new program aimed at helping leaders on local levels better leverage Federal funds to help “disconnected” youth in educational, employment, and other key outcomes. The pilot program was announced in conjunction with PolicyLink's new “All-In Cities” initiative, designed to empower city officials, community advocates, and other civic leaders with policy ideas, data, and hands-on assistance to advance racial economic inclusion and economic growth. 
       “The initiative aims to fundamentally change the economy in ways that expand participation, opportunity, and power for communities of color, and to accelerate economic growth in cities, regions and the nation,” PolicyLink founder, Angela Glover Blackwell, wrote recently. “To accomplish this, we must disrupt the structures, systems and policies that have perpetuated racial inequities and uneven growth in cities.”
        I thought of the Ferguson Commission’s report calling for “equity” as Glover Blackwell gave examples of “equity-driven development.” It’s the construction of a $2.4 billion light rail line in Los Angeles that requires 40 percent (of the estimated 23,000 construction jobs) go to low- to moderate-income neighborhood residents, with 10 percent of those jobs targeted at “disadvantaged” workers such as veterans, the long-term unemployed, and formerly incarcerated people. It’s the “Inclusive Startup Fund” enacted in Portland, which will provides capital, mentoring, and business advising to startups founded by underrepresented groups. These are just two examples of efforts aimed at dismantling barriers to employment; linking the unemployed to good-paying jobs with dignity by building vital infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods.
        I don’t know if it was the Incarnate Word Foundation’s intent but the “we are not alone” message was reinforced for me as part of the St. Louis delegation. Rarely have I had the chance to be in one place at the same time with folks like Judge Jimmy Edwards founder of Innovative Concept Academy, Molly Rockamann head of EarthDance Farms, Jeremy Goss, of MetroMarket, Gibron Jones Burchett, founder of HOSCO Foods LLC and Aldermen Antonio French and Megan-Ellyia Green.
        Each of us in our own way are “equity stakeholders.” Perhaps, together we can pursue funding, challenge stagnant policies and use data and best practices to further our missions and get the higher on regional leader’s priority lists.
          This and more is what I gleaned from the three days I spent at PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2015. The thought that I am among legions engaged in the fight for true equity is an empowering feeling. For this and more, I am truly grateful to those who made the experience possible. 
                                                                                                                        – Sincerely, Sylvester