2013 News

‘Building a lifetime of economic security’ in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana

As the financial roller coaster continues, those working to close the wealth gap and achieve economic security in the South are working more vigorously than ever. 

Those efforts were evident during a 2 ½-day Southern Regional Asset Building Coalition (SRABC) conference, which brought together a diverse group of people to discuss challenges when it comes to economic growth in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The conference, titled “Building a Lifetime of Economic Security: Mobilizing for Change,” was held in mid-October in Jacksonville, Fla. More than 200 individuals made the trip, including community and faith-based organization leaders, representatives of financial institutions and government entities, policy advocates, researchers, and members of the public sector. Presenters included Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson, PolicyLink Founder Angela Glover Blackwell, inequality and American politics expert Dorian Warren, and housing and finance expert James Carr.

Wilkerson’s book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” tells the true tale of the “Great Migration” of black citizens from the South to other regions of the country, as they searched for a better life. Wilkerson emphasizes that African Americans are the only group of Americans who have had to move in order to be recognized as the citizens they are. “It’s not about migration really at all,” she says. “It’s about freedom and how far people were willing to go to achieve it.” These individuals and families who moved to other regions not only changed their futures, but the future of the entire country.

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as the Chicago bureau chief with The New York Times. She is the first black woman to win a Pulitzer and the first black American to receive the award for individual reporting.

Robinson discussed his work with ColorOfChange, saying the organization “takes moments and turns them into movements.” The organization – using ColorOfChange.org – works to strengthen African Americans’ political voice. “Our goal is to empower our members to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone.”

Blackwell’s presentation covered inequality vs. equity, and she demonstrated how not only are people of color responsible for the majority of growth in the United States in recent years, but that by the year 2043, the majority of Americans will be people of color. This makes the effort to achieve equity for people of color even more crucial. “If we don’t get it right for the people who are the future, we aren’t going to get it right, period,” Blackwell says. “When you solve problems for those who are most vulnerable, you solve problems for everyone.”

In addition to the three key presenters, Warren and Carr, the conference featured three concurrent workshops: Building Wealth in African American Communities, presented by Trina Williams Shanks of the University of Michigan and Stephanie Boddie of the University of Pittsburgh; The Racial Wealth Gap, led by Anne Price and Gabriela Sandoval of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development and Nino Rodriguez of the Center for Family Policy and Practice; and Partnering with Industry and Employers to Promote Financial Security and Mobility, presented by Krista Comer of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.

SRABC, funded by the Ford Foundation, is a partnership of state coalitions in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi that is dedicated to developing and advocating for policies and programs that support low-income families and sustain communities across this region. Its mission is to support member asset building coalitions to advance state, regional and national policies that build economic security over a lifetime for low-wealth communities.

The annual conference is viewed by participants as an important venue to network with others in the field, learn from peers, share challenges and triumphs, and above all to band together in this fight for economic security.

“SRABC is a group of states that have mobilized for change and a common purpose that support low-income families and communities financial success across the Southern region,” says Gena Gunn McClendon, project director at the Center for Social Development. “The goal of the conference was to understand the real stories of low-income people of color who were propelled to search for economic empowerment for their families and communities at all costs. Rich with facts, the speakers provided information to SRABC and its partners for strategic development in policy, research, programs, and campaigns that support all low-income families and communities in building economic success over a lifetime.”