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Sep 24, 2019

Black Communities Conference: Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

On Sept. 9-11, the 2019 Black Communities Conference convened at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham, North Carolina, to foster collaboration among Black communities and universities for the purpose of enhancing Black community life and furthering the understanding of communities of the African diaspora. This second convening of the conference drew nearly 800 attendees from 10 countries across four continents, supported by more than 100 volunteers.

Some highlights included:

  • A keynote presentation by Arlan Hamilton, founder of the venture capital fund Backstage Capital. Four years ago, Hamilton was virtually homeless, subsisting on food stamps and the kindness of friends. Today, she runs a fund that has raised over $7 million invested in more than 120 companies led by underrepresented founders, primarily firms led by women, people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Hamilton said that, as she works to raise funds, she emphasizes that these companies and founders are a huge opportunity for investors, noting, “We are not a charity. We are an opportunity for you. You can cut the check now and thank us later.”
  • A closing keynote by William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., Director of Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity. Darity made the case for slavery reparations in the U.S., noting that, in addition to slavery, other events such as Jim Crow era-segregation, mass incarcerations, a persistent racial wealth gap in the post-civil rights era, denial of the GI bill benefit to African Americans, exclusions from federally subsidized mortgages and seizure of land have all caused the country’s current racial wealth gap. Darity proposed that the estimated $10-12 trillion in wealth that Blacks would have if their wealth were commensurate with their percentage of the U.S. population provide the basis for the calculation of reparation payments. Darity closed by saying the case for reparations is unequivocal, as is the case for “creating an America that is great for the first time.”
  • A panel discussion on the Pigford settlements, focusing on the history of farmland ownership and loss among African Americans in the South. In addition to discussing the historical aspects of the settlements, panelists gave their recommendations for creating wealth for African American farmers today. Panelist Byron Horton of R&H Farms advocated for the development of co-ops to help collectively create wealth for farmers who might not have the resources to do so on their own. Horton said his hemp farming co-op has generated an estimated $8,000 per half acre in profit.
  • A short talk by Brandon Winford of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, chronicling the history of Black-owned banks in the U.S. and their importance as a resource for community and economic development in Black communities.
  • A short talk by Martine Aurelien of the North Carolina Justice Center on the racial wealth gap in North Carolina. Aurelien said that American Community Survey data reveals that 22% of Black households in North Carolina have zero net worth, while only 12% of white households are at that level. She proposed a higher tax rate on those making more than $1 million per year, as well as a higher corporate tax rate, to help close this wealth gap.
  • A presentation on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and other sources of funding for community development projects. Jeanne Milliken Bonds of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond walked participants through the ins and outs of the CRA and other funding applications. She suggested applicants apply for CRA assistance early in the year, before funds are fully committed.
  • A workshop on strategies for increasing the effectiveness of academic and Black community research partnerships. In discussing strategies for community-based participatory research (CBPR), presenter Andre Brown noted that relationships between research institutions and Black communities or other communities of color have often been marked with mistrust, one-sidedness and a lack of transparency. He said that, in order for institutions to partner successfully with the communities in which they do research, they must atone for any previous lack of follow-through, participate in community activities outside of the scope of their research work, have a democratic decision-making process and be accountable for their actions.
  • A session exploring multisector collaboration on San Antonio’s Eastside. Hope House Ministries, a nonprofit that assists individuals with food, clothing, job placements and other assistance, and the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM), which works to discover and preserve the stories, items and landmarks of San Antonio’s Black history, demonstrated how their partnerships and commitment to their local community has preserved Black residents’ past and lifted prospects for their future.
  • A workshop on the HBCU Community Development Action Coalition (HBCU-CDAC) partnership by Bryan Patterson of Johnson C. Smith University. Patterson discussed how the partnership has contributed to JCSU’s strategic plan to engage with the historic communities it is part of, helping stakeholders leverage their resources and further their own prosperity.

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