Startling economic data drives work of Greenville's Racial Equity Commission

Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were killed within a few short months of each other. While it is true that these and other similar occurrences throughout our country’s history served as a catalyst for the formation of Greenville’s Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission, its work is actually informed by startling economic data that our community must address.  

The Opportunity 

Education attainment for Black residents of Greenville County is significantly less than our white counterparts (17 percent of blacks holding a 4-year degree, compared to 39 percent of whites). Annual income for area Blacks is two-thirds of their fellow white citizens. Black males constitute a higher proportion of incarcerations compared to their demographic representation, and the mortality rate for Black infants is twice that of white babies. These data points and others factor into our county achieving only 89 percent of the United States Per Capita Personal Income, resulting in a loss of 3 billion dollars in annual economic activity for our community. 

For these reasons and many others, United Way of Greenville County, Greenville Chamber of Commerce and Urban League of the Upstate partnered to convene leaders and key stakeholders from throughout the community to address race-based disparities that are prohibiting our residents and community from reaching their full potential. The REEM Commission is tasked with developing strategies and partnerships that will lead to the eradication of race-based disparities and inequities impacting the Black community in Greenville County, specifically in the areas of education and workforce development, income and wealth, health and wellness, criminal justice, and community-wide learning.  

Our Progress to Date 

The Greenville Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission consists of over 30 individuals of various backgrounds, including healthcare, education, law enforcement, business, nonprofits, service, youth and aging. We realize that we cannot “boil the ocean” by addressing nationwide incidents and conditions, but we have invested more than 500 collective hours gaining a deeper understanding of our own community’s race-related history and assessing its impact on the current state of our black residents. More importantly, the Commission is developing recommendations to revisit existing systems to improve our current state and ensure a Greenville County where racial equity is absolute and prosperity is accessible for all in our Black community. When complete, the Commission will prioritize three to five key recommendations for improvement in each of the focus areas, with an ambitious goal of sharing the recommendations with the community in December 2021.  

Call to Action 

The Commissioners have spent several months thinking, listening, and discussing the various strategies that can close the race-based gaps in our community. At times, the task of addressing 400 years of systems seems daunting, but the disparities are too big to ignore and the opportunity for material impact too great to forgo. While the task is hard and the vigil long and dutiful, the Commission recognizes its necessity and will persist until Greenville County is a community where all her residents have fair opportunities to achieve their goals.  

Visit REEMGVL.org for information about the Commission’s work, and opportunities to engage. Working together, we can make Greenville County a place where race equity and prosperity is accessible to everyone.

 

This op-ed was originally published in The Greenville News.