At the end of October, thanks to EPIP, I was granted the opportunity to attend PolicyLink’s Equity Summit as a member of EPIP’s People of Color Network delegation. It was an inspiring, energizing, and galvanizing experience that couldn’t have come at a better time for me both personally and professionally.
Going into it, I knew that the summit would not disappoint. I actually took part in the last national summit back in 2011 in Detroit, and found it to be one of the foundational experiences of my career. This year held true to form – PolicyLink brought together more than 3,000 (yes, 3,000!) passionate advocates – community leaders, activists, policymakers, business leaders, nonprofit professionals, foundation staffers, and others – to Los Angeles to discuss and advance a national vision that placed equity at the center of every one of our movements.
There are so many highlights I could point to from the experience, but I’ll lift up a few themes here, many of which may be familiar but are worth repeating:
The Case for Economic Inclusion
The first theme of the summit that I would lift up is the idea that we ultimately do not succeed if the majority of us is failing. We’re living in a more disconnected society than ever before. Over the last few decades, income and wealth inequality have grown to alarming levels, and this inequality disproportionally affects people of color. There are dangerous narratives out there that pit “us” against “them,” and America has increasingly struggled with the idea that the children of this country are, in actuality, all of our children.
Yet, by excluding some – often people of color – from individual or community economic success, we are actually harming our collective, national economic success. Communities of color are driving most of our country’s growth and represent the bulk of our future workforce. We need to ensure that everyone has equitable access to both opportunity and the education and training necessary to maximize their potential. Doing so will result in a stronger, more inclusive economy and more robust economic growth – which benefits us all.
PolicyLink President and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell often says that where you live is a proxy for opportunity. Stanford University Professor of Economics Raj Chetty, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, hammered the idea home by opening the summit with a grounding presentation featuring his research on economic mobility and equality of opportunity. It was a familiar presentation for me, having heard Professor Chetty speak at my own organization and at venues throughout Boston over the course of the year, but one that presents solid evidence for the case for equity. Essentially, Professor Chetty’s research shows that access to opportunity is key to increasing one’s chances for upward mobility; that places vary in terms of how much opportunity they offer residents; and that upward mobility is best addressed at the local level by focusing on improving the childhood environments that are so critical to individual outcomes such as economic success.
This focus on the local level was particularly relevant to me given my work at a community foundation, and I especially appreciated the number of times throughout the summit we were encouraged to think about place in a more nuanced way. In particular, we were encouraged to recognize that the demographic shifts we’re experiencing as a country aren’t just happening in cities, but in suburban and rural communities as well – and that there’s a whole other challenge presented by the fact that people of color are being pushed out of city centers to places with less infrastructure. This is something I’ve recognized and continue to push on over the years – using my organization as an example, as Greater Boston’s community foundation, how should we define community and place? I would argue that it is much broader than Boston’s city limits and that we should acknowledge our interconnectedness as a region. We should pay attention to how certain communities and neighborhoods are resourced (or not) and think about investing in places with low levels of opportunity accordingly.
“This is Our Moment”
The final theme I would lift up from the summit is the idea that our moment is now. With inequality front and center in our nation’s consciousness and with Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, the Fight for $15 and a Union, Occupy Wall Street, and other movements as our backdrop, how can we not feel that our country is on the verge of a serious transformation? We were in a room of more than 3,000 strong, called upon to build a multiracial, multigenerational equity movement that would weave our respective efforts together, build solidarity with one another, and bring more and more people into the realization that our destiny is truly a destiny that is shared.
Poet Mayda del Velle couldn’t have summed it up more perfectly in her performance of the same title: “A movement is not a flash of light – it is a flame, a torch passed from one generation to the next and every so often we are blessed with moments where the smolder transforms to blaze again and we’re forced to race down the path of progress.” We are blessed to be living in one of these pivotal moments. Let’s not let it pass us by – let’s own our responsibility to individually and collectively rise up to the occasion and seize it to advance progress for all of our children.