By the Hon. Merl F. Code and David Lominack
In the aftermath of another contentious and divisive election season, and in the midst of surging COVID-19 infections and the accompanying economic hardships, optimism for a better future can seem hard to come by. Yet the members of Greenville County’s Racial Equity and Economic Mobility (REEM) Commission stand more motivated than ever to move our critical work forward. Now is the time to unite, bridge divides and make change for our community.
The REEM Commission was formed to convene around matters of racial inequities, social justice and disparities in key areas that negatively impact the Black community in Greenville County. We are comprised of community leaders from diverse backgrounds and industries who share a commitment to creating change here in our community. By coming together to listen, analyze, understand and learn, we believe we can start to heal and move forward in more equitable ways for everyone in Greenville County.
Since our initial meeting in August, the commission has been focused on educating ourselves, having hard conversations and building consensus on the way forward.
We know solving systemic racism and addressing the accompanying economic mobility gaps — a problem more than 400 years in the making — won’t be achieved in four meetings, four months or even four years. Yet the size of the challenge will not lead to paralysis and inaction. We are dedicated to laying the groundwork for real, lasting change in our community. And we believe we are on the path to progress.
One of our first priorities was to develop a mission statement to provide a guiding framework for our efforts. Our mission is “to identify matters of racial inequities, social justice and disparities in education, health and income regarding the Black community. By convening influential stakeholders within Greenville County, we unify around current community indicators and move aggressively toward influencing solutions to ensure that all area residents have unobstructed opportunities for safety, justice and success.”
Early meetings of the commission have been focused on building our shared knowledge base. Re-learning and educating are time-consuming, yet essential, parts of this process. We’re aware the issues we’re tackling aren’t new, so we’re relying on existing research and resources to help us in our journey. Critical sources have been United Way’s Race and Economic Mobility Index, an in-depth training by the Racial Equity Institute, and an in-person presentation by John Simpkins, president of MDC. For over 50 years, MDC projects have helped the South improve education, employment, economic security and philanthropic outcomes.
Our research and expertise within the commission led us to identify five critical focus areas, with corresponding subcommittees. They are income and wealth; criminal justice; education and workforce development; health and wellness; and communitywide learning. Commission members have been assigned to serve on the subcommittees, which will meet throughout 2021 to identify needs, work with community members and develop issue-area action plans. Each subcommittee will adhere to the following roadmap: Assess Available Resources; Define Problem and Conditions; Identify Strategies for Change; and Community Reporting.
While we initially planned to meet for just six months, we’ve realized more time is necessary to do this work right. We aim to produce and release a final communitywide action plan in December 2021 and will keep the community informed as we reach milestones along the way.
As we lay the foundation, we must include all the necessary voices to make real change happen. We want your ideas and your input on what we need to be successful. Share your thoughts and stay up to date on our progress at reemgvl.org.
(Merl F. Code and David Lominack serve as co-chairs of the Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission.)