Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash
We’ve been fighting the battle against racism for far too long. We need an action plan to transform our communities. Start here.
*NOTE: The following list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather a running list that I will update as I research new matters and face new challenges on this road called life. I have hopefully made each point short enough that people will take the time to read the entire list and fight for the issues that fit the needs of their particular community. The power is yours.** See Part 1 of this series here. Read the rest of the articles in the series: Part 2. Part 4. Part 5.
FOCUS AREA 1: LOCAL GOVERNMENT POLICY (Continued)
Economic and Other Equitable Policies You Can Fight For
We live in a market-based capitalist system, so if the lives of African Americans and other non-European Americans matter to you, they should always matter, not just when they are killed or injured by law enforcement. That includes their economic well-being. Here are some socio-economic policies that you can push for at a city and county level to improve community conditions.
27. Racial Equity Impact Assessment Policy. When a law is passed what is the impact on historically marginalized communities? When funds are distributed what measures are put in place to ensure that African, Latino, and other non-European American communities have the ability and the wherewithal to access those funds? Is the process and procedure fair and equitable to all? A Racial Equity Impact Assessment is a policy that requires laws and the distribution of funds to be analyzed to ensure fairness and prevent adverse or disparate impacts on historically marginalized or underrepresented groups.
28. City-Wide Internship Programs for Youths. In addition to a municipal government internship program (see #14 above), there should also be a citywide network of organizations and businesses that have internship opportunities for youths exposing them to the various job options and careers available in their community. We must give our young people something to hope and strive for, a pipeline to real opportunity. The internship program would give high school students real work exposure, mentorship and a project to complete. This gives young people a connection to the greater community and greatly adds to their development as they transition into adulthood.
29. CDBG Funding for Youth Employment and Programs. Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding is federal funding given to states and local municipalities to support the creation of viable communities by providing funds to improve housing/living environments and expand economic opportunities for persons with low and moderate incomes. To which communities are your CDBG funds going in your area? Part of CDBG funding can go towards youth programs and employment to give youth city jobs that contribute to their personal and collective development also planting the seeds of future local government leadership.
30. Youth Advisory Council. Young people deserve a say in what happens in their communities because ultimately, they will inherit these communities someday. Cities should create youth advisory councils that engage with city council, learn about how city government works, and introduced policies for decision-makers to consider and vote into law. This teaches young people how the system works and gets them engaged in the process at an early age. Youth advisory councils should be funded adequately and funds could also be set aside for a youth summit with city leaders to give other community youths an opportunity to have their voices heard on what is happening in their community. Special care should go into ensuring that youths from across the various socio-economic, academic, and racial demographics of the community have an opportunity to serve. Opportunities like these expand horizons.
31. Citizens Police Academy, Community Ambassador, and Junior Leadership Programs. We have a duty to train the next generation on what it means to be upstanding civilians. We also owe a duty to connect with all persons in our community. Community Ambassador and Citizen Academy programs teach community members how to effectively work with city government to get their needs addressed and ensures that local government has connections to the community in times of need. Junior leadership programs, like youth advisory councils, continue to train persons on how government works and plants the seeds for the reflective workforce of tomorrow.
32. Increase the Local Minimum Wage. We call bus drivers, grocery store workers, restaurant food service, crop pickers, etc. essential workers yet many of them or not paid a living wage. If they can put their lives on the line for us during COVID-19, the least we can do is raise the minimum wage, which has not increased on the federal level since 2009. Research has shown that it is very difficult to raise a family on $7.25 an hour. I am not saying $15 for all because each region of the country is different. $15 in Charleston, South Carolina is not the same as $15 in New York City. Each jurisdiction should analyze what an appropriate wage should be based on the cost of living and other factors that matter when trying to put food on the table and provide for your family. Some states have started to take away local jurisdictions’ ability to raise the minimum wage. If this applies to your jurisdiction then you must take the fight to the state.
33. Ban the Box. If the state law does not prohibit it, local municipalities should ban criminal and credit checks from being considered until the very end of the hiring or housing process, removing questions about criminal background from the initial application. This reduces applicant bias and gives applicants with not-so-perfect records the opportunity to display their qualifications before hiring decisions are made. Persons who may have things on their record should have the ability to appeal or give an explanation. Organizations should be banned from accessing a person’s credit score (versus credit history) for employment consideration or rental properties. For employment, if a person has a poor credit history that should not prohibit them from getting positions where the handling of finances is not the primary duty.
34. Source of Income as a Protected Class under Civil Rights Ordinances. The new racism isn’t “nigger, we don’t sell to your kind.” Its “sorry, we don’t accept Section 8 vouchers.” The difference is overt versus covert racism. Racism has not gone away, it evolved. There have been studies that demonstrate the ability to access good housing impacts not just the adults but more so their children and their quality of education, their level of income, and their health outcomes. Source of Income as a protected class requires government funding (including Section 8 vouchers, VA Benefits, Social Security Disability vouchers, etcetera), to be accepted by landlords as legal tender. Many places around the country already have this as law in their communities. Make sure that the ordinance has teeth requiring that landlords have to enter into agreements with persons that have housing vouchers. The escape clause in some communities is that the landlord cannot be forced into doing business with the government. This makes no sense as business is already in bed with the government and government vouchers are just as good as the dollar because it is all legal tender.
35. Ban on Slumlords. Communities can adopt a policy that bans persons who run roach, rat, bedbug-infested units and refuse to address the housing concerns of their tenants that threaten their health and safety. Such persons should not be able to rent in our cities and counties. Any landlord who is deemed a slumlord would first be put on probation and if the housing matters are not addressed in a timely fashion, their rental certificate could be revoked and their property could be repossessed by the government for failure to uphold their duty to respect the housing rights of residential tenants.
36. Required Fair Housing Training for Rental Certificates or Recertification. You cannot rent in our community if you do not know and do not follow our laws. Landlords and property management companies should be required to take fair housing laws training to ensure that the rights of residential tenants are protected. Fair housing training must be conducted by governmental fair housing law enforcement departments because research has shown that outside training is not adequate, as some trainers make light of fair housing rights and enforcement.
37. Technology and Vocational Training Centers based on Regional Needs and Demands. The government should desire for all citizens to have the opportunity to be gainfully employed. The jobs of yesteryear are gone and are not coming back. We need training centers to prepare people for the jobs of tomorrow, tapping into their talents, passions, and skills to provide rewarding careers that give back to the communities in which they live. Automation cannot be avoided, it is inevitable. As automation continues, centers should train under-skilled workers to receive free certification trainings through local community colleges and schools.
38. Upskilling Programs. In addition to desiring gainful employment, the government should also desire for residents to have the opportunity to move up the socio-economic ladder to improve themselves and the entire community. There should also be programs designed to move persons from low-skill jobs into mid-skilled jobs such as welding, carpentry, plumbing, paralegal work, nursing, etcetera. College is not for everyone, but everyone has an opportunity to serve, work, and give back to their community. Local governments in association with the chambers of commerce, local universities, and school districts can partner and combine funding to develop upskilling programs to help persons move up the socio-economic ladder boosting the municipal tax base, thus making it a win-win for everyone.
39. Equitable Workforce Plan. It is simple, governments and schools should be reflective of the communities that they serve. But that’s not all, research indicates that diverse teams are more profitable and successful. All departments and divisions in government agencies should develop plans to hire, recruit, develop, mentor, and train non-European American communities that have been historically marginalized and denied certain opportunities. The department that oversees hiring must be diverse in order to ensure that other departments are following equitable diversity and inclusion (D&I) hiring practices. Some of those D&I hiring practices should include: diverse hiring panels; the recruitment of a diverse candidate pool; and if there is a disproportionate number of non-diverse candidates that are selected for interviews, the re-evaluation of the hiring process to determine if there are capable candidates that should have been considered for the positions. Equitable hiring tools such as targeted recruitment, gender and racially balanced hiring panels, review of all positions to identify barriers to applying, and ban the box, to name a few, must all be considered in an effort to create a more reflective and representative workforce. Communities should demand that an equitable workforce plan be adopted to increase the representation of all communities in government, including the schools. This plan should also include an equitable approach to promotions to leadership positions and professional development opportunities. There also needs to be efforts and measures to ensure that the workplace is a welcoming and inclusive environment for non-European American employees to contribute to the success of the organization and in order to retain diverse talent.
40. Mental Health Support. There have been drastic cuts both at the state and federal level since the 1980s in regards to mental health services. Because state and federal governments have not stepped up, it is up to city and county agencies to do so. Prisons should not be the place where we house persons who need mental health services. We need to create mental health clinics, we need to give support funding to offices and agencies that address mental health concerns, and schools need more mental health counselors in addition to guidance counselors, to address the challenges that young people face today.
41. Refugee & Immigrant Services. Immigrant and refugee communities have challenges as well and because English is typically not their first language, they do not have persons to represent their concerns. There should be staffed local offices or divisions within local government that look into addressing the concerns of non-native born populations. Problems that are not addressed will continue to bubble over and may be of greater concern to the entire community later. Having refugee and immigrant services departments builds bridges to new communities and add to the depth and cultural wealth of the greater community.
42. Food & Business Incubators. If we want historically marginalized communities to build wealth, they have to be taught to work for themselves. Starting a business is hard work and despite business being the motor that keeps our economy moving, students are not taught how to run a business in secondary (high) school (or college for that matter). Local governments can partner with educational institutions and chambers of commerce to develop local food/restaurant and other types of business incubators that help people get their businesses off the ground and give them a temporary space to help them establish a solid foundation for growing a successful business. After completing the business paperwork and establishing a firm footing on business matters, senior incubator occupants can move out and into their own independent spaces while new businesses are being brought into the incubator. It is a cycle where the entire community benefits from the empowerment of its residents, an increase of the tax base, more funding to cities and counties, and the providing of new or additional foods, flavors, needs, and services for the entire community.
43. Tax Incentives for Food and Financial Deserts. In some non-European American communities, there are food deserts, financial deserts, and a dearth of entertainment and shopping opportunities. As many municipalities provide tax incentives for businesses to move to their cities and counties, they should provide additional incentives to build grocery stores and banks in communities where they are lacking to increase the health and wealth of residents. Incentives should also be given to local members of the community to start their own grocery stores and financial institutions in food and banking deserts.
44. Community Centers in Accessible Locations for Poor and non-European American Communities. Youths need outlets and if you do not give them a positive one, they may find negative ones on their own. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” We need community centers in neighborhoods where they are needed most and where poverty rates are high. We need more than just sports. We need skill-building, adult education, vocation centers, technology training, STEM clubs, music, the arts, chess clubs, the list goes on. Tap into youths’ talents, passions, skills, and interests and there is no telling what they can become. Put opportunities within their reach.
Stay tuned all week for the entire series.
This article was written by Joshua V. Barr, Director, Des Moines Civil & Human Rights Commission. Connect with Joshua on Twitter or Email.