Black History Month is a time to reflect. We reflect on the achievements of African Americans that in the past were overlooked and under celebrated. We reflect on the events in history that have brought us to where we are today. And we must reflect on how that history informs the actions we take every day, every month throughout the year to ensure that we are making policies that benefit all.
Our country has a history of policies that have undermined people and places, especially African Americans. These policies created gaps in healthcare, employment, housing, education, income, and more. As I reflect on the role that economic development has had in the history of African Americans, I am conscious and aware that in economic development, we must be careful to not create or add to any level of inequality through policy or through economic development work.
For example, a common tool in economic development is to offer incentives for investment in distressed areas. These are often communities or neighborhoods that are predominantly African American. But all too often, this results in gentrification, and residents pushed out and left with fewer affordable housing options and no new job opportunities. It widens the gaps.
Having done economic development at the local, state, even Federal level, I have seen how the impact of public policy – old and new – can rip communities apart. Good economic development is the opposite of that. We want to build communities and provide access to jobs, healthcare, education, food, and opportunities.
Our founding fathers called for the pursuit of happiness. We provide opportunities to pursue happiness. But we cannot be successful if policies undermine that pursuit. There have been – and still are – legal, political structures designed to do just that. Black Americans have been impacted the most. When policies suppress some, it further exacerbates the gap. As economic development professionals, it is incumbent upon us to be mindful that we are doing the opposite – we are building individuals, building families, and building communities.
Where the intersections of black history and economic development happens is the fight for respect for the striving of human beings. I have tried to work as best I can to make sure that the policies we support do not exacerbate the levels of inequality. We must be mindful not to limit people’s ability to build wealth and pass on wealth to their children.
Given Charles County’s unique position and circumstances, being a predominantly African American community and a wealthy community, we want to build on ensuring the wealth is not squandered, and that it is best utilized for the benefit of individuals, families, and the county at large.
Everybody benefits when you guard against regressive policies and mindfully create policies designed to uplift everyone. Because the human spirit can’t be suppressed. And when all can look forward to pursuing happiness – dreams, innovation, entrepreneurship, good jobs, opportunities – then we all benefit.
Next week, the EDD’s Chief of Business Development will talk about EDD programs that support Black-owned businesses in Charles County.