• Josh Devine

Resolutions Don’t Equal Reparations: Putting Money Where Your Mouth Is



Let’s talk about wealth—community and resident wealth—and post-COVID inclusive recovery.

Asheville, North Carolina is funding reparations for its black residents, says the media whose narrative treads harshly over the historic realities of ‘Black Ashevillians’ and their demands for real change. The City Council missed the mark with empty promises of urban renewal and the erasure of efforts to mitigate current racial tension and police brutality. Be it intentional or otherwise, Asheville is one of many communities challenged with the inability to meaningfully confront economic injustice. Understandably so, as the systemic nature of these issues no one can tackle in a day. Yet, there is a lot more saying than there is doing - and there is a lot that can be done.


Note to self: resolutions do not equal reparations.


It is no secret the wealth inequalities that exist in America today. The rich are getting richer as the share of wealth among middle incomes fall; racial gaps are getting worse as median net worth of black families have continued to decline; and poverty is persistent, as neighborhoods with 30 percent or more of the population living in poverty has doubled despite recent economic expansion. It is also no secret that COVID-19’s impact has weighed disproportionately on Black and brown communities, in terms of health and diagnosis and the economic aftermath of business closures and unemployment.


As communities prepare for COVID relief, post-pandemic recovery, and the role reparations play in dismantling economic injustice, there is an opportunity to make lasting, meaningful change that moves the needle on equity.

As communities prepare for COVID relief, post-pandemic recovery, and the role reparations play in dismantling economic injustice, there is an opportunity to make lasting, meaningful change that moves the needle on equity. It starts by turning an eye towards wealth and wealth creation.

Wealth is defined as the value of assets of worth owned by a person, company, and/or country. McKinsey outlines four key elements that contribute to a family’s ability to build wealth: community context, family wealth, income, and savings.


Using this wealth-generation framework, here are some investments a community should consider putting money toward:


Invest in Communities of Color

Consider reinvesting in assets—cultural and economic—within communities of color, to turn the tide on homes in these communities that have historically been undervalued (according to a 2018 Brookings report). Lower home values make it harder for Black families to accumulate wealth, and feeds into a cycle of community disinvestment and impacts on generational poverty.


Support Community-Owned Enterprises

Economic enterprises such as worker cooperatives and employee stock options provide opportunities for individuals to build their independent wealth in supportive and stable systems. Consider efforts like the Boston Worker Cooperative Initiative, providing individuals and local companies with technical assistance, business loans, and workshops to explore cooperative ownership models.

Encourage Local, MWBE Procurement Opportunities

Many nonprofit anchor institutions, like universities and hospitals, have community-building and purchasing power, spending billions per year on operational costs. Purchasing at this scale can be more impactful if anchors work closely with community partners to redirect their purchases to locally-owned, MWBE firms.

Explore Community-Land Ownership Models

In areas where land use and development has historically benefited wealthier, white communities, residents and investors, many are looking to tools such as community land banks and trusts to acquire vacant land, preserve affordability and optimize equitable development outcomes in the housing market. Others are leaning on, investing in and/or developing new, local Community Development Financial Institutions to fill critical market gaps and unlock investment in underserved people and places.


The nation isn’t short on ideas—and, in some cases, proven examples—to advance equity and build community and resident wealth for marginalized groups. It is just short on intentionality and action.

The nation isn’t short on ideas—and, in some cases, proven examples—to advance equity and build community and resident wealth for marginalized groups. It is just short on intentionality and action. The numbers do not lie, as our current system is clearly not working. COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to reset. Let’s say less, and do more. Abandon existing policies and “ways of thinking;” adopt a willingness to innovate and establish new partners and programs; and redirect monetary resources where they are needed most.


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