Malcolm Mitchell, a 20-year-old aspiring history teacher from Brownsville, TX, said this weekend, “2020 will be one of those years that gets more pages, maybe even a chapter, in the history books. I sure hope we can write it truthfully and honestly this time instead of white-washing it.”
Partners for Rural Transformation (PRT), organizations working collaboratively across geographies and cultures to lift up rural communities of persistent poverty, is committed to breaking the cycle of racism and white supremacy that has plagued our history and shaped our nation. We recognize the deep impact that the last few months, and especially the last two weeks, has had on our staff, clients and communities. From the devastating and disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Black, Native and Latinx communities, to the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the thousands of missing or murdered Indigenous women, and the brutality from the police and military targeting anti-racist protestors and people of color.
The current stress and conflict is nothing new for the millions of people of color, particularly Black people, in our communities, urban and rural alike. The racial and economic injustices in the U.S. are intentional and a direct result of slavery – the primary building block for the politics, policies and power dynamics that support economic disparity, persistent poverty and inequity in the U.S. These policies and systems, and the subsequent results, are rooted in our country’s history of white colonization, racism and white supremacy. Our history, comprised of systematic and legalized stealing of land, slavery, lynching, forced language and culture assimilation and segregation, has led to current laws and policies legitimizing political gerrymandering, redlining, limited voting rights, militarization under the guise of border protection and the criminalization of people of color.
America’s practice of teaching false history and covering up systemic issues, instead of tackling them head-on, has prevented us from becoming a nation of true equality and freedom. As CDFIs, we see first-hand how economic and housing policies steeped in white supremacy deepen the nation’s wealth gap. For decades, economic policy and disinvestment in communities of color have facilitated the acquisition of wealth and power among a select few. Today, the consequences of this history manifest in high unemployment, a lack of access to banking services and a scarcity of quality affordable housing and safe drinking water in communities of color and low-income communities across the country. COVID-19 has only brought this into starker relief – with Black-owned businesses waiting weeks and weeks to hear back about Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and stimulus funding deliberately leaving out many immigrants and those with incomes too low to file taxes.
Partners for Rural Transformation is committed to telling the real story of our nation’s history – it is no accident that the majority of people living in persistent poverty counties are people of color; Our marred history ensured it. In addition, if we do not take bold, wide-reaching action now it will only get worse. Together, in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters, we ask that our country, community members and institutions use this important period in our history to get real about where we’ve come from, interrogate how that has shaped where we are today and to fight like hell to create a more just future.
Guided by a vision of an America where persistent poverty no longer exists, the Partners for Rural Transformation call upon our nation to eliminate structural exclusion by place and race and historical disinvestments in persistent poverty areas. We call upon philanthropic, federal and private investment to collectively commit to increase investment strategies in persistent poverty regions, and ensure that such investments are made to regional and local institutions and organizations that primarily serve these places. Only then can we build the community assets and wealth that is desperately needed to bring about meaningful and justice change.