GREENVILLE CO., SC – The Greenville Racial Equity and Economic Mobility (REEM) Commission is working to eradicate race-based disparities and inequities in the community.
On Wednesday, they released a report with recommendations on how that can happen.
“We’ve been at this for two years now, with David Lominack of TD Bank and Judge Merl Code, as our two co-chairs. And we’ve brought together 35 leaders from around the community from all walks of life from all sorts of sectors, to not only understand the issues in our community, as it relates to African Americans, but to do something about it,” said Meghan Barp, President and CEO of United Way of Greenville County.
REEM was created in 2020 by leaders with the United Way of Greenville County, the Urban League of the Upstate, and the Greenville Chamber.
The commission was created during the pandemic and social unrest.
“During the height of COVID in the summer of 2020. Our nation was also reckoning with the murders of African Americans around the country. George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor,” Barp said. “And during that time, truly, I picked up the phone to call Carlos Phillips at the Chamber and just see how he was doing as a friend, as a colleague.”
“Also did the same with Pastor Sean Dogan, who at the time was the interim CEO of the Urban League of the Upstate,” she said.
“And as the three of us started chatting and talking about our community, and sort of just the world. We said, ‘Gosh, what can we do here in Greenville to make sure that Greenville doesn’t become you know, the next city that’s really reckoning with this,’ and out of that we had a call to action to the community, we wrote an op-ed – the three of us – saying, you know, we can do better as a community,” Barp said. “At the same time, United Way of Greenville County released a race equity index that really looked at key markers as it relates to health to homeownership, to education, birth rates and birth weights, as it relates to African Americans in the community,” she said.
After looking at the research, the commission was formed.
“We knew that African Americans in Greenville County were faring worse than their white counterparts. So, we were all of that together and said, you know, this call to action is really to us as three organizations in this community to do something. And out of that the Race Equity and the Economic Mobility Commission was formed,” Barp said.
The Commission is made up of five focus areas:
- Income and Wealth
- Criminal Justice
- Health and Wellness
- Education and Workforce Development
- Community Wide Learning
In the report summary, it highlights key issues in some of these areas.
“56% of the homeless in Greenville are black people. 83% of the folks who own their homes, are not black people in Greenville,” said Pastor Stacey Mills, Executive Director for Greenville’s REEM Commission.
“In Greenville County, we know that if you are born into poverty, you have a better 4.7% chance of moving out of poverty. If you were born into poverty, and you happen to be African American, you have a 1.9% chance or less of ever moving out of poverty. We’re actually one of the worst counties in the nation. That’s one example of something that came out of that race equity index,” Barp said.
The commission’s summary report is filled with action items and recommendations for the five focus areas.
“One of the key recommendations out of that report was to hire an executive director, somebody who could not only bring together the community and galvanize the community around these key issues, but also wake up every single morning thinking about this work and how we best address it as a community,” Barp said.
Back in April, the group appointed Mills to the lead the way, in hopes of bringing change as the commission’s executive director.
“We hired Pastor Stacey Mills, just over two months ago to really lead this work and help the community come together around the key issues,” Barp said.
Many leaders across the county have already contributed to the work within the last two years.
“Those folks who are working – the experts – so profoundly impactful is the fact that our Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, and the Urban League of the Upstate, together, said, ‘We need to do something about this.’ And those are not just the CEO’s and presidents of each of those organizations, but their boards of directors,” Mills said. “So those, that sphere of influence is already at work on the issue of race, equity and economic mobility in Greenville.”
“What is profoundly important in this message is that, REEM Greenville is not showing up with all the answers to all of the disparate issues in our community. There are experts at work every day in all five of those areas,” Mills said. “All of those professionals, in many ways contribute to the work of REEM,” he said.
Now, the group is in the implementation and sustainability phase, this will include having more community conversations, surveying, and continuous engagement.
“The moment is now to be able to have that conversation, but also to engage and bring around the table, people who have the resources and have the opportunities and the willingness to do something about it,” Mills said.
“I’m very excited to be able to do a deep dive, but also connect to national conversations, bring those conversations locally, arrange and convene town halls, and listening sessions, and all of those opportunities to bridge grasstops and grassroots at the same time,” Mills said.
“We can create policy or policy can be created in spaces apart from the people who are the end users and who are most affected by that policy. But it does us no good if we don’t ever bring the two together. And that’s what I think REEM has a great opportunity to do,” he said.
“What I hope to see in Greenville County, as a result of this work, is that truly every person in our county has the best possible shot at economic inclusion, and mobility,” Barp said.
“To me, that means access to the incredible things that Greenville County has to offer. We want everyone in our communities to be able to experience that and have access to that,” said Barp.
“The momentum is right. This moment, for our nation, to make real the promise of liberty and justice for all. And the right to pursue happiness in this country lives in the work of REEM,” Mills said.
Pastor Mills said, next, they are looking to hire a program manager to help with the everyday work, and looking to build out an advisory group.
“Something really important in this, is that we don’t want it to be a report that we file on the shelf and it collects dust, and we say, “gosh, we did this incredible two years together of really understanding the issues. We want to make sure that it’s actionable,” Barp said.
Click here to learn more about the Commission, and how you can get involved.
Here’s the full summary report to the community.