Reflections on the death of George Floyd and its impact on economic equity.
May 25, 2020 will be a day that lives in infamy for most Americans. That day, with the senseless murder of George Floyd, our nation learned exactly how nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds could impact countless lives for generations to come. But what does that impact look like a year later? Has true progress been made in social justice?
In the months leading up to his death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the country was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were living in a different world with new challenges like the run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the constant search for the latest information on how the virus spreads and what cases look like around the world, and an uprising of anti-Asian sentiment as many people looked for someone to blame. But on top of that, for the underserved, primarily minority communities, there was an additional struggle arising: the dichotomy of going to work.
For most of these marginalized people, they knew that going to work meant putting themselves and their families at risk. But they also knew that they couldn’t afford to stay home – the most effective form of protection against the coronavirus. For these same families, the strain to balance the cost of childcare became exacerbated as schools closed, and children were forced to be at home more each day.
That financial and psychological stress created a powder keg that was ready to blow when, two months into the pandemic, we all watched as an officer of the law sat with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Those who were feeling the mounting pressure to survive were now seeing the visual manifestation of what they had been experiencing – lying helpless under a system that was choking them. The image of that officer with his hands in his pockets became a nod to the callous establishment with its unwavering service of the status quo.
We’re all aware of the events that followed – the protests, the social media blackouts, the calls for justice and the “rediscovery” of what it means to be Black in America. With race at the forefront, we also saw people and companies trying to help. They realized that at the root of the uprising was an oppression that had to be changed. So they began throwing money at the problem; JP Morgan Chase pledged $30 billion to support housing, business opportunities and access to financial tools for underserved communities and Robert Smith paid off the tuition for an entire graduating class at Morehouse College. And while that support has the potential to have a large impact, it still falls short of correcting the economic course and corresponding way of life of America’s working poor, primarily minority, communities.
So how do we do better? In order to grow a healthy minority economy, the solution has to be threefold: it requires impact, investment and sustainability.
Impact is probably the most important metric to consider when talking about improving the financial support system for all Americans. Quite literally it’s evaluating what is needed to get the funds to the people who need it. We have to start reevaluating financial assistance in terms of how those who need it are able to access it. We need to understand what the barriers are and how to mobilize the resources. JP Morgan Chase put together a fantastic overview of how the $30 billion was to be allocated in broad strokes, but there doesn’t appear to be any concrete next steps for business owners and other members of the Black community to make use of them.
The second idea that needs to be pushed to the forefront is the concept of investment. By definition, the term “invest” means to spend money with the expectation of a return. When money is put toward creating equity, we have to also include a plan for what the return on that investment looks like. Foundations, companies and individuals should all work to ensure there is accountability to go along with the financial support to ensure the money is utilized effectively.
Last, but not least, comes sustainability. We have to stop thinking about stop-gap measures and begin to look at the marathon of changing an entire financial structure. The poverty we continue to bear witness to, even in 2021, is the result of long-reaching policies that started with slavery. And although things have improved over time, we still need to make sure that the money we inject into finding the solution is not going to be a flash in the pan, but instead will carry over to make sure that the impact continues past the short-term. Back to the case of Robert Smith. His generous donation had a massive impact for the 400 students who graduated from Morehouse that year. And it will most likely have a lasting impact on their children by putting them on a solid footing without student-loan debt as they step into the workforce. I have to acknowledge that Mr. Smith did fund a separate initiative to help students access more beneficial financing options. But all that being said, it still misses the mark of how to build a lasting legacy of financial freedom.
So the challenge now becomes creating a lasting and sustainable ecosystem that’s capable of taking in the investments that have been and are being made to build better ways to support America’s Black and other minority communities that lead to lasting change. The fight is evolving, but it’s far from over.