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Juneteenth: Reflecting on Our Journey Towards Racial Equity

Family celebrating Juneteenth
Family celebrating Juneteenth

June 19th, widely recognized as Juneteenth, is both a solemn and celebratory occasion in the United States, commanding reverence as a pivotal moment in history that reverberates with significance and gravity. On this day, Americans unite to honor the emancipation of African Americans in 1865 from slavery’s inhumane hold. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln two years prior, Major General Gordon Granger's arrival heralded liberation for the remaining enslaved individuals in Texas. The weight of this commemoration was further solidified in 2021 when the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was enacted, officially designating the day as a federal holiday.
While it serves as a time for jubilation and rejoicing, Juneteenth also compels us to confront the persisting disparities and inequities ingrained within our society. African Americans have undoubtedly attained noteworthy achievements in politics, academia, arts, business, and culture. However, a disconcerting truth looms large—the presence of an enduring racial and economic inequity. Astonishingly, the net wealth of a typical Black family in America pales compared to that of their white counterparts, standing at a mere one-tenth. Regrettably, extensive research indicates that the past two decades have witnessed little to no advancements in bridging the income and wealth inequalities that plague our nation, highlighting the urgency of rectifying this deeply entrenched injustice.

That's why organizations like the National Bankers Association Foundation are so vital to reducing inequity through advocacy, education, and collaborative partnerships. Here are some of the underlying reasons for the wealth gap and current initiatives that are making a difference.

1. Historical Injustices: Centuries of discriminatory policies have impacted wealth accumulation for communities of color, particularly African Americans. From denying loans to exclusion from economic opportunities, historical injustices have made it extremely difficult for people of color to increase their economic mobility, contributing to a lack of inheritable wealth that can be passed to other generations.

2. Limited Assets: Wealth is often built through aggregating assets such as property, investments, and inheritances. However, systemic barriers, including discriminatory lending practices, redlining, and limited access to affordable housing, have disproportionately affected minority communities. And even in lower-income communities where people own their own homes, their property is worth less than houses in more affluent neighborhoods reducing their home equity.
3. Educational Disparities: Access to education is very different from equitable access to education. And unfortunately, educational outcomes for children of color are often a function of their unequal access to critical resources based on funding levels. In contrast to European and Asian nations that fund schools centrally and equally, the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent, with spending ratios of 3 to 1 common within states.

4. Income Inequality: Many residents in underserved communities work in minimum wage jobs, making it extremely difficult for them to save for the future. And even with college-educated individuals, there is an income disparity. The mean income of Black bachelor's degree holders was $64,369 compared to $85,024 for white Americans with a bachelor's degree.

So, what is being done?
Addressing the racial wealth gap requires comprehensive solutions that tackle these systemic issues. Policies aimed at reducing discrimination, expanding access to quality education, promoting fair lending practices, and addressing income disparities are necessary in order for marginalized communities to build wealth and economic stability. And there are solutions that are already making a difference.

1. Financial Literacy Education – An initiative called Our Money Matters offers free financial wellness tools to individuals, students, and community organizations. The National Bankers Association Foundation has partnered with Our Money Matters to provide access to these tools and resources for their member banks' customers. Financial experts agree that strengthening financial literacy — the ability to use skills to manage money and resources effectively — can be the key for people of color to achieve a lifetime of economic well-being.

2. Fair Lending Practices – Homeownership is one of the main contributors to building wealth, so expanding homeownership is essential. Fortunately, there are 145+ Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) that offer financial services that many communities of color would not have access to otherwise. The National Bankers Association supports MDI member banks through advocacy and other initiatives like MDI ConnectTech to ensure that they can continue to support the people that need them the most. A recent research report reveals that people of color receive a much higher percentage of loans from MDIs than from other financial institutions.
3. National Minority Supplier Development Council – Dedicated to supporting minority-owned businesses, this group has created a C-Suite Advisory Committee comprising twenty-five chief procurement officers from the largest global organizations committed to change. Their goal is to substantially expand the number of opportunities for minority business enterprises (MBEs) by facilitating connections, mentorship opportunities, insights, and other valuable resources so that MBEs can compete and win large corporate contracts.
4. Supporting Entrepreneurs – Another way to decrease the wealth gap is through the support of entrepreneurship in underserved communities. The HBCU Community Development Action Coalition (HBCU CDAC) is creating a small business development initiative that will help entrepreneurs around HBCU campuses with access to IT resources, financial advice, and marketing services, among other support services.

5. Government Programs - The Biden-Harris Administration is implementing many programs to reduce the racial wealth gap, such as Community Revitalization initiatives and using the federal government’s purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent, among many others.

In summary, while Juneteenth is an opportunity to remember, we should also use this day to acknowledge that our country’s success depends on creating a better future for all Americans. We must strive for equitable opportunities for everyone and not just the privileged few. When we achieve that, it will be a time to truly celebrate.


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