After two years of discussion and planning, a commission formed to eradicate racial disparities in Greenville County is preparing to put its ideas into action.
The United Way of Greenville County, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and the Upstate Urban League formed the Commission for Racial Equity and Economic Mobility in 2020 amid high police killings of black people. level sparked protests across the country.
“We said our three institutions really need to do something in Greenville to understand what is happening nationally,” said Meghan Barp, CEO of United Way of Greenville.
Over the next two years, REEM recruited 35 commissioners – a mix including government officials, business owners, religious leaders, law enforcement and community advocates – to examine racial inequalities in Greenville County and explore solutions.
A Racial Equity Index released by United Way in 2020 played a key role in identifying areas of focus for the commission. According to the index, Greenville County lagged the rest of the state and the country in racial equity on several levels. The data highlighted a wide range of issues, including that Black Greenville County residents find it much harder to escape poverty and they are at a greater risk of being incarcerated and being left without shelter.
Armed with this data, REEM commissioners identified five key focus areas: criminal justice, education, community engagement, health and wellness, and income and wealth. A report recently released by the commission outlines strategies to begin closing the gap in these areas; recommendations such as expanding parent support programs, capping interest rates on predatory payday loans, and improving access to perinatal care in the black community.
REEM’s first step toward some of the lofty goals was to hire Stacey Mills, senior pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, as full-time executive director in April. The commission also plans to hire a project manager as soon as possible.
Mills will be responsible for finding ways to implement the commission’s vision.
“It’s more than a full-time job,” he said. “It’s a very unique path in which we can travel, wake up every day and think about the experience of black people in this community.”
The exact role the commission will play is still unfolding. The action items that REEM outlined in its report range from policy items that would likely require a lobbying effort such as expanding Medicaid in South Carolina, to economic initiatives such as increasing the availability of capital for black-owned businesses.
REEM’s stated goal, repeated several times in the report’s executive summary, is nothing less than the eradication of racial disparity in Greenville County.
Mills said after serving as executive director for about two months, he was still exploring realistic next steps. He expects an important part of the commission’s function to convene nonprofit organizations and service providers already working to improve the lives of black residents in Greenville County and finding ways for them to work together. .
The commission will also continue to address systemic racial inequalities in Greenville County, Mills said, identifying barriers facing the black community and finding ways to address them.
“When REEM comes along, we’re armed with concise information that not only illuminates past experience, but shows a way to bridge the gap,” he said. “I see REEM and my role as an additional voice in the room with a specific focus on the Black experience in these spaces.”
Follow Conor Hughes on Twitter at @ConorJHughes.