Meyer Foundation Testimony on Racial Equity Achieves Results (REAR) Act of 2019
Editor’s Note: In 2018, the Meyer Foundation was invited to join a cross-sector working group convened by District of Columbia Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyon McDuffie, and facilitated by the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE), “committed to normalizing conversations about race, operationalizing new policies, eliminating occurrences of racial discrimination, and implementing a city-wide strategy to achieve racial equity in DC.”
Councilmember McDuffie then introduced the Racial Equity Achieves Results (REAR) Act of 2019 in January 2019 that, if passed, would require the Office of Human Rights and the Department of Human Resources to develop and provide racial equity training for District employees, and the Office of Budget and Planning to design and implement a racial equity tool aimed at eliminating disparities based on race.
On April 25, at Councilmember McDuffie’s request the Meyer Foundation’s President and CEO Nicky Goren, along with several of our grantee and philanthropic partners, provided testimony before the DC Council’s Committee on Government Operations on the Act at a public hearing. Below, you can read her testimony in which she expresses support for the legislation, with hope that it will be a first of many steps toward racial equity in the District. The legislation is currently under Council review.
Thursday, April 25, 2019
I am Nicky Goren, president & CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. On behalf of our staff and board, I would like to thank Councilmember Todd and the members of the committee for having me here today.
The Meyer Foundation is committed to developing cross-sector solutions to advance racial equity in the Washington region, including the District of Columbia. We were honored to be invited to participate in the Racial Equity Working Group assembled by Councilmember McDuffie and appreciate the opportunity to provide context to the conversation in that group and today.
When I joined the Meyer Foundation as president & CEO nearly five years ago, I went on a listening tour speaking with residents, nonprofit, business, and other community leaders. I wanted to have a greater understanding of the issues the people and communities in the District were grappling with, and how Meyer could best serve as a partner in addressing these challenges. No matter the issue — education, employment, housing, wealth creation — almost every conversation landed on racial inequity as the root cause.
These first-person stories from across the District are supported by numerous studies. We need only refer to some of the data that, when disaggregated by race, reveal the vast disparities in our city and reveal a moral, social, financial, and public health crisis.
· The Black unemployment rate in the District is five times that of Whites, and higher than the national Black unemployment rate. In Ward 8, at the time of our study, it was over 26%.
· DC’s Black poverty rate is 26%, compared with 7% for Whites. The child poverty rate is 34% for Black children and 22% for Hispanic children, compared to 0% for White children.
And a 2017 Georgetown University report concluded that:
· The median annual income for White families in the District is $120,000, and $41,000 for Black families.
· And most strikingly, White households have a net worth 81 times greater than Black households: $284,000 compared to $3,500.
At the Meyer Foundation, we believe racial equity is achieved when these racial disparities no longer exist; when a person’s racial identity is no longer a determinant of their future health, educational, and career opportunities, or their ability to build wealth across generations.
As “A Vision for an Equitable DC” states:
“Achieving this vision requires reforms that go deeper than just alleviating the symptoms of poverty. Dismantling barriers to equity requires an understanding of the city’s history of discrimination and systemic racism, and a firm commitment to pursuing racial equity from DC’s policymakers, agencies, nonprofits, philanthropic institutions, and businesses.”
We recognize institutional and systemic racism and their pervasive, generational detriments to people of color — particularly Black people — in the District of Columbia as the greatest injustice of our time. These disparities were and are created and maintained by the decisions, practices, and policies made by institutions and systems and cannot be addressed through services alone.
It is the responsibility of our institutions and systems to correct these injustices. The Meyer Foundation and many partners in the region are organizing ourselves to do just that. The DC Government has the greatest power and opportunity for impact through re-imagining its systems, polices, and practices.
We need to recognize that policy, practice, culture, and legislation got us to where we are today and that only policy, practice, culture and legislative change can get us out of it. Existing anti-discrimination laws and policies cannot solve racial disparities. They are preventative measures for discrimination but fail to address what is already so deeply entrenched in our systems, practices, and the District. They cannot make up for the gap that already exists and continues to grow. They encourage us to have a colorblind approach, when what we actually need to address this crisis is to recognize race and racism head-on and enact policies that affirmatively advance equity.
Increasingly, in other parts of our region and across the country, legislators and leaders are recognizing this need and incorporating a racial equity lens into their work — in both creating and implementing policy and legislation:
· Earlier this year, the Montgomery County Executive and the head of the County Council committed to incorporating racial data and the impact of policies and legislation on different demographic groups into their decision-making.
· Fairfax County, through their One Fairfax initiative, has developed a cross-sector commitment to considering racial and social equity, and meaningful community involvement when planning, developing, and implementing policies, practices, and initiatives.
· In cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Austin, Louisville, and Philadelphia […] legislative bodies are beginning to take decisive action for racial equity.
I believe the District is home to the best and brightest. We are a place rich in diverse cultures. We set the pace. We are in the position to be a model for advancing racial equity. It’s not an opportunity we should shy away from. You’ve showcased your ability to lead on this issue with the Student Fair Access to School Act and I encourage you to push further. It is what we owe to generations of Washingtonians who have been marginalized from the District’s prosperity, and it’s our duty for generations of Washingtonians to come.
The REAR Act of 2019 is a step in the right direction. Racial equity training is a necessary foundation for any role in public service — and I would say for any role period. Racial equity analysis tools have proven themselves to be effective assets in putting that training into practice and actively applying an equity lens to decisions in order to ensure that we are not further disadvantaging community members who have perpetually been left out and, in some cases, to ensure that we are affirmatively providing advantages that will enable residents to climb out of the hole we have created.
Though the Act lays out a strong course of action for the executive branch, we believe it does not go far enough. It will be equally important for the Council to recognize that policy and legislation starts with you, and that you, too, have a responsibility to ensure you and your staff have a deep understanding of racial equity (particularly as it applies to policy) and that you have tools to conduct racial equity impact assessments on proposed policies and legislation (including the annual DC budget) before they are sent to the executive branch for implementation.
I hope that this Act is but a first step in a much deeper commitment to addressing racial disparities and inequities in our city. When the Meyer Foundation took on our mission three years ago, we recognized that if we were sincere and committed to change, we had to start with ourselves. I urge you to consider that as you move this work forward.