A direct push to take on wealth gaps

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Thanks to efforts like the University of Minnesota’s “Mapping Prejudice” project, there’s more public awareness about racial covenants in housing.

We now know that provisions in deeds barred many people of color from buying homes in some Twin Cities neighborhoods because of their race. Consequently, they were unable to accumulate property wealth and pass it along to relatives in the same way as many white people.

Property covenants represent only one of many government-sanctioned, race-based barriers to economic opportunity. That’s why Minnesotans and residents of the Dakotas should welcome the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation’s recently announced $100 million commitment to help narrow wealth gaps between white Americans and Black and Native Americans.

That unprecedented investment holds promise to make a significant difference by bringing economic prosperity to thousands of citizens of color.

As part of the initiative, Bush Foundation leaders said Nexus Community Partners in St. Paul and NDN Collective in Rapid City, S.D., will each receive $50 million to make direct grants to Native and Black American residents in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota over the next several years.

Research cited by the foundation makes it clear that being able to get an education, buy a home or start a business can help increase incomes and assets. That’s why the Bush grants will provide direct support to individuals. The idea is that economic success for individuals and families will in turn create stronger and more prosperous communities.

Bush grant directors Jackie Statum Allen and Eileen Briggs, who co-lead the initiative, told an editorial writer via e-mail that the foundation has always believed in investing in individual potential to help “families and communities control their economic destinies.”

They added that wealth is generational; inheriting money often helps the next generation with college tuition, a down payment on a home or help starting a business.

While acknowledging that many small businesses struggle or even fail, the Bush leaders said many ideas will succeed and that people of color should have access to capital to create new opportunities.

In addition to the $100 million in direct grants, Statum Allen and Briggs said, Bush is committing $50 million over the next five years to “community-driven approaches by organizations to address racial wealth gaps.”

America’s history is scarred by practices and policies that improved prosperity for white Americans, but not Black or Native Americans. Government actions that supported slavery, violated treaties, took land and denied farm loans locked many people of color out of economic opportunities.

The 1862 Homestead Act, for example, displaced Native Americans and gave more than 270 million acres to private citizens. Today, 46 million U.S. adults can trace their wealth back to this policy.

In addition, the 1935 Social Security Act brought retirement and unemployment supports for workers, but because it excluded agricultural and domestic workers, 65% of the Black American workforce did not benefit. They didn’t receive that economically stabilizing government help that kept recipients out of poverty.

The hope is that the Bush Foundation effort will reduce poverty and open the doors of economic and generational prosperity to those who need a boost.

“This is going to have an impact for so many individuals and their families and for their descendants to come,” Statum Allen said. “I’m so excited to see what it will do for our region.”

So are we.

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