From Our President: The Bell & Race

As an organization focused on economic mobility for every Coloradan, it is impossible to deny a tragic truth we see throughout all of our work: Communities of color, and particularly black Coloradans, face nearly insurmountable odds in our economy. 

As we search for solutions to this, we cannot ignore history. The systemic exclusion of black Americans from financial, housing, and education initiatives has left an indelible stain on their economic circumstances. Those economic circumstances have far-reaching consequences for their lives. In 1963, the average wealth of white families was $121,000 higher than the average wealth of nonwhite families. Today, that gap has exploded. Average white wealth is $700,000 higher than the average wealth of black families. In Colorado, the average black worker in Colorado makes 34 percent less than the average white worker. Colorado’s black families are 62 percent less likely to own a home than the state’s non-Hispanic white families.

Housing segregation, predatory financial practices, employment discrimination, and lack of adquate resources in our education system all inevitably lead to devastating collisions with our criminal and civil justice systems that have multigenerational impacts. The fact George Floyd’s murder by a police officer occured in the wake of a mere accusation of a petty financial crime only hammers home the distressing connection between economic circumstance and abusive policing practices. 

We can study this connection all we want, but until we act on the root of the problem, our words and research will mean little. The Bell Policy Center has worked to turn research into action over the years. We’ve worked alongside diverse partners, coalitions, and funders to hone in on inequities and reverse them through intentional strategies. We’ve worked to dismantle the predatory economy that literally endangers the lives of so many Coloradans of color. We’ve advanced ideas like expanded access to concurrent enrollment, which has benefited black students looking to accelerate their educational attainment. And today, we are leading a fight to make our tax code more equitable and adequate to ensure communities who have been left behind are more included than ever in economic mobility initiatives. 

While I’m proud of this work, none of these policy advances has been enough. The Bell must be better on race. As an organization, we have some work to do and questions to ask ourselves when it comes to bringing urgency and greater community engagement to our equity work. We must ensure our policy and advocacy capacity is available to those who need it. We need to make sure our staff reflects the diversity of the communities we are serving. We need to do better at lifting up other voices and perspectives from historically marginalized communities. Most of all, we must ask how our organization can be more effective at taking on the power structures that have been too slow to adapt to the truth that black lives matter.

I am committed to seeing these conversations are had and acted on. I know these will be uncomfortable conversations, but also know that not a single one of them will be nearly as uncomfortable as the conversation a black parent and child have to have about the cruel realities of the world we currently reside in. The Bell is committed to doing our part to ensure those conversations become a distant memory in a much brighter, not-so-distant future.

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