By Diane Bell-McKoy, President & CEO of ABC

Even before the death of Freddie Gray, Associated Black Charities (ABC) pushed for Baltimore to address structural racism and call out white privilege. If we are to change the economic outcomes for Baltimore’s Black citizens, we must be intentional about getting to the root of the problem.  As daunting as this may sound to some, it is the only route to economic transformation for Baltimore. More specifically, ABC chose to focus on dismantling structural racism within the workforce ecosystem, which includes workers, trainers/educators, employers, philanthropists, policy makers and citizens.  

We began by conducting research that identified the racial wage gaps that exist between White, Black and Brown citizens, often found in high growth industries. The common misconception is that the absence of a college degree is the barrier for upward mobility and attainment of wealth. However, opportunities for growth do exist from lower level positions, workers just need to be trained. We have found middle skills (no advanced degree required) jobs can be obtained as long as the training is employer led and encouraged.

Diane Bell-McKoy, President and CEO of Associated Black Charities. (Courtesy photo)

To that end, for Black workers just starting a job, we partner with workforce development experts such as Goodwill Industries to deliver our Volunteer Career Mentoring Program. Each year we match 50 entry level workers with a seasoned professional who serves as their volunteer career coach or mentor to help guide them along their career path. We also provide participants with the soft skills needed to “manage” the work environment as a Black worker.  In addition, in order to ensure that our voices of change are heard in the rooms where important decisions are being made about how to serve our community, our Board Pipeline program trains people of color to sit on nonprofit boards. These are great “transactional tools” that provide much needed support for workers but not enough to dismantle structural racism. 

Dismantling structural racism requires that first systems must be transformed. This work includes teaching policy makers that they can begin to create racial equitable policies by using the ABC’s Ten Essential Questions for Racial Equity Policy, or Ten Essential Questions for Workforce Providers.  This must be paired with creating space for the providers to examine the negative impact of structural racism on the workers they are serving. Once open to the discussion, ABC can follow up with specific coaching and training for the various layers of the organization, helping them to view their current systems and policies through a racial equity lens. 

The most important player in all the work that we do is you. In order to empower more members of our community, we must engage them and expand their knowledge. In addition to providing programming, conducting research, convening focus groups, sharing data, creating knowledge forums, and partnering with other organizations are all a part of the journey to closing the racial wealth gap in Baltimore. In 2020, ABC will unveil the first of its kind video, teaching the history of structural racism in Baltimore. 

To learn more about our programming and the work that we do to provide equitable opportunities for people of color to work, advance and build financial security and generational wealth to benefit their families and communities, please visit our website –

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.