By Diane Bell-McKoy, President & CEO of ABC

As the CEO of an organization committed to helping create more economically prosperous communities across the state of Maryland, I go to bed every night asking myself, “Are we making a difference? Are we changing the future?” I ask these questions because I am leading an organization that is 100 percent focused on changing the rules of the game and leveling the playing field, so that we can create a better future for our young people and their families.

We are working to ensure that no child today will be counted in the number of 14,000 people currently living in the city of Baltimore, who get up and go to work every day, yet earn less than $24k per year, placing them more than 200 percent below the poverty line.  And, if they are a part of a family of four, that means that the household is earning less than $51,500 per year, far below the $115k required for a family of four to be considered stable.

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

The reality for someone living in that household is that there is no viable plan for that future that includes home ownership, long-term savings, or a college education. When the ends are too far away to ever meet, the conversation remains static, but ABC exists to effect change, true, long-lasting, transformational change for people of color by improving their economic outcomes. 

What ABC does is about them. It is about their lives and their opportunity for greater economic gains inside of organizations and systems that mean well but often are unaware of how they limit opportunity. When we impact their economic outcomes by dismantling structural racism, we change the economic trajectory for all of the region and all citizens. 

These issues are the ones that demand our attention and why we have chosen them as our focus.  We asked ourselves what we needed to help these workers rise above the poverty line? We decided that we needed to work to influence policies, partner with employers, and provide workers with the support they need to navigate the workforce. Once this happens, imagine the types of conversations that we can begin to have – we will be able to talk about the $15k down payment on a first home, a new car, daycare, savings, or college tuition. 

Our programs enable workers to move from minimum wage to living wage. Our programs bridge a gap not just by moving a person from one place to the next, but by building that new bridge – envisioned and designed in proper context and through a racial equity lens. We start with legislation, policy, and the institutions that control access. We make changes there so that the skills learned in the Volunteer Mentor Program, Board Pipeline Program, and Financial Wellness Program can be that bridge to that new job or promotion.

We must change the trajectory for workers of color today, for their children tomorrow, and for their children’s children. We can only change the future by understanding our past and directly addressing systemic racism and all of its accompanying racialized barriers embedded in the systems that stifle the pathway forward for workers of color.

Once we shift the focus, engage employers, workers themselves, workforce trainers, policy makers, philanthropists, and supportive citizens to first understand what systemic racism is and how it harms all of us economically, then we can remove the barriers, open the doors, shift the paradigm and have real conversations about growing the middle class and building wealth in the Black community.

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