Norwescap was founded in 1965 as part of the effort to eliminate poverty during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and that remains our central focus today. While we have made much progress on many fronts since that time, there are still deep, painful disparities that must be addressed. Central among those remaining issues is that poverty and race remain inextricably linked in the United States of America. This is the painful legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, red-lining, and the institutional racism that still stubbornly insinuates its tentacles into our daily lives. This truth is at the heart of the work that Norwescap does for the people we serve, and addressing racial disparities is central to our focus. Racism is wrong and morally repugnant, we must work together to end it. We can’t end poverty without addressing racism.
Norwescap sees, first hand, the dramatic impact of this legacy on our African American community: lower incomes; dramatic health disparities; fewer economic opportunities; lower homeownership rates; less access to capital and credit; greater food insecurity; gaps in access to technology; disparities in academic achievement; and higher incarceration rates. Senator Cory Booker recently said that “Peace is not simply the absence of violence, it requires the presence of justice.” The massive protests and civil unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd are an expression of the frustration, anger and rage that people feel in living with these inequities every day, with no hope and no belief that things will ever get better. These feelings are most acute in the African American community who experience these conditions in a visceral and unique manner that no one, who is not black, can truly understand. But those feelings of anger and injustice are shared across a diverse swath of Americans who understand that if there is not ‘justice for all’, there really isn’t justice.
There isn’t justice when the disparity between a typical white family’s net worth ($171,000) and a black family’s net worth ($17,150) is ten-fold. There isn’t justice when African-American women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women, or when the African-American infant mortality rate is twice the rate for white infants. There isn’t justice when Blacks are almost 4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession despite roughly equally rates of use compared to their white counterparts.
These painful disparities are the direct result of the long history of racism and are issues that Norwescap directly deals with through our structure and programming. Norwescap’s Board of Trustees reserves 1/3 of the seats for low-income participants and has diversity policies in place to ensure diverse representation. Norwescap ensures that thousands of African American and other families have access to high-quality early childhood education and day care through our Education Strategies. Our Employment Strategies give African American and other people skills and support to help secure well-paying employment. Our Financial Empowerment strategies help African American and other low-income families build wealth by offering matched savings accounts, financial workshops and access to commercial bank loans. Our Health & Nutrition strategies make sure African American and other low-income women have access to nutritional counselling, well-baby practices, financial support for healthy food. Through Norwescap’s Civic Engagement strategies we have educated hundreds of people, including all Norwescap staff, in what it is like to live in poverty through poverty simulations. Recently, Norwescap’s Housing & Community Development team provided implicit bias training to over 200 police officers to identify their own personal biases and change their tactics to focus on de-escalation and prevention. Combined, these programs, services and strategies help individuals overcome these long-standing inequities.
Despite the five decades of anti-poverty work we have led, it is evident that much more needs to be done. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” These recent events serve to steel our resolve to serve our communities because we know that our work is necessary, albeit not sufficient, in bending the ‘arc of the moral universe’. Norwescap’s work is righteous, moral and just. But we must also be honest as individuals and as an organization that we are not doing enough. Norwescap must renew its commitment to the people we serve and must be innovative and intentional about addressing racial disparities. Current events dictate that there is a fierce urgency to work for equality. This will require many conversations, input, feedback, and the courage to address new ideas. Norwescap is committed to this work and committed to working with our many stakeholders (clients, Trustees, partners, staff and others) to ensure that we are making real and measurable progress on this issue. There must be change and Norwescap will be an active partner in achieving this change. It is essential.