Black History Month has evolved over the years from a vehicle to highlight the achievements of Black Americans, into a time for fostering a deeper understanding of the country’s history and having conversations around questions of racial equity. Since the turbulent events of 2020, the nation has shown itself to not only be more willing to engage in such dialogue, but also to take action. P4A has seen this shift reflected in our own work as well.

Racial Equity as a Focal Point for This Year’s Research

The year 2020 was a catalyst for a new kind of conversation. Events prompted individuals, as well as institutions large and small, to reevaluate their roles in perpetuating systemic inequalities.

Dr. King's famous quote, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," is coming to life in places like Cincinnati, Portland, and California. People from different cultures are working together to find more just solutions. Discussions about reparations for descendants of enslaved people and other forms of justice are more common. As a country, we're critically looking at major systems that aren't working as intended, with a diverse group of people involved in the conversation.

The P4A funded research that has emerged from our grantees this year is indicative of this turn of the conversation toward action.

Let’s Talk About How the Past Influences the Present and the Future

In Cincinnati, Ohio, the Center for Community Resilience, alongside a collaborative of organizations, rolled out a dynamic project that showed the long-term impacts of past government policies on today’s distribution of wealth. The history lesson began with a film that refers back to a 1948 Master Plan that removed thousands of Black and poor white families in the name of urban renewal, leaving them with few options to recoup their losses. Poverty in Cincinnati is demonstrably tied to that catastrophic event, and to subsequent government policies that placed everything of value – land, industry, and access to commercial transit routes – out of the reach of Black citizens.

The research and film have inspired hundreds of individuals and dozens of civic groups to come together to craft a plan to repair some of that damage. Discussions, surveys and strategies have come out of those collaborations. Their activities – and their concrete plans for future reparative action – inspired a historic apology from the city. Now, their approach, and the tools they have developed to support community action, is being replicated in five other cities.

In Portland, Oregon, a study by Portland State University in 2023 examined a project that moved low-income Black residents into subsidized housing in a gentrifying area that was once a historically Black neighborhood. The study, Evaluating the N/NE Preference Policy, aimed to see if the project improved residents' wellbeing and sense of community. While not all residents were satisfied with the neighborhood, the policy mostly achieved its goals, with many residents experiencing better wellbeing and valuing the connection to the historically Black area. The findings offer insights for future housing policies addressing racial and spatial disparities.

The Racial Justice Coalition in Asheville, North Carolina, in their study entitled, A Black Community's Vision for and Accountability of a Local Reparations Process, developed meaningful community engagement around the question of reparations as a policy solution for advancing racial equity in wealth, and decreasing inequalities in health and wellbeing. The researchers brought together activists, local government leaders, and local communities, centering the communities that would receive reparations. They assessed public sentiment to craft policies that both acknowledge racism as a public health issue and would create restorative measures to address past harms. Should these policies become law, Asheville would be the first city in the South to take concrete, compensatory measures to benefit African Americans. This study shows promise as a possible model for other cities looking to implement restorative racial justice policies and practices. 

The Road Ahead: Can We Achieve True Racial Equity in America?

It is true that there’s been backlash, as assaults on affirmative action continue to be pushed by some. Partisan redistricting runs rampant as people with unpopular views attempt to stall progress toward justice for all and imprint their views on politics and law.

But the country is showing a new willingness to confront and take restorative actions to address its past failings. We each now have the opportunity to examine how we can influence the course of the nation’s future and the relationships between our diverse cultural groups.

P4A will continue to explore the systemic root causes of health inequities, and to identify potential policy solutions to help correct those inequities. We feel strongly about the importance of continued dialogue, education – and action – in bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice. And we will continue to examine our own role in the fight for racial justice and health equity, support relevant initiatives, and keep the conversation going well beyond Black History Month.

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