African American Financial Capability Initiative launches Black Empowerment Center Effort aims to bridge city’s racial wealth divide

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Tacoma’s African American Financial Capability Initiative, a Community of Practice working collaboratively to address racial economic inequality and the racial wealth gap, is launching the Black Empowerment Center (BEC) on Feb. 20. The goal of this community-led institution is to help fellow Black Tacomans overcome racial economic disparities. The BEC will provide knowledge, skills and access to financial resources to empower Tacoma’s African American community to thrive on its own terms.

Tacoma is one of six cities in the Northwest Area Foundation’s (the organization that provided seed funding for Tacoma’s initiative) African American Financial Capability Initiative who, with technical assistance from Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide Initiative, is working to improve outcomes for African Americans impacted by racial economic inequality and the racial wealth divide.

Despite its small size, Tacoma’s African American population shows significant evidence of racialized poverty, income and wealth disparities in the following areas: education, home ownership, employment and wealth, to name a few. These issues exist due to redlining, gentrification, and a gap between the African American community and the public/private organizations that provide financial resources and services. Historical, structural, systemic and institutional racism created the racial wealth divide which is being further perpetuated by contemporary policies and practices.

To reverse this trend, the Tacoma Urban League, Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, NAACP, United Way of Pierce County, Hilltop Urban Gardens and Sound Outreach have collaborated with community members closest to the problem to create the Black Empowerment Center. This center is based on three years of engagement through a Community Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) program that strove to engage and empower community members to create solutions to the socioeconomic challenges they face. Collaboration between community-based organizations meant community could leverage social capital, knowledge and expertise to inform systems change and develop products and services to benefit African Americans.

BEC will officially open Feb. 20. Programming will roll out in three phases, with the first pillar launching March 2019:

  • Pillar #1: Stabilization – providing the Black community with financial capability fundamentals such as credit repair, housing subsidies, rent reduction, etc.;
  • Pillar #2: Cultural Reinforcement – developing leaders to create advocacy platforms that benefit the Black community through cultural exposure via literary history, media, lectures and performance art;
  • Pillar #3: Asset Development – influencing members of the Black community to save and invest by hiring a certified financial planner to champion and educate on financial literacy to increase generational wealth in the Black community.

The Tacoma Urban League is the fiscal sponsor of this initiative and will work with community members leading the work to raise funds, while also providing space and staff for BEC programs.

BEC is an outcome of Northwest Area Foundation’s three-year regional African American Financial Capability Initiative (AAFCI), which received tailored technical assistance and coaching from Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide Initiative to build holistic financial capability and asset development pilot projects. The AAFCI focuses on advancing the financial stability of African American communities within the Northwest Area Foundation’s footprint experiencing disproportionate wage/wealth disparities. Participating cities are: Des Moines, Iowa; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle and Tacoma.

The AAFCI highlights and tackles the structural causes and community consequences of each city’s specific racial wealth divide. To this end, the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative (RWDI) worked with African American communities and leaders to address the local challenges of broad and deep racial economic inequality within their cities by focusing on these core goals:

Assist in developing high-impact nonprofit organizations of color focused on advancing economic opportunity nationally.

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