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Columbia Business Monthly

Racial Justice And Equality: Opportunity for Better Future

By L. C. Leach III

The message was simple and clear: It is not by accident that Greenville County has escaped much of the fallout seen across the U.S. in the wake of the recent tragic deaths of Brionna Taylor in Kentucky, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and especially George Floyd in Minneapolis.

During a Greenville County Chamber of Commerce webinar June 9, several area leaders emphasized to an audience of more than 200 how people in the Greenville community are leading a nascent movement to make positive changes concerning law enforcement, civil equity for all races, and more understanding between individuals of all backgrounds and social standing.

“I think the sense of urgency and the desire for positive change is what stands out to me,” said Meghan Barp, United Way of Greenville County president/CEO. “The hard part is having uncomfortable conversations with people we love and respect in new ways for progress.”

To this end, United Way, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, and Urban League of the Upstate have partnered to recommend the forming of a community-wide commission with 20-25 people to discuss the current challenges related to education, social justice, racial injustice, health, economic mobility, policing and law enforcement, and the aging populations of all groups of people.

“I’ve been very heartened in the past few days about the willingness to engage in this meaningful dialogue that will lead to impactful change,” said Carlos Phillips, Greenville Chamber president/CEO.

Sean Dogan, interim president/CEO of the Urban League, added that he regrets only that the effort unfortunately came at the cost of George Floyd pleading on camera as his life was slowly snuffed out by a Minneapolis policeman.

“There are many who have been dealing with this (kind of injustice) for years, decades, and even centuries,” Dogan said. “Now people are saying, ‘Now that we’ve seen it, we want to do something about it.’”

And Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis called in to say, “We need to come out as leaders in this county, not just against racism, but to build a bridge between our entire community.”

This Greenville County community currently numbers approximately 525,000 people.

Whites comprise around 74 percent of the population, blacks 18.5 percent, and the remainder includes native American Indian, native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, and people across all of Asia.

Addressing the disparity between whites and blacks only, Barp said United Way has found “some pretty stark stats in a race and economic mobility index that we recently commissioned.”

“For example, black household income is 56 percent of white households,” she said. “This is worse than the state and U.S. averages, and the trend is not improving.”

Such improvement, Phillips added, is something that will be necessary in the long run to accomplish two goals: creating a more robust and prosperous business climate and helping our nation live up to its promise by making our community a more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive place.

“The more progress we can make in areas regarding race, health and all the other issues, the better it’s going to be for our economy, and the better it’s going to be for business,” he said. “If we have a community where people have the opportunity to earn more money and maximize their income potential, that’s good for business. If we have a community that is better educated, that’s good for business. There is an enlightened self-interest in engaging in this work, because as we address these social challenges, more people will prosper and the community as a whole will follow.”