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Columbia Business Monthly

Racial Equity and Mobility Commission Seeks to Improve Disparities in Greenville County

Nov 10, 2021 11:38AM ● By Carlos Phillips

We’re often reminded about the need to improve vital infrastructure at the local, state, and national levels. Our roads need repair, bridges require rebuilding, broadband expanded to rural and underserved areas, transit optimized, and mobility reimagined, and the list goes on. 

The future prosperity of our community and country will depend largely on our ability to effectively plan and fund vital improvements to the backbone of our economy. I’d like to invite you to think with me about an opportunity that is rarely if ever included in the infrastructure discussion – racial equity and economic inclusion. It is a concept deeply rooted in the premise that our community will be stronger when all of its residents have equal opportunities to achieve success. It is a belief strongly held in the Greenville community, and one that has been pursued with heightened intentionality over the past decade. 

While the events that transpired in 2020, including the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, prompted the dialogue that led to the formation of Greenville’s Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission (REEM), what has kept the work moving forward is the uncovering of shocking data surrounding the inequities that exist within our own backyard. 

In late 2020, the Greenville Chamber, United Way of Greenville County and Urban League of the Upstate partnered to form REEM as a way to combat race-based disparities that prohibit residents from achieving economic prosperity. The more than 30 community leaders who answered the call to join REEM are tasked with developing strategies and partnerships that will lead to the eradication of race-based disparities and inequities impacting the Black community in Greenville County, specifically in the areas of education and workforce development, income and wealth, health and wellness, justice, and community-wide learning. 

In unearthing the problems that exist here locally, what the commissioners have discovered is startling. Education attainment for Black residents of Greenville County is significantly less than their white counterparts (17 percent of Blacks hold a four-year degree, compared to 39 percent of whites). Annual income for area Blacks is two-thirds of their fellow white citizens. Also, Black males constitute a higher proportion of incarcerations compared to their fellow demographic representation, and the mortality rate for Black infants is twice that of white babies. 

These data points and others factor into our county achieving only 89 percent of the United States per capita income. This deficit results in a loss of $3 billion in annual economic activity for our community. This is not a hypothetical issue, but one with real-world impacts that will require real solutions. 

While we realize we cannot boil the ocean by addressing nationwide incidents and conditions, we can make a difference in the lives of Greenville citizens. The REEM Commission is actively developing recommendations to revise current systems to improve our current state and build a Greenville County where racial equity is absolute and prosperity is accessible to all in our Black community. The commission has a goal of developing three to five key recommendations for improvement in each of the main focus areas by December. 

Transparency, community engagement and collaboration with the right partners will be key elements to the successful implementation of the recommended strategies. Understanding this, the commission recently held its first educational community event, Step Up to the Plate at Fluor Field, to update Greenville residents on REEM progress and to engage in discussions about ways to make our county more welcoming and equitable. The commission will follow a similar approach when sharing the recommendations in December. After this, the critical work of implementing these changes will begin in 2022. 

The Greenville Chamber is proud to have launched its Minority Business Accelerator almost a decade ago, where more than 120 minority- and women-owned business participants have engaged in a rigorous yearlong program designed to help them run their businesses more effectively and increase their capacity and ability to expand and scale. These business owners have hired more than 300 people, generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue, and have received national recognition for their business successes. The success of the MBA program has prompted its expansion to the Charleston and Columbia markets thanks to a significant contribution from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. While we are certainly proud of this program and the accomplishments of its participants, we recognize that much more work is required if we are to build a more inclusive economy. That’s why the REEM Commission’s work is so important.

At times, the task of addressing 400 years of systems can seem daunting, but the disparities are too big to ignore and the opportunity for material impact is too great to forgo. The commission will persist until Greenville County is a community where all her residents have fair opportunities and equal access to achieving their goals. This infrastructure is too vital to our community’s continued economic prosperity.

To learn more about the commission’s work and to stay updated on opportunities to engage, visit

Carlos Phillips is President/CEO of the Greenville Chamber.