As Louisiana drops four spots to claim the 44th place In the financial security of its residents, the Southern Regional Asset Building Coalition will host its 7th annual conference, “Closing the Racial Wealth Gap: Innovative Solutions for Change,” in New Orleans beginning Sept. 24, 4pm, at the Astor Crowne Plaza.
With the goal of engaging discussions on concrete steps to ensure economic inclusion and wealth building for all, the importance of having such a conference in Louisiana is monumental.
Here’s why. Earlier this year, the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) released Louisiana’s number 44 overall ranking in financial security of residents. The scorecard evaluates how residents are faring across 66 outcome measures in five different issue areas— financial assets and income, businesses and jobs, housing and homeownership, health care, and education.
The state received a “D” in the area of financial assets and income, a reflection of the state’s high level of income poverty, which is the third worst in the nation. Louisiana ranked 47th in the number of under banked households with 27% of households who have an account continuing to use high-cost or alternative financial services. Louisiana received an “F” in the education category, due in part to low math and reading proficiency levels (ranked 49th and 48th) and low rates of educational attainment. The state ranks 48th in high school degrees and 49th in two-year college degrees. Louisiana received a “D” in housing and homeownership and ranked 49th in high-cost mortgage loans. In Health Care, the state received a “C,” with 19% of residents uninsured.
The state also ranked 23rd in policies adopted to help struggling families.
And with those statistics, the two-day conference could not come at a better time. It will feature three plenary sessions, concurrent breakout sessions, legislative roundtable and the introduction of an emerging leadership academy sponsored by the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development.
Of the featured plenary will be a session titled “Making Change that Matters: Challenging Systems and Transforming Lives,” moderated by Ashley Shelton, director of One Voice Louisiana. Shelton, along with featured panelists State Senator Sharon Weston Broome, and Derrick Johnson, of One Voice in Mississippi, will discuss the intersection of public policy, grassroots advocacy, and organizing.
Another feature will be a “Building Strong Family Legacies” session moderated by Gabriela Sandoval, director of policy and research with Insight Center for Community Economic Development.
Sandoval designs and manages research projects focused on building wealth for economically vulnerable people and communities through the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative and other programs.
Panelists include Halbert Sullivan, the founding president and CEO of Fathers’ Support Center in St. Louis; lawyer and the co-director at the Center for Family Policy and Practice Jacquelyn L. Boggess; and Adrienne Wooten, lawyer and a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Sandoval will discuss how policy change can improve opportunity and life outcomes of Black fathers, their children and their communities.
The conference officially opens on Sept. 25 with a welcome by area coordinator Joyce M. James of Louisiana Building Economic Security Together, who has a lifestyle quote that matches much of what will be discussed at the conference.
“Financially empowered people make Louisiana a better state,” James said. “So how do we do that? By educating people about public policy that hinder their ability to be financially empowered. So if you empower the people to build economic security over a lifetime, we could have a better state.”
James pointed out that there is a difference between wealth and income and that it’s important to explain this, as well as provide education in financial literacy and public policy.
The conference will also feature a bevy of keynote speakers including the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and author of Preaching Through Unexpected Pain.
Barber has helped to lead the fight for voter rights, just redistricting, health care reform, labor and worker rights, protection of immigration rights, reparation for women survivors of eugenics, release of the Wilmington Ten and educational equality. He also serves as a national board member and the national NAACP chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee.
“‘We’ is the most important word in the social justice vocabulary,” Barber said. “The issue is not what we can’t do, but what we can do when we stand together. With an upsurge in racism/hate crimes, criminalization of young Black males, insensitivity to the poor, educational genocide and the moral/economic cost of a war, we must stand together now like never before.”
The two-day conference will also include keynote speakers Michael Sherraden, founder and director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, and Thomas Shapiro, director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy.
Shapiro will lead a panel discussion on the racial wealth gap. He will open the session by drawing on the historical context within racial wealth disparities.
The panel – which includes Darrick Hamilton, associate professor, economics and urban policy at Milano; Meizhu Lui, author; and Anne Price, director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development – will present new research findings in the field and explore the power of stories and narrative as a viable platform for expanding public understanding of the racial wealth gap.
In 1997, Shapiro co-authored the award-winning Black Wealth/White Wealth, which received the 1997 Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award from the American Sociological Association. He has also appeared on The Tavis Smiley Show, Talk of the Nation, CNN and On Point.
Financial literacy and public policies may be serious topics, but attendees will also be treated to live entertainment by Continuum Music during the two-day event and catered meals are included in registration costs.
Conference ‘registration is $129 and includes a materials packet, pre-conference activities and dinner on Wednesday, breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner on Thursday and breakfast and lunch on Friday. Attendees will be responsible for travel, lodging and other expenses.
Review the agenda: 2014 SRABC Conference Agenda.
By Leslie D. Rose
The Drum Newspaper