Greenville, S.C. – More than 200 gathered at the Phillis Wheatley Community Center on Monday to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and discuss Greenville County’s income and wealth disparities through the lens of housing and economic justice.
The meeting hosted by the Greenville Racial Equity & Economic Mobility (REEM) Commission included opening remarks by Executive Director Stacey Mills, a keynote by Palmetto Community Developers founder Alyssa Richardson, panel discussion, poetry reading, and awards recognition.
The town hall was part of a commitment by REEM to work collectively with the community to eradicate race-based disparities and inequities impacting the Black community in Greenville County.
Richardson, who previously served as deputy chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), said the keys to economic mobility are home ownership, entrepreneurship, and access to capital. King’s message, she said, continues to resonate.
“We Shall Overcome - that was the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement,” Richardson said. “As we sit here in January of 2023, what do the words mean? We shall overcome, someday? When is someday, if not today?”
The panel comprised of the Rev. Vinson Royal of Springfield Baptist Church, Liz Bebber of United Ministries, S.C. Rep. Wendell Jones (D-Greenville), and Rabbi Sam Rose of the Temple of Israel discussed how faith, politics, and racial inequities impact economic justice and mobility in Greenville County. Most importantly, the Greenville community needs to come together in tackling the underlying issues.
“We've got to make up in our mind that our differences are petty and we don't have time anymore to be petty,” Jones said. “There is the urgency of now, once again. We've got to come together and make some changes happen.”
Royal said that it’s important to get beyond the statistics. “Being more than a statistic makes us human,” he said. “It gives us opportunity to do and accomplish the dream today of being connected as a family in the suffering of anyone and everyone.”
Jones said the temptation is to view economic mobility as a black-white issue.
"We are being pitted against each other because division is a great tool in a democracy where numbers matter. If people can be pitted against each other, then you don't have enough numbers to make a change,” Jones said.
“What we have in Greenville is not a black and white issue. It's an income issue. It's an affordability issue. And that issue crosses the color line,” he said.
City of Greenville poet laureate Glenis Redmond read her poem entitled ‘Peace be Still.’
"We all have our King stories,” she said. “We have a moment where we connected with this great man. And each of us in our lives need to do our best to stand for the dream."
The REEM Commission acknowledged the Rev. Curtis Johnson, the Rev. Phillip Baldwin, Nika White, Sonji Mims Adams, and Lyshedra Williams as members of the Dream Team that helped make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a reality in Greenville County in 2005.
Mills also presented “Dream Keeper Awards” to Traci Fant of Freedom Fighters Upstate SC, Susan McClarty of the Greenville Homeless Alliance, David Taylor of Momentum Bike Club, retired state Rep. Leola Robinson-Simpson, and Derrick Quarles for their work making change in the community.
About Greenville Racial Equity + Economic Mobility (REEM) Commission:
Created by the United Way of Greenville County, Urban League of the Upstate and Greenville Chamber, the Greenville Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission was formed in the summer of 2020 to convene around matters of racial inequities, social justice, and disparities in key areas that negatively impact the Black community in Greenville County. Led by Executive Director Stacey Mills, and co-chaired by Merl Code and David Lominack, the commission is comprised of community leaders from diverse backgrounds and industries who share a commitment to creating change in Greenville County. The commission released its Summary Report to the Community in 2022 outlining recommendations that support a thriving Black community in Greenville County by eradicating race-based disparities. For more information on REEM, visit www.reemgvl.org.
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