Commission aims to eliminate racial disparity in Greenville County | Greenville News

After two years of discussion and planning, a commission to eliminate racial disparity in Greenville County is preparing to put ideas into action.

The United Way of Greenville County, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League of the Upstate formed the Commission on Racial Equality and Economic Mobility in 2020, as publicized police killings of black people sparked protests across the country.

“We said that our three institutions really need to do something in Greenville to understand what’s happening nationally,” said Meghan Barp, CEO of United Way of Greenville.

Over the next two years, REEM hired 35 commissioners—a mix of officers, business owners, faith leaders, law enforcement officials, and community attorneys—to investigate and find solutions to racial inequality in Greenville County.

A Racial Justice Index released by United Way in 2020 played a key role in identifying the commission’s areas of focus. According to the Index, Greenville County lagged behind the rest of the state and country on several levels in terms of racial equity. The data outlined a wide range of issues, including that Black Greenville County residents have significantly more difficulty escaping poverty and are at greater risk of incarceration and experiencing homelessness.

In Greenville, the Church is planning a

Armed with this data, REEM officers identified five focus areas: criminal justice, education, community engagement, health and wellbeing, and income and wealth. A recent Commission report outlines strategies to close the gap in these areas; Recommendations such as expanding parent support programs, capping interest rates on predatory payday loans, and improving access to perinatal care in the black community.

REEM’s first step toward some of its lofty goals was the hiring of Stacey Mills, the senior pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, as its full-time executive director in April. The Commission also intends to hire a project leader as soon as possible.

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Mills will be responsible for finding ways to implement the commission’s vision.

“It’s more than a full-time job,” he says. “This is a very unique trail for us to travel, wake up to each day and reflect on the experiences of black people in this community.”

The precise role that the Commission will play is still taking shape. The points of action REEM outlines in its report range from political points that would likely require lobbying, such as expanding Medicaid in South Carolina, to economic initiatives, such as increasing the availability of capital for black-owned businesses.

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REEM’s stated goal, reiterated throughout the report’s executive summary, is nothing short of eliminating racial disparity in Greenville County.

Mills said after serving as executive director for about two months, he’s still exploring realistic next steps. He reckons a key part of the commission’s job is to bring together nonprofits and service providers already working to improve the lives of Black residents in Greenville County and find ways to work together.

The commission will also continue to look at the systemic racial inequalities in Greenville County, Mills said, to identify barriers the black community faces and ways to address them.

“When REEM emerges, we are armed with incisive information that not only sheds light on past experiences but provides a path to bridge the gap,” he said. “I see REEM and my role as an additional voice in the space with a specific focus on the experience of black people in these spaces.”

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Follow Conor Hughes on Twitter at @ConorJHughes.