Associated Black Charities: Agitator for Community Progress

by: Zenitha Prince Senior AFRO Correspondent zprince@afro.com
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ABC CEO Diane Bell-McKoy
ABC CEO Diane Bell-McKoy

The Associated Black Charities (ABC) will pay tribute to several Maryland individuals and organizations who have taken steps towards increasing economic access and opportunity for all during its Black and White Gala on June 11 at Martin’s West.

“The gala is an opportunity to lift up our agenda—which is particularly important one year after the April 2015 unrest— and also the people and organizations that are making a difference in closing racial equity gaps,” said ABC CEO Diane Bell-McKoy.

ABC is a public foundation—a “positive agitator,” Bell-McKoy said—that acts as a convener, advocate and grantmaker to address the health and economic disparities impacting Maryland communities.

The organization’s agenda is not so much a “Black” one, the CEO said, but a “green” one, as in money or economic empowerment.

“We’re clear that if we’re going to change wealth and health gaps for African Americans you must have a racial equity lens, that is, we must understand how systems and policies limit opportunities for African Americans,” Bell-McKoy said. “Unless you change the economic framework you can’t really create equity.”

That message, the advocate said, has gone largely unheard. And, many look at the social ills that pervade many communities of color—crime, drugs, obesity, high secondary school dropout rates, etc.— as signs that something is inherently wrong with Black and Brown people.

But the unrest that erupted in Baltimore in April 2015 highlighted what many intellectuals and activists have long said—that Black and Brown people aren’t “broken,” but the systems that govern U.S. society are.

“We have been saying this for a long time: Let’s change structural inequities and we can change outcomes…. People do need to have personal responsibility, but they need the tools to do it,” Bell-McKoy said.

“Since April of last year people are hearing us differently now. They are getting it,” she added. “Even largely-White companies and organizations are beginning to realize that they have a role in this (closing equity gaps and increasing economic access within communities)…that this bottom line is part of their bottom line.”

Many of tassociatedblackcharitieshis year’s honorees reflect that growing awareness of the need for inclusion and equal opportunity. For example, Johns Hopkins institutions received the Community Investors Award for its many contributions to the community, including the launch of HopkinsLocal, an initiative to expand participation of local and minority-owned businesses in construction and purchasing activities, and to increase hiring of city residents.

BGE is also being recognized for its Focus 25 program, a small business development initiative targeted especially toward diversecertified businesses. Since 2013, BGE has spent more than $60 million with Focus 25 participants. And, Jake Oliver, chairman and CEO of the AFRO-American Newspaper, is receiving the Legacy Award, which is given to an individual and/or organization who over time has advocated, educated, promoted and/ or supported economic growth in the AfricanAmerican community.

“They have always pushed this issue of economic empowerment for African Americans and have helped to highlight that as times change, there are still structural challenges to racial equity,” Bell-McKoy said of the AFRO.

All of the awardees share a commitment toward finding long-term solutions to those structural barriers.

“It’s not enough to do a program today because it is only going to be helpful for the persons right in front of you,” Bell-McKoy said. “We want to figure out how to turn the tide so those programs are no longer needed.”

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