Preserving Black-Owned Land Is One of Our Greatest Triumphs Against Racial Wealth Inequity

Click here to read Anne’s full piece on Medium.

When “Going Back” Means Staying Put

By Jhumpa Bhattacharya | Ms. Magazine

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the word American. I hit all the marks by definition—I was born in the United States, in the Heartland, no less; have lived here my entire life; and my career has centered on making America a country that lives up to its values of freedom, justice and dignity for all. I balk at the idea that there is just one type of American.

Yet, like many children of immigrants, there is a seed planted deep within me that sprouts hesitation when it comes to fully claiming to be an American. Watching the President tell “the squad” to “go back to their countries” reminded me why.

My Brown skin can always be seen by others as inherently un-American. That reality haunts me.

Read the full article here >> 

Episode 24: Thomas W. Mitchell

Listen to Professor Thomas W. Mitchell and Anne Price discuss the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) and how it helps struggling families hold on to and build wealth through land ownership.

Click here to view and download the full transcription of this episode.


Professor Thomas W. Mitchell is a Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Program in Real Estate and Community Development Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. He is a ground-breaking legal scholar who has worked for more than 20 years to help some of the most economically insecure groups secure stronger property rights. 

Thomas joined Anne Price to discuss how struggling families can hold on to and build wealth through land ownership. Describing how wills and estate planning are vital mechanisms for families to pass down wealth to future generations, he highlighted that, while 57% of white people without a high school diploma have a will, just 32% of Blacks with the highest level of education have one.

Whenever a landowner dies without a will, the heirs — usually a spouse and children — inherit the estate. They own the land in common, with no one person owning a specific part of it. Thomas explained how this can become problematic as anyone can buy an interest in one of these family estates; all it takes is a single heir willing to sell. And anyone who owns a share, no matter how small, can go to a judge and request that the entire property be sold at auction.

As the principal drafter of The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), an act to help protect families from real estate speculators who may seek to acquire a small share of heirs’ property in order to file a partition action and force a sale, Thomas and other supporters have helped 14 states* and the U.S. Virgin Islands enact this act into law. The UPHPA represents the most significant reform to partition law since certain reforms were made to partition laws in the 1800s.

Thomas shared the major successes and challenges he has faced in his efforts to achieve enactment of the UPHPA in many states and other jurisdictions in every region of this country, as well as how the UPHPA would impact the economic security and well-being of both rural and urban communities across the country.

To listen to the full discussion, use the audio player above or subscribe to the Hidden Truths podcast on iTunes.


To learn more about Thomas’ work, visit the Texas A&M University School of Law website at law.tamu.edu.

*As of July 8, 2019, 11 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted the UPHPA. The governor of Illinois, Missouri, and New York still need to sign the bills the legislatures passed or for the bills to automatically become law if the governors neither sign the bills nor veto them.


RESOURCES:

The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) 

Uniform Law Commission’s most current enactment information 

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act Bill with some of the additional protections the New York City Bar Association and Thomas W. Mitchell worked to add. 

Thomas W. Mitchell, From Reconstruction to Deconstruction: Undermining Black Landownership, Political Independence and Community Through Partition Sales of Tenancies in Commonhttps://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1544380 (this is considered the seminal article on the issue)

Thomas W. Mitchell, Historic Partition Law Reform: A Game Changer for Heirs’ Property Owners, United States Department of Agriculture, E-Gen Tech. Rep., forthcoming, available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=3403088

Thomas W. Mitchell, Reforming Property Law to Address Devastating Land Loss, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2516275 (provides a detailed section by section analysis of the UPHPA)

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act on the Uniform Law Commission’s website: https://www.uniformlaws.org/committees/community-home?CommunityKey=50724584-e808-4255-bc5d-8ea4e588371d There are very helpful documents on this link under the “Documents” link including a “Legislative Tool Kit.”

The 2001 Associated Press article (part of an award winning three-part series called Torn From the Land) that served as the catalyst for the efforts to develop a model state statute is available at: https://theauthenticvoice.org/mainstories/tornfromtheland/torn_part5/

The Pew Charitable Trusts just published an article about the UPHPA: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/06/18/new-laws-help-rural-black-families-fight-for-their-land

Spectrum News NY1 television station initially broadcast a segment on partition action abuses in New York City in mid-March 2019 and then broadcast another segment when the New York legislature passed our bills last Friday. The broadcast on Friday, June 21 can be found at: https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/06/22/partition-actions-limitation-bill-passes-new-york-state-legislature-after-ny1-investigation (it contains a hyperlink to the initial, mid-March broadcast)

The New Yorker, “Kicked Off the Land” by Lizzie Presser

Moving from Debate to Action

With the first Democratic primary debates taking place last week, we are seeing a more representative field of candidates take on the bigger and bolder policy ideas that have increasingly shaped today’s progressive policy visions.

While further clarity and commitment in articulating them is needed, we are seeing the issues of entrenched racism and sexism increasingly highlighted as the core drivers they are in fostering and sustaining deep and yawning economic inequities in the U.S.

From identifying maternal mortality and gender pay equity as racial justice issues, to putting reparations at the front and center of our national conversation, elected representatives and candidates are connecting the dots among race, gender, and wealth on a national stage.

At the Insight Center, we are committed to continuing to inform and drive this conversation through our work to spark, amplify, and seed progressive thought leadership.

This month, we are pleased to highlight our latest contribution to the national dialogue around bold, progressive policy proposals that are uniquely positioned to target wealth inequities at their roots in institutionalized racism and sexism.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.

Transcript | Episode 24: Thomas W. Mitchell

Click here to download the transcript for Episode 24: Thomas W. Mitchell as a PDF.

[Music ]

ANNE PRICE: Hi. Welcome to Hidden Truths, the podcast that examines the root causes of economic and racial inequality. I’m Anne Price, President of the Insight Center, and for this episode, we’ll be talking about how struggling families can hold on and build wealth through land ownership. 

To control land is to have power, and owning land can help people build and pass on wealth to future generations. Tenancy in common ownership represents the most widespread form of common ownership of real property in the United States, but it’s also very unstable. There’s thousands of tenancy in common property owners across the country, many of them are poor but are of all races, who have lost their commonly owned property due to court order-forced partition. 

So it kind of works like this. When a landowner dies without a will, the heirs, usually a spouse and children, inherit the estate. They own the land in common with no one person owning a specific part of it. If more family members die without wills, things can get very complicated within a couple of generations with a number of relatives owning the land in common. Anyone can buy an interest in one of these family estates — it just takes one single heir willing to sell — and anyone who owns a share, no matter how small, can go to a judge and request that the entire property be sold at auction. 

Some land traders seek out such estates and buy these small shares with the intention of forcing auctions. And rarely do these families have enough money to compete, even when the bid is below market value. So this can happen to anyone who owns land in common. And some say that because some communities are particularly vulnerable that they are more likely to see their land stripped away. 

To dig into this issue further on how to protect land and build wealth, I’m very pleased to welcome Professor Thomas W. Mitchell. He is a professor of law and codirector of the Program in Real Estate and Community Development Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. He is a groundbreaking legal scholar and teacher who has worked for more than 20 years to help some of our most economically fragile communities secure strong property rights. Thomas, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today.

 

THOMAS MITCHELL: My pleasure, Anne.

 

ANNE PRICE: I just mentioned the importance of wills, and I’ll say as a student who went to a historically black college, there was this real emphasis in teaching us to go to our families and have these very challenging conversations about having a will. We were 19 or 20 years old at the time, and I just remember, you know, why are we having this conversation? Why are you teaching us to actually have this conversation with our family members? So can you tell us a bit more about the relationship of wills to land loss, and give us a sense of what this has really meant particularly in black communities and particularly in the South?

 

THOMAS MITCHELL: Right. Sure. So I think in terms of, first of all, we have movements to help different communities acquire assets in the first instance, including real property. You know, whether we’re talking about land in rural areas or single-family homes in urban sectors and suburban sectors and in rural communities. But then in terms of intergenerational wealth building, wills and estate planning more generally are incredibly helpful in terms of having people in family structure, how they want to pass on assets from one generation to the other. 

There are implications in terms of what I think of as the quality of ownership as one has these intergenerational transfers. And a key part of that quality is, how secure is that property ownership for those who end up acquiring assets from ancestors? 

And estate planning and will-making with that advanced planning could make those transfers at a much higher quality, could help secure and stabilize ownership, and it, just in terms of effective planning, it could help deal with certain family dynamics that you can anticipate beforehand, and then structure kind of legal arrangements that would give those who acquire that land through acquiring it from an ancestor, give them a much better chance of maintaining that asset and building upon that asset so that we can have not just one generation of a family maybe kind of break out of kind of low income or impoverished backgrounds, but we could then have these families over a much longer time horizon build wealth, be able to participate in a much more effective way in our society in any number of ways.

 

ANNE PRICE: Thank you for that. Why is it that there are such low numbers of folks with wills? What’s kind of getting in the way of why we’ve seen so much land loss and particularly in some communities?

 

THOMAS MITCHELL: Sure. So as we’ll kind of get into, that the tenancy in common form of ownership, which you referred to, which when people talk about heirs’ property, heirs’ property is just a subset of tenancy in common ownership. It’s the form of ownership that the law will give you if you do not have a will or have an estate plan that makes some other arrangement in terms of an ownership structure, legal ownership structure. And so it’s the default ownership structure. It’s also well-known among lawyers and business professionals as representing the most unstable form of common ownership of real property, right? 

So if you don’t make a will and if you don’t have some other type of estate plan, and you own real property, like I said, whether it’s land in a rural area or a single-family home, and you have heirs, they’re going to then be saddled with this incredibly insecure form of ownership, a form of ownership that nobody who did any advanced planning would ever choose. It’d be maybe the last option. 

So then let’s kind of go to root, right? So you referred to there’s low levels of estate planning. So let me just kind of, you know, zero the waterfront. So generally speaking, there’s been, you know, several studies — they tend to be regional studies — that have tried to quantify the rate of will-making in this country, right? So the biggest difference — the studies are, come to a slightly different result, so it shows that — these variety of studies — at the low end, it shows that maybe 40% of Americans make wills; at the high end, maybe 60% make wills. I’m looking at a most recent study done by three economists, and in their study, it showed that 57% of Americans make a will. 

But when you start unpacking it, you find out that there’s incredible racial disparities in will-making and estate planning. And so one of the findings in this study, even for somebody like me who’s worked on this for more than 20 years, really just jumped out. And it showed that, in addition to the overall rate, they looked at their rates by different racial or ethnic groups; and then they also corrected for the level of education within different groups, right? So at the low end, people who had no high school degree, and at the high end, people who had a college degree or a college degree and a graduate and professional degree. 

So what that study showed was that, among white Americans, it turns out that 57% of white Americans that do not have a high school degree have a will. But that’s the lowest rate of will-making among white Americans. 

Among African-Americans, the highest rate of will-making is, not surprisingly, among African-Americans who have a college or college and graduate or professional degree — but that’s not surprising. That’s in every racial or ethnic group, with more education, the will-making rate goes up. 

But here’s the statistic that just jumped out at me. So among African-Americans with the highest level of education in this country, it turns out that just 32% of those African-Americans have a will, right? So 57% of white Americans without a high school degree have a will, and only 32% of African-Americans with a college or something more. 

And I think — you asked the question, “Well, what’s the root to this?” Right? So the first thing I’ll say is — you know, part of an academic who tries to make sure that there’s actually good evidence for whatever proposition you say — what I will say is that overall, this area, in terms of these racial disparities in will-making, estate plans have been undertheorized and there’s been insufficient numbers of studies, okay? So let me just kind of say that. 

But there’s been, I think, three theories about why you have the African-American communities so — the level of will-making has been so low. And I think the — you know, so one is some people think that this is just an artifact of West African kind of estate planning or succession practices, although I’ve seen some other literature that calls that into question and points out that, among the different kinds of ethnic groups or tribes where the slaves were drawn from, they actually had very different kind of estate planning or succession practices. 

Others indicate that African-Americans have become cynical about the legal system given how they’ve been taken advantage of repeatedly. But I’ve seen studies where the will-making rate during the heart of Jim Crow among African-Americans was actually higher than it is today which you’d think that in the height of Jim Crow, people would be particularly cynical about the legal system. 

And then the third one I’ve heard that, you know, wasn’t in — not in the study but it kind of rings, something about it rings true to me, was that when African-Americans at the end of the Civil War, or after the Emancipation Proclamation, first could actually become landowners, there were hardly any African-American attorneys in this country, and certainly if you look at African-American attorneys in rural areas. But for the most part, white attorneys in Southern rural counties did not want to represent African-Americans. It was kind of bad for the business. And I think that that history of a lack of access to justice, a lack of access, a very practical way, to legal services. 

Over time I think not having a will or an estate plan became normal within many families, and so I do think that it’s almost like we had that original sin in the late 1800s of being denied the opportunity to retain or hire a lawyer. We’ve now seen that cascaded across many generations. So, you know, once again, Anne, like I said, I do hope others do more in-depth studies to really get to that issue, but that, you know, those are some of the explanations.

 

ANNE PRICE: Thank you for that, and it’s just another area that has been under-studied and is so important for us to understand the trajectory of intergenerational wealth transfers. I want to really get into how you came to work on the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act, UPHPA. Because it does represent the most significant reform to partition law in this country in this modern time. 

You were the person charged with drafting this act, promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. And I will say as a person who’s worked on race and wealth for about a decade, this probably has been the most significant advancement of addressing inequality and addressing wealth-stripping that we’ve really seen. So how did you come to lead this effort? Tell us a little bit about that.

 

THOMAS MITCHELL: Yeah. So I think for me, it kind of started with how I became a law professor in the first instance. So I knew that coming out of undergrad, coming out of law school — and I went to Howard University School of Law — I really wanted to have a career where I’d work on social justice and that my work would have an impact.  And I had practiced in a large law firm in Washington, DC, and I found out about a master’s program at the University of Wisconsin where you could spend two years doing research on a legal issue of your choosing. 

And so I applied for that and spent a lot of time thinking about, what did I actually — what actually interested me, and what animated me? And I decided not to limit it to anything I’d studied in college or studied in law school or I’d practiced when I was a practicing attorney, but you know, I did spend a week just kind of trying to get inside myself, think about, well, you know, if I really think about it, what couple issues really do I, has been a through-line in my life, whether or not I’ve followed up with any formal studying? 

It was essentially two things I kind of came to. One was I grew up, I was born and raised in San Francisco and born in 1965 and 1970 was the highwater mark for African-Americans in San Francisco. It was 13-1/2, 14%. I think as many people know, San Francisco has had the greatest loss of an African-American population of any city in the United States. 

There’s currently a movie out right now called The Last Black Man in San Francisco. And I, you know, during parts of my childhood, I very much witnessed the reduction in the African-American population in San Francisco and had long talks with people like my dad about what were the dynamics driving that. So there was just a general sense of loss that I had in the African-American community as I saw all kinds of businesses and residents having to pack up and move out of the city. 

I think the second theme that I was curious about is my — I hadn’t really had much touch with my extended family for some family complicated family dynamics, but in college I did go to the funeral of my grandfather in Newark, New Jersey, who I’d never met in my life. And then in that setting, I ended up stumbling across a bunch of family albums that showed the family’s roots in Southwest Georgia. And so I had this kind of overpowering desire to learn more about the Southern African-American groups in my family. 

And somehow I was thinking about, how can I combine this notion of gentrification and loss that I saw firsthand growing up in San Francisco with this desire to learn more about my African-American family’s history in the South? And you know, I read up a bunch of articles and, you know, newspaper accounts, and then I kind of stumbled upon this issue of these partition sales that were forcing the sales of privately-owned properties that had been acquired from the time of the Emancipation Proclamation going forward. 

It was a history I knew nothing about. It was counterintuitive when I actually read these articles about these partition actions, because we were not in law school taught that, anything about these partition actions, right, it was just portrayed as this incredibly dry, boring, you know, neutral area of law. So I think that that kind of got me started. And when I was at the University of Wisconsin, I had opportunities by working with others, including people at a center that was very important in terms of dealing with land issues called the Land Tenure Center. 

I ended up getting many opportunities to travel to the South and meet firsthand a number of African-American families who really told me in excruciating detail how the law of partition actually worked on the ground as opposed to how it was framed in our property law textbooks in law school. So I think that’s what kind of got me started down this path. You know, then of course, my pursuit of research and, you know, came out with an article in 2001 that, you know, I guess is still considered the seminal article on the topic. But I also had, going back to that I wanted to have an impact, is I didn’t just want to be a professor who wrote articles for an academic audience, like, you know, I always had this touchstone of like I wanted to have an impact in, you know, in a concrete, tangible way. 

So I began working actually with that Land Tenure Center and we basically identified several rural, poor communities throughout the US where the issue was their lack of access to legal services was undermining their ability to maintain land or property that they had acquired. And I ended up building up a whole national network of law students who would spend their summers, all across the country, including many places in the South, working on behalf of various communities or public interest, legal organizations, legal aid organizations, on that issue of providing legal services to property owners so that they could maintain ownership of their property. 

So I, you know, by the time there was an opportunity opened up to potentially have this Uniform Partition Act, part of the reason I was selected was that not only was my scholarship considered the primary or the seminal scholarship in the area, but that I also had this whole network of various organizations that had been in the trenches and working for decades on this issue. And so I think that the combined thing with my scholarship and my, kind of my network of these organizations kind of made me uniquely qualified to service the principal drafter for the Uniform Act.

 

ANNE PRICE: Wow. Thank you for that trajectory. Tell us a little bit about what you’ve seen over the years in terms of this act being passed from state to state. What do you see as some of your biggest wins and how you’ve overcome some struggles in some states?

 

THOMAS MITCHELL: Sure. So I think our biggest win was just getting this on the radar screen of the American Bar Association, which formed a task force back in 2001 or 2002 called the Property Preservation Task Force, and it was that task force that I ended up serving on that. But we advocated to — you mentioned the organization the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. [Inaudible] rebranded themselves because they think that that’s a mouthful, and they’re right. But they’ve branded themselves now as the Uniform Law Commission. And so, you know, we sent later a proposal, asking them to establish their drafting committee. 

Now, when we did that, it was considered an extreme reach, and now, you know, the Uniform Law Commission’s 127 years. They’ve drafted 450 of these uniform acts. They’re most known for drafting the Uniform Commercial Code, the UCC, which they did with one of their organizations. But there was little evidence that they had really done anything in their entire history to really take on an issue of social justice, let alone racial justice. You know, and those of us who were on the task force felt obligated to develop a proposal, submit it, you know, but internally, we thought we had at best maybe a 10% chance given the history of the Uniform Law Commission not taking on these types of issues. 

So I think, just when I found out back in 2007 that, of all the proposals that they had been submitted that year, and usually they get a lot, that ours was one of the four or five they selected. I, you know, that has then led to so many other things, right? So I, you know, so I think that was one, right? But second, because it was a uniform act that would actually kind of explicitly deal with social and racial justice, there were kind of minimal expectations of the success the Uniform Partition Act would experience. And just some context on that: in their 127 years, the Uniform Law Commission has promulgated 38 uniform real property acts; and the median number of states that have enacted into law any of their real property acts is one. 

So it’s been an area overall that they’ve had very little success. And then you layer on top of that that ours is not just a uniform real property act, but it is one that’s addressing social justice and racial. And I think there was kind of a skepticism. There was kind of a [inaudible] that no state legislature would seriously take this up because the people it impacted, you know, African-Americans primarily, others, were folks who had little wealth, little social capital and little political capital. So that was what we were starting with. 

Like the baseline was the assumption that ours would be just another uniform real property act that would sail and probably have zero enactments. So breaking through and just getting even our first state, which was Nevada — now, I don’t think Nevada’s where the heart of the problem is, but that actually, by breaking through and saying, “No, you know, we actually had one state that passed it,” that was helpful. I wouldn’t think that the success we’ve had in the Southern states has, even for somebody like me who I think, and I see myself as kind of a person who’s trying to keep the flame of hope alive that there could actually be reform, the fact that we’ve had five Southern states enact it has even surprised me, right? 

And then when I looked — you know, so those five Southern states are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas. For me, I’d say that South Carolina is one of the states that really stands out, and it stands out because, after the Emancipation Proclamation, there were a number of African-Americans in South Carolina who actually acquired land. Even when the federal government reneged on its promise — it’s said, popularly is known as the 40-acre and a mule promise — there were certain African-Americans in South Carolina who basically took the position that “We are not giving this land back, and if you want it, come take it, and we are armed.” And the federal government actually acquiesced to a certain subset of those African-Americans who had acquired land. 

So South Carolina was the state that had the greatest number of African-American landowners. It’s also the state that has had the greatest amount of land loss in the African-American community. And so I think that, you know, when we were working to get the Uniform Partition Act in South Carolina, you know, many people just, given South Carolina’s history, thought, “Okay, you know, there’s absolutely no way at the end of the day South Carolina’s going to enact this into law.” And we had, you know, we had some hurdles along the way.

I’m not going to give, you know, the full play-by-play, but let me just tell you what happened at the end. At the end, we ended up getting it passed in the South Carolina House. I think this was like in 2015. And we were able to bank that win for the next year, and so we were off to the South Carolina Senate. And everything seemed to be going well, until that I remember I got a call in mid-March that said all of a sudden that there was a problem, that two right-wing senators, one more than the other, were expressing real reservations about the act. 

And then they asked me to draft a memo that would be circulated to all of the members of the South Carolina Senate’s Judiciary Committee. And I focused on those issues that had been identified to me by two of those senators. It seemed that it convinced one of them that the act was worth supporting. But the other was, you know, hell-bent on killing our act. That other senator, who’s no longer in the South Carolina legislature, was a guy named, or is a guy named Paul Thurmond, and his dad just happens to be a guy named Strom Thurmond. So you know, now I feel like I’m battling the ghost of Strom Thurmond in South Carolina. 

And what happened at the very end was, given, you know, Paul Thurmond’s commitment to kill our act, the South Carolina senators who had sponsored the act at the very last minute changed the name of the act. So in every other state, it’s called the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act. In South Carolina, it’s called the Clementa C. Pinkney Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act. So who’s Clementa Pinkney? Clementa Pinkney was the state senator and the pastor of Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston, and he was one of the nine people who was murdered by Dylan Roof, a white supremacist. In his prime — you know, tragically, of course. 

In his prime in South Carolina legislature, Clementa Pinkney was well-known to be the biggest advocate of property law reform to benefit heirs’ property owners. So in renaming it in his honor, which is still the only act of the South Carolina legislature that has ever been named in his honor, any state senators who were on the fence about whether or not to support it or not or were considering the arguments that Paul Thurmond was making, I mean, the reality is none of them wanted to be on record as opposing the only act named in the honor of Clementa Pinkney. And at the end of the day, the only state senator who opposed it was Paul Thurmond. 

You know, so not only, you know, did we, you know dot that — you know, I don’t want say that in light of what happened at the church. Not only did we prevail in that encounter, but the fact that is the only bill named in his honor really put South Carolina in a special spot in terms of our act. But then it, you know, afterwards, I think partially because it was named in his honor, then-Governor Nikki Haley invited three of us to her office for a ceremonial signing of the act so, and then made it quite clear this was an act that was very important to her and that it would, in her words, “help thousands and thousands of heirs’ property owners throughout the State of South Carolina.” So for South Carolina, it does have that particular sense of historical importance and importance for those other reasons that I mentioned. 

We’ve had a recent success that I think is also kind of extraordinary. So last Friday, the New York legislature just passed the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act, and what’s important — not only is New York obviously an important state, but it came about because an investigative reporter with one of the major television stations in New York stumbled upon this phenomenon wherein gentrifying neighborhoods throughout every borough in New York, real estate investors, had been buying out one family member and then basically threatening a partition action if the other family members will not sell them their interest, right? 

So some of them, they’ve then actually followed through and filed the partition action; in others, the families felt helpless once they found out what the background partition law was, and then they did sell out. And unfortunately, many of them didn’t fully understand or appreciate the fair market value of their properties, and most of them ended up selling out for a price that was well below the market value of their properties. So I think what the New York, by broadcasting this — and the reporter just did an outstanding job — it highlighted that this is not just a rural phenomenon. 

Obviously if this is happening in a place like New York City, you know, it’s both a rural and urban phenomenon. And it’s more a phenomenon that impacts low- to moderate-income property owners who typically don’t have an estate plan, who are what we call land-rich but cash-poor. So I think that just in highlighting that, it’s actually going to help us as we go forward in additional states in terms of framing this, if your particular, you know, state senator or representative happens to be in an urban area, there’s a reason that you should be supporting this act as well. 

So there’s, you know, I could kind of go on and tell you this, almost every state I feel particularly attached to. I do think that those two states have, you know, real significance. And South Carolina really provided the opening to make our bill viable in Texas, because when I initially met with some of the legislators in Texas, they were very skeptical. I mean, they were very committed to these types of issues, but they’re like, “There’s just no way.” And then I said, “I hear you,” right? “I get why you think there’s no way. Let me tell you about South Carolina that just enacted it, you know, two years ago,” and you know, literally their jaws like dropped, and they just could not believe that we got it through South Carolina, and in an overwhelming way. 

And that, for this other state senator in Texas went from being very skeptical to, the next day, he was the sponsor of the act, and it ended up sailing through. You know, in Texas, it was unanimous, in the Texas House of Representatives and in the Texas Senate. But South Carolina played a key role in that.

 

ANNE PRICE: Thank you for that and really understanding that, when folks thinks that progress can’t be made in certain places, that it certainly can. 

I want to tell our listeners that we have a number of great resources to get into this issue even further, and I just want to kind of close with giving us a sense of how people actually get involved in this effort throughout this, across the country. What can they do?

 

THOMAS MITCHELL: So one thing I appreciate when you indicate that people across the country — so one other point I do want to make is that we’ve now, with the New York enactment, once we get the governor to sign that, within a month, we’ll have 14 states that have enacted the UPHPA into law, as well as the United States Virgin Islands, which enacted it into law last December. It has been enacted into law in every geographical region in this country, from Hawaii to the Midwest, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, the South, Connecticut, New York. 

So this is an issue that disproportionately impacts African-Americans, but not exclusively. So there are now opportunities, now that the issue has been kind of highlighted as, you know, impacting many of these communities, both rural and urban. So I’d say that if folks want to get involved, first of all, you can contact me, and I’d be happy to work with you. 

And let me just tell you about some of the other people I work with. So it’s kind of a small group of us who kind of consult every year about opportunities in different states. So the other person is, he’s the chief counsel at the Uniform Law Commission, so if you Google “Uniform Law Commission,” his name is Benjamin Orzeske, and he’s always involved in this process. 

And then there was a, just an incredible coalition that was formed when we began advocating for the act, or actually when we were drafting the act. So it’s called the Heirs’ Property Retention Coalition: HPRC. And the coordinator for that is somebody named John Pollock. So the Heirs’ Property Retention Coalition has a website with John Pollock’s contact information. So I think that, you know, contacting John or Ben or me or all of us would be a good kind of starting spot. 

The other thing is, so right now, I’m very actively working with stakeholders in a variety of different states now for the 2020 legislative session, and one of the best models I’ve actually seen is in Virginia. And what’s good about what’s happening in Virginia now is there is a coalition that has come together, they are very diverse; so there’s folks from something called Black Family Land Trust. But then the key organization in Virginia that represents land trusts, or these are not community lands; these are land trusts that tried to steward, typically rural land. They’re involved. There are some folks who are interested in historic preservation. They’re involved. And so it’s just a very diverse group of stakeholders that are working hand in hand. 

They each have their own contacts in the legislature, they’re having monthly meetings, and I think for the act to prevail, that’s kind of the best model. When we end up advocating for the act, you know, I always, when I testify in different legislatures, you know, I always make the point: this is an act that impacts, as I indicated, low- to moderate-income people, folks with low rates of estate planning, but that it impacts, you know, African-Americans, white Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, really to try to make the act as universal as possible. 

And in particular states, what has really helped as we’ve framed it is to frame it as an issue that strengthens private property rights and that protects family real estate wealth. So there’s a whole, you know, discussion that we have about, how are we going to frame it, you know, even though it has impacted disproportionately, I think, African-Americans? So anyway, I think that, you know, those are, in terms of particular contacts. 

And the last thing, as I think I shared with you, is the link — so the Uniform Law Commission has a link or a page for the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act, so if anybody who’s interested in getting involved, they should go to that page. On that page, there’s a link that says Documents, and that has — if you click onto that, there’s something called the legislative toolkit. It has all kinds of helpful information, very good, crisp summaries of the act, and then things like why your state should adopt it. So that’s always a great resource to go, in a very kind of quick and dirty way of kind of then getting up to speed on the act, where it’s been enacted, what is kind of our talking points. I would very much encourage people to go and check out that link.

 

ANNE PRICE: Thank you for that depth of resources to get engaged in this work. And thank you for tuning in to this episode of Hidden Truths, the podcast of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. You can learn more about Thomas’s work at Texas A&M University School of Law by visiting www.law.tamu.edu, and for more information about the Insight Center, visit insightcced.org. Thank you.

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Why This Matters: The Racial Wealth Gap Is a Symptom of Our Long-Broken Economy

Insight’s Jhumpa Bhattacharya had the honor of partnering with the Roosevelt Institute on an issue brief highlighting how and why the Guaranteed Income conversation must address racial and gender economic justice. Roosevelt’s Rakeen Mabud and Kendra Bozarth wrote an excellent primer on why this paper matters today, particularly on the heels of the Democratic debates.


By: Rakeen Mabud and Kendra Bozarth
Originally published: June 19, 2019 on BLOG and ECONOMIC INCLUSION

In “Exploring Guaranteed Income Through a Racial and Gender Justice Lens,” Jhumpa Bhattacharya of the Insight Center connects two of the ideas that have bubbled up to the surface of the 2020 political debate: The need to address the racial wealth gap that exists between people of color — particularly Black Americans — and white Americans, and a guaranteed income as one big idea that is capable of redefining these wealth divides. Ultimately, Jhumpa finds that it is only a “universal basic income plus” model, first popularized by former Roosevelt Fellow and current Community Change President Dorian Warren, that will allow for wealth accumulation for low-income communities of color and address the racial wealth divide.

Read the full piece on Medium>>

Exploring Guaranteed Income Through A Racial And Gender Justice Lens

Race- and gender-based wealth inequities are two of the greatest failures of the American economy. Economic policy choices and practices put forth by those in power, such as the GI Bill and redlining, created wealth-building opportunities for white men but established barriers for everyone else. Implemented in tandem with the rise of corporate power by which profit is revered over people, these racist policies have resulted in racial and gender economic stratification that have reached epic heights. Today, approximately 160,000 households in America own more wealth than the poorest 90 percent combined— the highest concentration of wealth since 1962 (Igraham 2017).

Without bold, visionary action and policies to address these issues, the chasm between those who are economically secure and those who are not—mainly Black, brown, and Native American communities and women—will continue to grow, ultimately threatening our nation’s ability to finally achieve our promise of freedom, dignity, and security for all.

Race- and gender-based wealth inequities are two of the greatest failures of the American economy.

A growing group of progressives is committed to tackling racial wealth inequities head on (Newkirk II 2019). Once seen as fringe, “pie in the sky” ideas, a number of seemingly progressive economic policies have entered the public discourse, including a government-funded cash benefit program. Often referred to as “guaranteed income,” this big idea is a no-strings-attached direct cash benefit from the government that would provide a basic floor of living regardless of employment status or income by offering people a regular cash payment (Marinescu 2017).

With that context, this issue brief will explore to what extent and under what type of design a program that is usually discussed as a way to boost regular incomes could make a dent in racial and gender wealth inequities.

Click here to read the full issue brief (PDF).

Harriet Tubman stamp on $20 bill. (Photo courtesy of Dano Wall.) (Dano Wall/ Artist/Dano Wall/ Artist.)

Can They See Us?

How Mass Incarceration Destroys Lives and Economic Security

Episode 23: Indivar “Indi” Dutta-Gupta

Listen to Indivar “Indi” Dutta-Gupta and Anne Price discuss the current administration’s latest proposal to redefine poverty, how race neutral policies impact people of color, and some big ideas to address poverty and income inequality.


Indivar “Indi” Dutta-Gupta is the Co-Executive Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality, where he leads work to develop and advance ideas for reducing domestic poverty and economic inequality, with particular attention to gender and racial equity.

Indi joined Anne Price on the podcast to discuss how the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is attempting to redefine poverty by artificially reducing the poverty line, resulting in millions of working Americans no longer being considered as “poor” or “low income.” This method would take away health coverage, food assistance, and other fundamental assistance from people who are struggling to make ends meet, with the greatest impact on people of color.

Sharing his research, Indi highlighted a few factors that make assistance programs necessary in the United States. One, the economy has never produced the type of jobs it needs on its own – and certainly not with current economic policies. Second, assistance programs are in place to protect and provide a fundamental standard of living, particularly during certain times in people’s lives when they cannot or should not work. Further, many economic security programs are tied to formal employment. This creates additional barriers for people, particularly women of color, working in vital, informal roles, such as caregiving. Indi argues that this work is important to our country as a whole and that everyone should be able to receive support for fundamental needs regardless of formal job classification.

Considering the big and bold ideas that current presidential candidates have proposed to address economic inequality, Indi discussed pathways for racial economic justice, including the need to equalize political power through democracy reforms that support inclusion and equity.

To listen to the full discussion, use the audio player above or subscribe to the Hidden Truths podcast on iTunes.


To learn more about Indi’s work, visit the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality at georgetownpoverty.org and follow him on Twitter.

Transcript | Episode 25: Darris Young

Download the transcript for Episode 25: Darris Young as a PDF

[ Music ]

AISA VILLAROSA: Welcome to Hidden Truths, the podcast to reexamine the root causes of economic and racial inequalities. I’m Aisa Villarosa, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Insight Center. 

In this episode, we’re going to sit down with a dynamic advocate who works across the local, state, and national levels helping justice impacted people and youth of color pave a pathway to reach economic security and build prosperity for themselves, loved ones, and future generations. We’ll unpack some deep rooted systemic barriers that keep people from becoming economically whole, including the ability to live, work, and thrive. This means asking and analyzing what happens when a local landscape changes and leaves behind, or even works against, those that have lived in, sustained, and enriched their homes and communities for decades. 

To dig into this and more, I’m so honored to welcome Darris Young, the Lead Program Associate for the Boys and Men of Color Alliance at the Urban Strategies Council. Born in Oakland, Darris is a national organizer and former counselor who has decades of experience working and partnering with Black and Latinx youth and young adults. Darris, thank you so much for joining me on today’s podcast.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: Thank you for having me.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: Before we dive into your work, let’s take a moment to talk about your life in Oakland. Growing up, how were you shaped by the city, its leaders, and the events of the 1960s and 1970s?

 

DARRIS YOUNG: First of all, I was very young during the time that a lot of historical events were going on. I was, you know, in grammar school, grade school, and my family, my mother’s family actually, migrated out from New Orleans to West Oakland. So, I spent a considerable amount of time on the weekends, during the week, in West Oakland having lived in Berkeley. 

It was during the time when the Vietnam Movement was going on, war protests, the Civil Rights Movement, and also the Black Panther Party Movement. And I actually would drive down what we called Grove Street, but it’s Martin Luther King now, and a lot of the time I would be right in the midst of the Black Panther Party handing out pamphlets and leaflets, newspapers, in regards to their programs. 

And also with the Vietnam War and the protest that was going on there, I went to an elementary school in Berkeley, California, Washington School, which was in the heart of, almost downtown Berkeley. And I could recall, I believe it was in ’67, ’68, I was in second grade, and I remember seeing the National Guard troops, you know, stationed in the old City Hall building right on the grass over there. There were tanks in our streets. And I just recall, it’s still vivid in my mind, you know, the teargas that was in the air, and not really understanding it all, but I knew that there was something that was wrong. 

But where I got a lot of context from these things was in the barber shops. You know, when my dad would take us to the barber shop, and I would, you know, just listen to the conversations. And a lot of the conversations that happened within the barber shop, they were these political conversations. And I took that all in. 

And not actually knowing what it meant then, but I knew what it means now. And a lot of the things that I gathered were, you know, for people who look like me, people who were marginalized, the message was we can’t just stand by and be silent and expect things to change, right? Change comes when people get involved, they begin to get noisy in certain ways, however we want to define what noise is, and you begin to make a difference. 

But you can’t sit around and be silent and to expect things to change. It has to be a sacrifice and a price paid. And I believe those are the things that I held inside, and then they came to full bloom when I got older.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: I am always so impressed hearing from advocates about this idea. What is, what is your why, and so thank you for sharing, because it sounds like from a very early age, you had this growing intuition, maybe certain pieces were being crystallized at different times. And I really also appreciate that the barber shop, this hub of community was where so much of that eureka moment, that understanding, unfolded. 

Can you talk about how some of those, the laws and policies of that time have in some ways led us to where we are today? And I ask that, in part, because we are certainly at a time when these conversations, thankfully, are being had from the recent Democratic debates to really a lot of the local advocacy that’s going on.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: When we look back, especially to the 60s, you have to understand that the policies that were going on back then, and especially with policing, it was about containment. It was about containment. Especially in communities of color. And so when we understand that policing, and a lot of our modern day policing actually grew out of slave patrols, these were in black and brown communities, it was containment. 

Take, for instance, Oakland back in the 60s. It was more segregated back then. You had black communities, you had white communities, you had communities that were sectioned off by neighborhoods. And so when you look at how those communities were policed, they were actually policed to contain you in your area so that you would not go outside of your area and venture off. And when you did venture off, then you would be corralled by the police. 

And so when you look at a lot of the policies that built mass incarceration, people were being sent off to prisons and jails based on minor drug offenses, and these things were happening because of, you know, car stops, what we call pretext stops. A lot of those policies that we had in terms of our policing policies, they were meant to net, you know, African American and Latino people, and the end result was building a prison system that incarcerated more people for minor offenses than we had for what we call our major violent offenses. 

So, those policies and those practices have impacted us to where we have landed today with billions of dollars, billions of dollars invested in the prison systems and not any dollars invested in jobs, employment, housing, mental health services, all of these things needed to build people and relieve those most oppressed communities from those things that have been impacting them since the days of the Constitution of America. 

There’s a good book that’s out now, and I like to reference books, it’s called The Color of Loss. And it talks about how the United States government, every state government, they were implicit in helping to segregate America. So, when we look at the Brown v. Board of Education, that started to resegregate schools, one of the things that actually didn’t allow that to have the greatest impact was that housing was still very much segregated. And it didn’t become unsegregated where people could move into different areas until later on. But even today, we’ve gone back to certain things that look like we are redlining once again, but they’re just doing it in different ways.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: There was a recent report released by Haas over at Berkeley talking about how the Bay Area is more segregated than it was at the dawn of the Fair Housing Act. This was certainly by design. And I appreciate you really breaking open so many of those policies, and also tying it back to education. 

There was another recent report done by the ACLU saying that in California, about 400,000 students in the K through 12 system attend a school that has a police officer, but not a counselor. So, also like you said, it’s also about looking at where are the dollars going, and what are we supporting?

 

DARRIS YOUNG: And I will just add too that when you look at those policies back then, and I think it was Michelle Alexander, she pointed out in her book, The New Jim Crow, that these things always come back, but they just come back in different forms. And so the form that this has come back into that we’re dealing with today is with overcriminalization of people of color. 

So, what you have is, if you have a criminal record, can’t live in public housing. Jobs are the same way. Although we have moved forward in some policies with Ban the Box and things like that, these are recent reforms. But if you look at the fact that this type of legislation was on the books for most of the new century and going into the past century and the ending part of the century, it lets you know that they came back and they used these things, when it comes to mass incarceration, to keep people boxed into the same places and saying, “not able to progress.” 

These are some of the same things that came out of after people were released from slavery, you had peonage laws, you had sharecropping. And it impacted people, you know, African Americans, Latinos,then our Native people, and other people of color. So, these policies continue to come back in different forms and fashions in the same way. Even though we are making headway in reforming them, the fact that they were there.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: And to pick up a thread that you mentioned earlier, the ability of government to isolate community is very much an intentional move. 

I’d love to dive into a bit more of your pathway to advocacy, because I know from our previous collaborations together, you have a very unique story, and a very unique set of experiences, specifically in looking at your biography. Folks would think, oh, okay, advocacy, mental health, counseling, wait… police officer? So, walk us through that, and walk us through that time in your life and how that informs who you are professionally and personally today.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: Okay, so I can’t talk about that piece without giving you some familiar background. So, I come from a family, and from a community that believed that as African American people in the 60s, we were in a position to start thriving and making a difference within our communities, right? That was the ideal, the ideal was that now if you worked hard, if you did all of these right things, then we would be accepted. We would be living in this ideal of what Martin Luther King envisioned in his “I Have a Dream” speech. 

And so those types of things, I was brought up and raised to believe that if you’ve done X, Y and Z you can do this. So graduating from high school, I really did not have an idea of really what I wanted to be. But I knew that I was conditioned and destined to make a difference within my community, within my family, and within society as a whole. 

And I believe it was in my second year of community college, I took a course, and it was a sociology course that was given by an African American man, and he was a former Black Panther, as was his brother. At that time, he started talking to me about policing. He said, “you know, our communities need more African American police to patrol our communities, to be of power, so that we can take control of our communities and be able to have more control, and then that way we won’t have the things that are going on in our communities that were going on back then that are still going on now.” 

So, I, in 1985, ’84, applied for the Richmond Police Department. And at that time, the Richmond Police Department had been sued by a group of fraternal officers, called the Guardians of Justice, and some citizens, because Richmond had a bunch of killings. Sort of like what’s going on today. 

I applied, I was hired, January, 1985, I went through our police academy out at Lawson Dallas College. There were 40 recruits. I was the vice president of my academy class. Came out, graduated, and six weeks into field training, I was terminated for really no reason whatsoever other than the fact that I was an African American man, and they did not want me in the police department. 

And so I started to change my views, started to really, really look at what it meant to be an African American man. I was 23 years old at the time and I tell people, you know, I really was not fully, fully mature. But my value system began to change. I began to look at things through a different lens now. And I say this, you know, my mother and my father, they did a lot to prepare me and my siblings for prejudice. But in a way, we weren’t prepared for racism, because they’re really two different things, right? 

You know, racism is the ability of a system to keep you down. It has the power to keep you from getting a loan for the house, for maintaining a job, for different things. That’s power, right? Prejudice is what people think of you. They pre-judge you. All of these things, you know? So, they’re two different things. And so I was mainly prepared for prejudice in that way, but racism I was not prepared for. 

So, at the end of the day, you know, I went through a learning experience. And it was in the height of the drug era. One thing led to the other. I eventually found myself addicted to crack cocaine. It led me in and out of prison more than once until I got a long prison sentence at the age of 33, and when I came out in 2012, I was 50 years old. 

But I think that was in that time I began to really, really find myself. And I’m not saying that long prison sentence helped me to find myself, but it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what life meant and what it meant for me as an African American man, and some of the things that I needed to do. And I would say that all of the things that I internalized as a youth growing up watching the Black Panther Party, the Vietnam Movement, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X- all those things, they came into fruition, and then they made sense. 

And so I got out, I was intent on doing counseling work, but my role led me to advocacy. And it started off with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. And through my advocacy, I began to learn that in order for us to have these systems that we need to correct people or to get people back on the right track, we needed dollars and cents, whether that was for mental health, substance use and abuse, housing, all of these things, and we weren’t getting that, because all of the money was still going to enforcement. 

If we began to focus on the needs of people, we wouldn’t have to spend millions of dollars on enforcement and we can look at helping to shape people’s lives, people who have been broken by racist policies and systematic oppression. People that have been broken by the system of oppression, they can be sick and we need these systems in place to help fix people. And when all of your dollars and cents are being spent on locking broken people up, then that’s what needed to change. 

So, my advocacy began to be informed by those practices, and I led myself into advocacy. That’s where I’m at now, advocating for systems of change so that we can help build this society that Martin Luther King and others had this idea about, that we can live in a society that’s actually great. But it’s not great as we are now.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: It is a complete honor to see you at work. And we’ve been working on this Fair Chance Hiring Project for some time now. You mentioned California’s passage of a statewide Ban the Box, and while it’s helpful in bringing some reform to the background check policy, as you said, the past to realizing the promise of any law or any objective is so much bigger. 

Turning to that, you shared that you recently were in D.C. doing some advocacy at the national level and lending some testimony. As the 2020 election approaches, we are hearing from candidates, exploring more than say previous years, how to address the racial wealth gap, reparations, baby bonds. These are big bold ideas, but the question remains, can we get this done, can this be implemented?

In your experience as an advocate, is anything missing from this conversation? Is there something that you would want those leaders to know as we try to reform, not just the criminal justice system, but, as you said, building a world where folks can actually get access to quality jobs, quality services, the resources they need to not just break even, but start building savings and wealth for themselves and their families?

 

DARRIS YOUNG: It’s not just incumbent upon the person who sits in the presidency. Granted, and I don’t say the person’s name, but 45 has a lot to be desired, right? 

But even when we have Democratic presidents or great presidents, we don’t go far enough in understanding, or not understanding, but having the will- having the will to say that the damages that have been inflicted upon our people, this started with African American people, they have been validated through every institution in society from science, government, school, education, you name it. And it starts with actually looking at people in non dehumanizing ways. 

So, if we just looked at as formerly incarcerated and not as citizens needing to have their rights back, then we’re still dehumanizing. So, we have to look at, start looking at any candidate who holds that highest office, they have to look at all oppressed people, starting with the most oppressed as being humans first, and that human beings, regardless of their economic status, the color of their skin, their gender preferences- we’re humans. 

And so I think that, you know, I’m looking for not just that candidate to say that, you know, we are going to start looking at this issue from the standpoint of how we humanize people. I want those candidates to start looking at that. Then we start shaping our policies not just around how we do things in America, but how our policies affect people in other countries, in other nations. Before, in order for us to get to these better places here, it has to be how we think globally as well. So, yeah.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: Global community, yeah.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: Yeah, global community, because that’s where we’re at. 

I mean, so many of the issues that have forced people from other countries, whether they’re from Latin America, whether they’re from the Caribbeans, whether from wherever, these are countries that have been impacted directly by America’s policies that are forcing them to flee in for other places for more protection. So, we have to start with that first.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: Your discussion of this global community ties nicely into, as we close up our time together, thinking ahead to the future, because, as I’m sure you know, this is a long fight that involves a continual cycle of renewing each other’s activism, sharing collective successes, and because you work with such a diverse array of organizations and individuals, what sparks and fuels your hopefulness for the future? What keeps you fighting?

 

DARRIS YOUNG: First of all, what keeps me fighting is the fact that I have a daughter. The fact that I’m around so many young people that want better, that want to embrace these ideals of what it means to be a community, and so, that keeps me fighting. That’s one of the things that keeps me fighting. And then the other thing is that I’m always in connection with the ancestors. It’s the spirit of resistance that runs through my veins. When I have my worst days is the period of the ancestors that keep me going, keeps me fighting. 

And then also because I’m around so many great individuals, I’m in coalition. One of the things about the work at the Urban Strategies Council, we convene different tables. One of the tables that we convene is the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County and we’re comprised of different organizations but also people from different walks of life- gender, background, race. But we all have that one common thing, and it’s that we believe in the humanity of all people. And so when you believe in the humanity of all people and you come together on that accord, then you’re able to get stuff done. 

So, I look at the little things that we have done already and I look more to the local level than I do at the national level. We tend to focus on the presidential stuff, but there’s opportunities right here at the local level to get things done. 

Take, for instance, Senator Nancy Skinner. She has a deal in right now that has already passed committee and if it goes all the way through, this will give people with convictions the right to serve on juries. One of our coalition members, All of Us or None, they have gotten on a ballot an initiative that will give voting rights to people that are still on parole, it’s called the Kindness Done Campaign. So, once you’re out of prison, you’re given the right to vote instead of waiting until you get off parole to be able to do it. These are different pieces of legislation, right here at the local level, that we’re talking about that can have an impact on how things are done. Our policing reform bill, right, these things. 

So, there’s a lot of work to do at the local level. I believe that if we get the work done here locally, statewide, then the County of Alameda, the City of Oakland, Richmond, and all throughout the Greater Bay Area, we’ll get the work done at the local level, then I think that kind of like will, neutralize what does not get done at the federal level.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: It’s all about getting noisy, as you said.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: Getting noisy. Yes, yes.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: Well, I am glad that you took a brief vacation, because we will need you for the next 50 years.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: Oh,and as long as I wake up every day and within my frame of mind, my health intact, you know, for as long as I’m around and able to get up, I’ll be in this fight until the day it’s done. I won’t rest. 

You know, people often ask me, you know, do you ever have time to rest, and I say, “I have time to take a nap every now and then,” but I figure that I’ll have time to rest in eternity. But until that day comes, I’m going to keep working and working hard at fighting.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: Well, Darris, it has been an absolute pleasure spending this time with you.

To wrap us up, you talked a little bit about some of your current projects, what else are you working on right now? What’s coming up down the road for you, for The Boys and Men of Color Alliance, and for Urban Strategies?

 

DARRIS YOUNG: Well, for the Boys and Men of Color Alliance, basically it’s getting us through a campaign here locally and there is one of three things that we can do which is education reform, workforce development, and also violence prevention. But with the Urban Strategies Council, we were the winners for the Barack Obama My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, and we were in partnership with one of our BMOC partners through The Mentoring Center of Oakland. And so getting that off the ground, and then getting a lot of the other BMOC partners, those who sit at the table involved in the advocacy, and also getting that work off the ground, that’s really important. For the Urban Strategies Council, it’s moving our work forward in terms of our research, our advocacy, and our rebranding, because a lot of our research informs a lot of the local advocacy that goes on here in Alameda County and in Oakland. We just completed a research project for the City of Oakland that focuses on their new Department of Violence and Prevention, which we’re very optimistic that it’s going to make a great impact having this department. We’ll start looking at ways to reduce and even eradicate violence in Oakland in three areas; that’s gun violence, the commercial and sexual exploitation of children, and also domestic violence. And we know that if you look at, you know, the communities that are impacted by these the most, they are our black and brown communities. And it has to do with past traumas and things, generational traumas that are connected to a science that’s called epigenetics, these things that are passed down from generation to generation. And then with some of the things that we’re doing within the Justice Reinvestment Coalition, we are really looking to move our Alameda County Board of Supervisors into saying, you know, enough is enough with the Alameda County Sheriff, you know? Let’s audit the sheriff’s department. Let’s find where this money is so that we can take this money away from needing the sheriff operations and putting them back into the communities. So, these are some of the things that I’m optimistic that we’re working on, both as an organization and through our Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: Wow. Well, that sounds like it also ties in many of your skills and experiences from the counseling to addressing trauma. You mentioned the need for multigenerational, multidisciplinary advocacies so, we’re really looking forward to everything that transpires in the next year.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: And I’m looking forward to closing out this year, closing it out with a bang, and starting the new one off with an even bigger bang. There’s some things in store. I think there’s a lot of optimism that is before us. And I think with the energy, both within the organization and through the Boys and Men of Color table, through our Justice Reinvestment Coalition, there’s a lot of work that we are going to get done. And we’re not going to rest, like I said, until it gets done. 

You know, working with great people that are great visionaries, that have great ideas, you bring all the instruments into the room, you start warming them up. It doesn’t sound like good music until everybody starts playing on key but once we start playing on key, it makes such sweet music.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: Well, let’s keep jamming away. And folks can learn more about your work and the work of Urban Strategies Council by visiting www.urbanstrategies.org. And you can follow Darris on Twitter @DarrisYoung. 

Darris, it’s been an incredible pleasure. Thank you again.

 

DARRIS YOUNG: Thank you.

 

AISA VILLAROSA: And thank you all for tuning into this episode of Hidden Truths, the podcast of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. For more information about the Insight Center, please visit insightcced.org.

 

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