This blog was posted on behalf of Natasha Martell Jackson, Social Equity Program Office at Intel. She shares her conversation with guest Ben Hecht, President and CEO at Living Cities.
As part of our commitment to social equity, Intel is investing in organizations that are advancing transformative anti-racism and social equity work. These organizations are addressing systemic and root causes of disparities for marginalized groups in critical areas of equitable justice, economic equity, education equity and tech equity.
In the area of economic equity, we have partnered with the nonprofit Living Cities to equip U.S. city leaders in the Closing the Gaps (CTG) Network with racial equity tools and competencies to advance equity across local government, business and nonprofit sectors.
Earlier this month, I had a conversation with Ben Hecht, President and CEO at Living Cities, to learn more about Living Cities’ long history of harnessing the power of partnerships to close racial income and wealth gaps in American cities.
Natasha Martell Jackson: Living Cities has been around for over 30 years. How has your mission and programming evolved over the years to address the racial inequities that communities are facing today?
We came to understand that inequities were due to the powerful headwinds caused by structural racism and an economy that generated extreme financial insecurity for many and great wealth for few. These headwinds were disproportionately denying opportunity to people of color, especially Black people. Today we are committed collectively to helping communities address structural barriers to closing the racial gaps in income and wealth and, in doing so, are working toward a society that better meets the needs of all.
Natasha Martell Jackson: Why is your focus on cities in particular? How does this impact the work you do?
Ben Hecht: The simplest answer is that today, cities are where the vast majority of Americans live. It is estimated that 83% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, up from 64% in 1950—and that number is projected to continue growing. Cities are major drivers of the national economy. For example, New York‘s $1.8 trillion GDP, the largest of any metro area in the U.S., is the same size as the entire Canadian economy. Yet cities also are home to the most dramatic racial disparities in income and wealth. Therefore, if we want to close these gaps nationally, we must start with our cities. Simply put, cities hold the greatest opportunities for driving widespread change for low-income Americans, especially people of color.
Natasha Martell Jackson: One of the many values shared by both Intel and Living Cities is innovation. How is Living Cities disrupting the status quo to change systems and close racial gaps?
Ben Hecht: At Living Cities, we believe that to truly alter the status quo, leaders in communities must be equipped with an analysis of the history and ongoing state of racial inequities, and the competencies to assess all their decision-making through a lens of racial equity. Disrupting the status quo requires leaders from across sectors to come together around a shared vision and desired results and hold themselves accountable for implementing effective strategies to transform the systems they influence.
Throughout our history, we also have consistently focused on a cross-sector approach that harnesses capital in innovative ways to accelerate social change. For example, we invest in local government’s capacity to innovate around undoing structural racism and closing gaps. That’s why our CTG Network focuses on local government, by supporting teams in cities, anchored in the public sector, to operate in racially equitable ways and increase accountability to communities of color.
Natasha Martell Jackson: Intel is proud to support the Closing the Gaps Network. When you think ahead to 10 years from now when the initiative is nearing its end, what do you envision?
Ben Hecht: Closing racial gaps is ambitious, nonlinear and long-term work, which is why our CTG Network is intentionally structured as a 10-year initiative. During this time, participants in the network are doing the work of imagining what an anti-racist society might look like in their own local context and taking steps to build that future by transforming policies, practices and operations. At the end of 10 years, we hope to see evidence of several proof points that demonstrate the power when multi-sector leaders, from different cities across the country, build necessary racial equity competencies and then apply them in their roles, with greater accountability to the communities they serve. By driving changes across mutually reinforcing systems—housing and homeownership, entrepreneurship, procurement and more—we believe that we will begin to see the needle moving toward actually closing racial gaps in income and wealth.
Natasha Martell Jackson: This year, the six cities in the network are going through a “Year of Reckoning.” What does this entail, and why is it so important toward actualizing a just, equitable and fully inclusive society?
Ben Hecht: The “Year of Reckoning” brings together city staff from Albuquerque, Austin, Memphis, Minneapolis, Rochester and Saint Paul, and leaders from other sectors, for a year-long experience designed to build the competencies necessary for sustained, anti-racist action. The foundation of the “Year of Reckoning” experience is a curriculum primarily adapted in partnership with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond from their signature Undoing Racism workshop. We believe that this foundational competency building is invaluable for developing shared language and analysis of systemic racism, which enables city teams to identify the root causes of inequities and develop strategies that are responsive to them.
Learn more about Intel’s collaborations to advance social equity and inclusion in our most recent Corporate Responsibility Report.