On a sunny September morning in Savannah, GA, the Regional Leadership Institute gathered its 2019 class to kick off the week-long session.
The clear sky and the sparkling Savannah River energized the fresh batch of metro Atlanta leaders during breakfast and early introductions.
The RLI program is known for creating space for the region’s leaders to collaborate across various areas of expertise, creating a network of resources beyond their own jurisdictional boundaries. For the first time, the 2019 program moved to push more boundaries - confronting difficult topics like racial inequity and income disparity.
Early on in the program, the Racial Equity Institute (REI) set the stage for the remainder of the week. REI is an organization that trains and facilitates training to help organizations address racism internally and within their communities. Their “Groundwater” training on the first day of class rests on this notion that our racially structured society causes inequity. Nearly all of the sessions following REI brought equity into the fold, highlighting the reach of racial disparity in everything from transportation to education.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the 2019 class:
Inequity is a structural issue
“There is no way that the things we are doing today are scaled to address the scope and size of the problem,” cautioned Deena Hayes, cofounder of the Racial Equity Institute (REI).
For example, historic practices like redlining may be illegal today, but their impact is still felt in communities of color. Redlining made homeownership extremely difficult for African Americans and other minorities, eliminating a critical wealth-building opportunity for many generations. Today, the average white American household has a net wealth of more than $160,000, according to ARC’s Mike Alexander. By comparison, the average African American household has only $4,000.
Metro Atlanta’s leaders need to have uncomfortable conversations
Conversations about race, class, and privilege can be uncomfortable, even for the most seasoned leaders. Fortunately, RLI’s format provided a safe space for these conversations, initiating a dialogue that could be the first step to addressing the region’s challenges.
For the class to be effective, participants needed to examine their own beliefs about how race played a role in the shaping of today’s Atlanta region. The participants were up for the task – rolling up their sleeves and earnestly working through the week’s topics.
Preparing for a region’s future takes more than infrastructure
Planning for the mobility needs of the future is important, no doubt. Transportation, technology, and growth patterns are all considerations for anticipating a booming population. But other RLI topics addressed the realities of this population growth – an aging demographic, change in racial makeup, barriers to employment, and resourcing our children’s educations.
ARC’s work extends into all of these areas, preparing the region for a future while navigating an ever-changing present. The regional leaders that participate in RLI are in the unique position to tap into ARC’s network of resources, as well as collaborating with their colleagues across metro Atlanta, to develop creative approaches to the region’s issues.
Housing is foundational to many other needs
One of the most productive discussions came out of Wednesday’s small group discussions that included some of the region’s affordable housing experts as guests.
Meaghan Shannon Vlkovic, Vice President & Market Leader, Southeast, of the Enterprise Loan Community Fund, facilitated one of these lightning rounds.
“Is it really about four walls and the purchase of a home? Or is it about what we want our community to feel and look like for everybody?”
The way we communicate the issue of affordability needs to change, said Meaghan.
“When there’s a place to call home that’s affordable, more money is going into the community, businesses are being supported, education outcomes are better. I’m able to pay for healthcare. There’s food on the table, which has all these other implications for better outcomes.”
The region’s challenges won’t be solved overnight
As promised from the outset, the week introduced more questions than direct solutions to the challenges facing the Atlanta region. But RLI’s 2019 class is poised to develop those solutions, armed with the data, history, and context surrounding some of the region’s most pressing issues. And each participant now has 55 other new connections to help them tackle these issues with a regional approach.
Stay tuned as we follow the 2019 RLI class as they flex their leadership skills for the good of the Atlanta region. Visit the RLI page on ARC’s website for the most current information on the 2020 program.