Power, Alignment, and Amplification 

By Erica HendersonJan. 27, 2021

Often when asked to write articles, typically, it is because of what has been seen in my bio; yet my work is not about me. I am a conduit to work for the community. If anything, I want my voice to serve as a reminder that conversations regarding community reform that don't include the stakeholders (the residents that are to live out these plans) will assuredly miss the mark, again; hence we are at a critical place of not just what we need to do, but what we must do.

With that being said…

Given the global context and the weight of the three-pronged pandemic—health, race, and economics plaguing our country, we now, more than ever, need to have courage. The courageous transformation will require imagination, disruptive thinking, and challenging decisions that are not the norm. We must do the work this moment requires by providing access for voices to be aligned and amplified and removing community barriers for participation. We need to recognize and position residents as key decision-makers and keep them at the center of all solutions.

Community power is less threatening when the breath of words are understood. Community is the public, a group, a neighborhood, and kinship. Power is control, influence, and authority. It is the critical driver of just and equitable development that is centered on racial justice. We know that equitable economic development requires vehicles of wealth creation and quality of life outcomes inclusive of affordable housing, quality education, entrepreneurship, neighborhood development, living wage (not minimum) employment, and transportation access. Data shows that racial equity is also beneficial to the economy as Citi bank reports if racial gaps were closed 20 years ago, up to $16 trillion might have been added to the US economy.  

We need sustainable political and governing infrastructure that prioritizes community needs and opportunities for residents to be involved in our civic culture as stakeholders when decisions are being made that affect their daily lives. The results can shift historical inequities and result in a more just future. Inclusive economic growth looks like building frameworks and action plans that boldly address the systemic racist policies that have hindered growth in black communities.

Closing the racial wealth gap will increase the economic mobility of communities and change generational trajectories. These gaps are seen in income, housing, education, business ownership, and financing, derived from long-standing biases and institutionalized segregation. Closing the racial wealth gap is critical while building an economy that is inclusive and working for everyone. Active service, local collaborative efforts, and movement building of grass-roots organizations, community groups, residents, and block units help dismantle systemic racism. Guidance and wisdom of those with lived experience are needed to develop real actionable strategies to influence decisions while building power for communities. "Leadership is an attitude, not a position," to quote John Maxwell. We must invite all of our community leaders to the table.

We must challenge the discomfort as our oppressed communities across the country are demanding freedom that resembles economic mobility and accessibility to inclusive growth. I’ve seen many thought leader discussions, book clubs, and training happening for months to address anti-racist tactics; however, the change only occurs when we develop and execute new policy and programs simultaneously that change and build on people-centered community capacity.

Too many times, the question has been asked, "Erica, can you put a face on what you are speaking of?" Sure, “Economic justice looks like prioritizing black and brown leadership, community strategies, and building neighborhood economies for growth. It is also providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to gain access to preferential lending, capacity building, and additional resources to compete effectively.”

What do I say to the overlooked? "Own and work in your power. Your individual strength will create the change necessary to be effective and impactful. The work starts with self-identity and stems from there to take us forward."

For those making policies, "Ask yourself how are you using your privilege to change the experience for marginalized identities?  Align with the community's needs, and amplify the voices closest to the work. Recognize that power is the goal of social change, and it needs to be allowed to flow into the open hearts, minds, and hands of more people. I agree that we have seen much progress, and we've seen just as many setbacks. It is imperative that you never lose sight of the true goal: equality."

My gifts and purpose are to serve the community, and I will continue to do so, as there are multiple inroads to build a more just society.

About the author

View profile

Erica Henderson

Executive Director, St. Louis Promise Zone + Vice President of Community Investment and Real Estate at the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership
read more

Erica’s passion is working in communities of color to reduce inequities by developing systems that put families on the path towards achieving economic success, all while advancing self-sufficiency that creates substantive and generational impact. Erica is a forward-thinking, strategic system leader focused on social equity, justice, and cultivating collaboration to mobilize communities towards achieving their vision for a high quality of life.