Webster’s New World Dictionary defines community as:
“Any group living in the same area or having interests, work, etc.in common; the general public; a sharing in common.”
The recent exchange between President Donald Trump and journalist April Ryan during a recent press conference, where Ms Ryan asked about Mr Trump’s plans for the inner city pique my interest about what “black community” actually means. Even though the specific topic was the inner city, since the term is code for black community I started pondering not only how this community could be helped, but also the existential question, is there one in the first place?
Anyone visiting the West End Atlanta would argue that, at least on the surface, the West End is a black community sharing in common race and a slave heritage. It also shares high unemployment, low income, and a disproportionate number of churches, fast food restaurants, barbershops, and hair salons.
The group also shares the threat of impermanence. Gentrification is progressively attacking the very commonality upon which the black community is built; the sharing of race and the history that acts as a platform for its current descendants of African slaves. As the population has its majority status reduced by a combination of blacks moving to lower rent areas and whites moving into refurbished homes, the black community is being transformed into a caramel community.
Mr Trump may be oblivious to this transformation. I would find such a state of oblivion unbelievable given that Mr Trump, as a real estate developer, should have his fingers on the pulse of the changing fabric of the inner city. I would also note that while the term, “inner city” is code for black community, as a unit of analysis for any policy action, any capital flowing to the “inner city” as a result of public policy may pass blacks along the way as the money flows in and blacks move out.
Another irony is that, if additional capital flows into inner cities as a result of some government action, the economic activity generated may drive up prices over the immediate run for black, low income residents that choose to tough it out and not move. Eventually the new economic activity stimulated by capital inflows will destroy what’s left of a community whose only shared commonality is race, slavery, and the hey days of the civil rights movement.
What policy action should black communities take if they are to take advantage of new capital while maintaining their commonality?
The first step should be to generate capital from internal sources, i.e., family, friends, churches, etc. Members of the community should be the first to have skin in the game of community development. Not only should they bear the risks, but should also reap the dividends, capital gains, and other returns.
The second step is to take those pooled resources and invest in going concerns that are owned by community-investors and targeted to businesses that address consumer needs and demands. Ownership of capital and businesses is necessary for wealth creation in the black community. An increased capacity and opportunity to create wealth will incentivize black residents to remain in black communities.
The third step is to reinvest the residuals from black-owned going concerns back into the community. Reinvestment leads to growth.
Finally, the black community should control as many natural resources as possible which would lead to lower costs for energy and food. Black communities should invest in licenses that allow access to the airwaves or spectrum in order to own and operate radio and television stations. Controlling media and messages about a community is necessary to a community’s health.
Black communities should also invest in farmland and other agricultural suppliers, transporting food products at lower costs to grocery stores and restaurants owned by entrepreneurs in the community.
Finally, black communities need to explore renewable energy sources like solar and wind where such sources increase energy security via reduced energy rates. Community and rooftop solar, while still relatively low in overall energy generation penetration, show promise. Reducing upfront costs for rooftop solar is still a challenge.
I don’t expect Donald Trump to have anywhere near as detailed a plan as my admittedly sketchy outline, but the black community risks its further demise if it doesn’t come up with its own plan of action with ownership and self-determination at its core.