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Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission Tackles Racial Disparities in Greenville, South Carolina

REEM addresses racial disparities in income and wealth, criminal justice, education and workforce development, health and wellness, and community-wide learning.

By Teree Caruthers on October 18, 2022

Stacey Mills
Byrd Photography

In the midst of the national reckoning on racial inequities that took place in summer 2020, United Way of Greenville County, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League of the Upstate came together to form the Racial Equity and Economic Mobility (REEM) Commission with the common goal of addressing disparities in areas that negatively impact the city’s Black community.

Through programming and aggregation of resources, REEM tackles some of the difficult issues facing African Americans in the areas of income and wealth, criminal justice, education and workforce development, health and wellness, and community-wide learning.

“There is obviously a correlation between quality of life and people being able to access all of the amenities that their community provides for them. Crime goes down; people are happy; health rates are better,” says Stacey Mills, executive director of REEM.

“Economic mobility lift s people from a place of survival to a place where they are thriving. When we see people thriving, we see people who are well adjusted and bett er able to contribute to their society and be participants in their community,” Mills says.

A major goal when REEM started, Mills says, was to get the players who make the policies that lead to the disparities in the same room.

“First, there has to be recognition of the injustice. Then, there is the gathering of the players … Those are our commissioners – the experts and the practitioners, the folks who are working in these areas every day. We get them in the room to have the discussions and to talk about policies aff ecting each of our target areas,” Mills says.

One of the statistics the commission is reckoning with is that a child born into poverty in Greenville is in the 94th percentile in terms of the likelihood of not being able to make it out of poverty.

“If you add race to that and gender, a Black male has a 1% likelihood of being able to make it out of poverty in this great community,” Mills says. “That’s why we’re asking the tough questions, having the conversations and coming up with the solutions.”

“When we see people thriving, we see people who are well adjusted and better able to contribute to their society and be participants in their community.”

Stacey Mills, REEM

Mills, who is also senior pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in Greenville, was inspired to join REEM because of the connections he’s made in the community and the value those connections have brought to his own life.

“The experiences that I’ve had serving on boards and commissions and working in the public education sector, not to mention my own lived experience – it all just led to being able to be in this space. I’m excited about what this means for our community,” he says. “We have a world-class community with world-class amenities. However, you’ve got folks who are in survival mode and may not even know that these amenities exist and are open to them. Then, there’s the question of affordability. So we do have a little work when it comes to being intentional about who gets access and who gets to participate.”

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