In thinking about Black History Month with the lens of AFN’s mission, I find it useful to get grounded by considering the social drivers of health and wealth outcomes.  It is clear that having liquid wealth, reduced stress, greater agency, economic security, good housing, clean air, post-secondary education, fair wages, and access to healthier food all lead to greater health outcomes. They are all interrelated. And the evidence is also quite clear that these drivers have been systematically often by law or design  denied to or taken away from Black Americans (as well as many others who are not White). The denial, oppression, or removal results in health and asset erosion. All too often, it is justified by facially race-neutral rationalizations that mask the preservation of racialized advantages in the accumulation of positive social drivers and wealth.

The celebration of Black History Month or of other race and ethnic history months is an important statement celebrating the achievements of the exceptional leader or scientist or first to reach a professional achievement. That helps to deny the superior-inferior race beliefs still held by too many. The focus in recent years on less widely known achievers, whether for their talents or courage, is also important as it moves away from a focus on exceptional heroes to make it clear that the promise, capacity and contributions of Black Americans are everywhere.

All of that is necessary and important, but not enough.

The fight for equity is not a fight to help the exceptional person rise, but to ensure all have the access to opportunity. That children and young parents and seniors in every community have paths forward to gain wealth and health, and not to be faced with stressors and overly punitive consequences for any wrong choice.  We do not live in that society yet. And it hurts all of us in reducing economic security, quality of education, and public policy choices made. The fear mongering of those who feel their power is at risk use a change resistant frame of scarcity, claiming there are not enough resources or opportunity available for all the seniors, adults, and especially the children.

AFN and its members are committed to showing the frame of scarcity is about fear and not truth. The capacity to increase opportunity is within our capability and is not a threat. Our brief this month focuses on the case to be made to invest in Children’s Savings Accounts. Realizing post-secondary education is not just achieved with older youth – the task needs to begin with young children and their families – hope and aspiration matter.

Relieving crushing debt which disproportionately oppresses Black Americans is also critical. We need system reforms on multiple levels including court collection reform, meaningful student loan cancellation, expanded access to tools that refinance predatory debt, and reforming government finance (yes, tax reform as well as eliminating most fines and fees). AFN will continue to advocate for expanded access to affordable capital to grow small businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color. In our minds, every investment that increases opportunity, rejects the frame of scarcity, and commits to change the social drivers of health and wealth is a focused response and celebration of Black History Month. Equity will only be achieved through broad, meaningful and targeted system reform that expands opportunity so that we all gain.

Join AFN. Add your voice to our Peer to Peer discussion for members. Amplify leaders of color in your community. Work with us to develop a regional approach to accelerate equity. We look forward to hearing from you!