There’s no denying the past year brought formidable challenges for the organizations and networks working tirelessly to increase social and economic justice across the South. As our grantee partners embark on another year striving to shape a more equitable future, it seems especially important to reflect on a few of the victories they achieved.
Several of MRBF’s civic engagement grantee partners, including Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Black Belt Community Foundation, Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation and Greater Birmingham Ministries, mobilized unprecedented numbers of voters in December’s special election. And they did so in the face of widespread voter suppression, including a strict voter ID law. GBM Executive Director Scott Douglas detailed some of those hurdles in a New York Times op-ed before the election.
In its role as a trusted resource for tax and budget policy information, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families engaged state legislators on a range of policies to benefit hardworking families. As a result, the legislature took several positive steps, including a resolution to provide health care coverage for Marshallese and other legally residing children, continuing Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid expansion, to provide health care coverage for over 300,000 low-income adults, and $50 million in low-income tax relief for families making less than $21,000. AACF also released this video celebrating its 40th anniversary.
In one school district, AACF and Arkansas Public Policy Panel helped parents change discipline policies by providing data showing the disproportionate rate at which black and Latino children are suspended and expelled. The organizations helped parents demonstrate how the district’s discipline policies contributed to academic disparities and trapped children in the school-to-prison pipeline as early as preschool. Eventually, the district agreed to implement restorative justice, implementing Conscious Discipline training for parents, educators, service providers and community members.
In March, Atlanta city council unanimously passed a $40 million bond initiative, called the Housing Opportunity Bond, of which $32 million will go to fund affordable housing programs. Advocates including Georgia ACT pushed to make the ordinance’s provisions more inclusive of low-income Atlantans. Georgia ACT also successfully advocated for adoption of mandatory inclusionary zoning for the BeltLine Overlay District and the Westside Neighborhoods surrounding Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Workforce development organization Year Up Greater Atlanta completed a Transfer Articulation Guarantee agreement with Atlanta Metropolitan State College, guaranteeing up to 18 transfer credits for courses taken at Year Up and completed with a grade of 70 or better. Year Up also partnered with Atlanta Technical College to provide college credits and six-month internships at top local companies looking for mid-level talent.
With partner organizations, ProGeorgia led a successful grassroots effort to defeat a legislative effort to racially gerrymander two of Georgia’s most competitive state house districts. ProGeorgia partners are now trying to reverse a similar redistricting bill that passed in 2015 and are planning to launch a nonpartisan redistricting reform campaign in Georgia.
The State Conservationist set aside $200,000 to support African-American landowners participating in McIntosh SEED's Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention program. Participants will compete for assistance for sustainable practices for their forested land. Based on the success of the program, the State Conservationist also partnered with McSEED to sustain its outreach work for three years. McSEED helps educate and empower African American landowners so they can navigate the process.
In February, a state senator introduced a net-metering bill that would have restricted consumers’ choices for powering their homes and businesses and hobbled the solar industry by discouraging new installations. The legislation would have significantly reduced the credit new solar customers receive and let utilities change the credit in the future, making it impossible for potential solar customers to determine whether an investment in panels would pay for itself. The previous year, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth hosted a series of community conversations in every congressional district about the state’s energy future. Thanks to this broad base, a sign-on letter written by KFTC quickly gained more than 200 signatures from sustainable energy businesses, affordable housing groups and other organizations. Engaged Kentuckians contacted their state representatives to express opposition. Ultimately, the sponsor pulled the bill. Lisa Abbott, KFTC’s Deputy Organizing Director for Just Transition, said those 2016 community conversations enabled KFTC to mobilize people: “The deeper education and relationship building and visioning that we were able to host around the state meant there was a much deeper bench when it came time to respond to an immediate threat.”
MRBF partners achieved significant criminal justice reform in a state where the incarceration rate is nearly double the national average and the recidivism rate is high. New Orleans-area and statewide foundations created a pooled fund and made rapid response grants for civic engagement organizations to build public support for a package of significant reforms. The governor signed ten bills that reduce the prison population and revise sentencing, parole and reentry guidelines. The state is reinvesting the savings to support victims and reduce recidivism. The Greater New Orleans Foundation was part of the task force, which employed a three-part strategy: highlight data-driven and justice-oriented expertise, communicate reform effectively and engage the legislative process. Members of the state 501c3 table, the Power Coalition, mobilized citizens to support the legislation. The New York Times editorial board wrote about the significance of the reforms: “A politically diverse coalition of Louisianans understood that the state would see the benefits of reduced prison populations and increased public safety. And in the end their support made the reforms’ passage possible.”
Two members of Hope Enterprise Corporation’s team were appointed to serve on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Small Business Review Panel, which reviews every proposed change to determine the effects of the rule change on small businesses. Hope’s feedback was incorporated into the final report issued by the Review Panel, and CFPB issued a Payday Loan Rule that aims to stop debt traps by requiring lenders to determine upfront whether people can afford to repay their loans. “With today’s payday lending rule, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken the bold and necessary action to safeguard the earnings of hard working individuals from the abuses of high-cost, small-dollar loans,” said CEO Bill Bynum. “The rule’s requirement to determine a borrower’s ability to repay will stop the debt trap and save consumers millions of dollars in predatory fees.”
With its network of 45 partner organizations, Blueprint NC has been able to move municipal policies beneficial to hardworking North Carolinians, like family wages and paid sick leave. They have also increased voter turnout in municipal elections, resulting in more favorable local leadership. Blueprint’s network helped Kinston elect its first all African-American city council to represent the majority black city.
Democracy North Carolina collected thousands of signatures, canvassed neighborhoods, organized turnout at public hearings, and sponsored community events to inform the public about gerrymandering. A federal court sided with these advocates, ordering the General Assembly to redraw dozens of legislative districts. In 2018, Democracy NC is helping rally support for a constitutional amendment to establish an independent redistricting process. Last year, the organization was also instrumental in preserving same-day voter registration and striking down the state’s photo ID law. Democracy NC helped boost voter turnout in last year’s municipal elections, when Charlotte elected its first African-American woman mayor and Fayetteville elected its first African-American mayor. Greensboro’s new city council is comprised of women and people of color.
Metanoia Community Development Corporation opened a new café in its North Charleston neighborhood, offering jobs, healthy food and a community hub. Next door, it launched a business incubator. Metanoia also completed three new high-quality affordable homes and plans to build eight more this year. A new partnership with Clemson University and Boeing Corporation offered students the chance to learn to code.
The South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development is celebrating the passage of a state-level earned income tax credit. SCACED and many of its partners advocated for years for an EITC to lower taxes on low-wage families. The version that passed is non-refundable. SCACED and its partners are continuing to work toward a refundable tax credit which would benefit more South Carolinians earning the least.
In November, with a unanimous vote from the city council, the City of Greenville reestablished its Housing Trust Fund, which will be operated by CommunityWorks Carolina. With an initial $2 million investment from the City, the Housing Trust Fund will help create affordable housing projects for households with annual incomes between $15,000 and $55,000.
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition won several court victories protecting West Virginia’s streams from coal pollution. The organization also landed many prominent, national platforms to discuss coal’s impacts on Appalachia, including a half-hour segment on C-SPAN, a two-part series on the effects of mountaintop removal on PBS News Hour and a feature in Ms. Magazine about grassroots, women-led groups boosting renewables and combating climate change. OVEC partnered with a solar group to cultivate a solar co-op in the Huntington Tri-State area. OVEC also commemorated its 30th anniversary with a $30 for 30 fundraising campaign. It was a bittersweet celebration, however, as staff and board mourned the October death of OVEC founder Dianne Bady.
West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy helped a grassroots anti-hunger coalition defeat legislation that would have restricted access to SNAP benefits. WVCBP provided data for the coalition, which maintained pressure through a steady media and advocacy campaign and outnumbered the bill’s proponents during a decisive public hearing on the floor of the House of Delegates.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the State Priorities Partnership, its network of nonprofit state research and policy centers, were instrumental in helping stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. CBPP and SPP analyzed how repeal would affect residents and provided that information to journalists, lawmakers and powerful allies at the state and federal levels. These efforts slowed the progress of the repeal campaign and exposed the rifts that ultimately proved so detrimental to the repeal push. This year, CBPP and SPP are working to protect programs like SNAP and Medicaid.
We’d like to toast all our partners who are working every day on every front to shape a better South. If you have a success story you’d like to share, please send it to us.
- Affordable Housing
- Capacity Building
- Democracy/Civic Engagement
- Economic Development