Black Lives Matter. So what can we do to overcome racial based inequality? George Jones’ answer draws on his extensive experience leading an initiative in Washington that has provided social assistance and fought for structural change since the 1970s.
In the middle of a global pandemic, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values – the network for the world’s leading values-based banks – talked to George, and five other pioneers from across the globe about their vision for a brighter future.
Why now? George and projects like Bread for the City (BFTC) are one of thousands of initiatives financed by values-based banks all over the planet. These banks are changing the meaning of money, putting money in the service of people and the environment. Today, on Banking on Values Day 2020 (24th November), we are celebrating these extraordinary initiatives, the individuals who run them, and the banks that finance them. You can discover how and why this matters so much.
George, based on your experience, how did race-based inequality evolve?
Racism and oppression are mostly just being unearthed right now. I don’t know if we made much progress but, especially after the murder of George Floyd and Trayvon Martin, at least we have all seen a revitalization of the civil rights movement that had its heyday in the 1960s.
The good news is that a lot of people are becoming aware of the oppressive dynamics, the systemic racism, that in some ways has been hidden from the public view for the past decades. It is good that so many people have woken up to what others are experiencing in their ordinary lives.
Now we are speaking to leaders about how they govern, how they invest in communities in terms of becoming part of the solution; you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. None of us is without responsibility for what happens in our communities and our world, at the end of the day. Martin Luther King said that the bigger challenge is not for the racists in our community, but for the allies of civil rights that do not speak out or act. And that is the real challenge: if you believe in justice for the people, you must do things.
Maybe the first thing you should do is to learn what this issue really is about. A lot of people don’t know what concepts like systemic racism, white supremacy, or racial equity mean. The first thing I say to them is: if you don’t have this knowledge, do some research. There are a lot of workshops and information that can help you. Then you will understand many of the things people are saying today like “defund the police”. When you know the reason why, you can help people without blaming them for their problems.
How do you help people in need, particularly during an emergency like the pandemic?
We provide a range of services including food, clothing, medical, legal, social services, and community organising and advocacy services. We just finished building a 27,000 square foot facility here in Southwest Washington DC to provide a venue for some of these services, in partnership with City First Bank (one of over 60 values-based banks in the Global Alliance for Banking on Values). We are excited to have completed this project, our biggest expansion. We could have not done it without them.
The pandemic is creating challenges I have never seen before in my lifetime. Organisations are needing to take decisions faster than ever before. For example, today we have been discussing how we are going to continue organising so that people can come to pick up food from us in a safe way. Or if we should offer them gift cards so they can easily control where they go to get food and when they get it. COVID-19 has forced us to think quickly.
The problem is what we have already lost with this pandemic; more than 200.000 people have died in this country and many more in the wider world. I hope that our science community can come up with a solution, a vaccine and that we can turn the corner. But meanwhile, BFTC and other organisations like us must be there for each other. I think that is one of the things that the pandemic is teaching us.
As a community activist who, among other things, holds a degree in psychology, what does the word empathy mean to you?
Empathy is an important concept, especially for us, the people who have the privilege of helping. I come from a pretty modest, maybe you might call it an impoverished background, but I have spent the second half of my life with a fairly high level of privilege.
So, it does take a grade of empathy to still be able to put yourself in the shoes of the people that turn to you and listen to their heart-breaking stories. For example, people who are living with children and are going to be evicted from their apartments. Or others who don’t have enough food in their homes. Those are the kind of stories that we hear from the communities we serve. These stories are just appalling when you think of all the privilege and the wealth that exists in this country and in the world…
You personally have advocated for the expansion of access to healthcare and are making a significant contribution. How do you do that in practice?
There is a paradox in our healthcare system because unless you are very sick it is not possible to see your doctor. So we have developed telemedicine, or video medicine, so we can call our folks to check on them. 3,000 unique patients have called the BFTC’s ‘medical home’ in this way.
During the pandemic, we have further prioritised the issue of access. We are open for people that need to have COVID testing and, of course, a number have tested positive. But at least they know what is advisable to do, to quarantine or go to the hospital. We did most of this in our parking lots, installing tents. That’s an example of how we expand access to healthcare beyond our patients. These services are open to the whole community.
How important do you think it is that money serves people and the real (rather than the financial) economy?
City First and banks like it support community projects. And community is a euphemism to talk about people who need intentional equitable development. That is what these banks do and they have been dedicated to doing that for decades.
I think we need a new relationship with money. We need to talk about where money is invested, where banking institutions are focused.
Are they focused on vitalising and rebuilding communities? Do they allow people to get a foothold in these communities?
Or are they investing just in money-making and things that just enrich the well-off and disadvantage communities like the one we serve?
To conclude, as a pioneer of positive change, what kind of future do you envision for your local community?
I envision that in the next ten years Washington DC becomes something of a gold standard for antiracist cities. I envision a city where everybody has equal access to housing, food, healthcare, and chances to have a life that is just, with liberty and justice for all.
Did you know that…
You can choose between being a customer of a conventional bank or a values-based bank.
Values-based banks deliver quality banking services, just like many other banks. But, unlike most banks, they deliberately focus on finance for entrepreneurs and positive projects in the real economy that benefit people and the environment – like Bread for the City in Washington DC.
It’s time to do something for your future!
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