Op-ed: Let’s reimagine a Greenville County where racial equity is absolute

Two years have passed since the death of George Floyd and the many implications that followed across the nation. Nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds is the time it took for Mr. Floyd’s life to end and for change to begin across the country. Here in Greenville, the city asked me to chair a Citizen’s Task Force to review our Public Safety Department’s policies on use of force, body cameras, service dogs, citizen appeals and hiring practices. Six months later we delivered recommendations to the mayor and City Council that would enhance safety and better ensure fair treatment of all citizens.

That was step one.

Step two is a deep dive into the broader issues – issues that impact quality of life.

In summer 2020, the United Way of Greenville County, Greenville Chamber and Urban League of the Upstate joined to create the Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission of Greenville (REEMGVL) to examine existing policies in education, criminal justice, health care, community-wide learning, and income and wealth. For the past two years, REEMGVL co-chairs David Lominack and Merl Code have spearheaded this effort with passion, empowering others to join them. This spring, they asked me to take the helm as executive director to implement the Commission’s recommendations.

Today, the work of policy review is deeper and broader as it relates to race equity and economic mobility for Black citizens in Greenville County. It’s not just about safety anymore. REEMGVL Commissioners from all backgrounds and disciplines formed committees to address each area and spent hundreds of hours researching, interviewing and learning about the disparities that exist in the Black community while strategizing how to eliminate them. Each committee made its recommendations and compiled them into a report for public awareness. Along the way, REEMGVL formed community focus groups to better gauge grassroots reactions and gain input from those closest to the work.

While the Citizens Task Force and the Commission focus on policy, both are inextricably tied to the people who live in this community. This work determines the quality of life residents who look like me can enjoy. It is reflective of everyday experiences in neighborhoods and in marketplace interactions. And it speaks to the hope and expectations that parents have for their children.

Parks, bridges, Main Street shops and restaurants enhance the experiences afforded to those visiting or residing in Greenville. Yet schools, hospitals, courtrooms, banks and access to information characterize the quality of those experiences. A close examination suggests there are different experiences for different demographics.

Black students account for a disproportionate number of disciplinary referrals and suspensions. Black citizens are arrested and sentenced to longer terms for similar or identical offenses. Black families have less wealth accumulation and less access to prime mortgage products and other economic assets. Black patients experience morbidity at higher rates. Are these statements true because policies and practices differ for Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC)?

The REEMGVL summary report provides recommendations from each subcommittee that looked at ways to improve life experiences for the Black community in Greenville County. Let’s reimagine a Greenville County where racial equity is absolute, and prosperity is accessible for all.

Rev. Stacey Mills is the longtime senior pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church and serves as executive director of REEMGVL.

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