Minding the Gap: Community Wealth

June 26, 2024

The Greater Boston Partnership to Close the Racial Wealth Gap’s (Wealth Gap Partnership) Minding the Gap series, hosted at the Boston Foundation (TBF), focuses on how the racial wealth gap affects our everyday lives and the ways in which addressing it benefits us all. The third event in this series, “Minding the Gap: Community Wealth,” was held in person on June 26. TBF’s Associate Vice President of Programs Soni Gupta welcomed the audience and set the stage for the conversation with introductory remarks about the unequal history of community wealth-building strategies (e.g., financial policies, “urban renewal”) and the role they have played in creating the racial wealth gap. She also highlighted a few equitable strategies that show promise for combatting the dynamics of gentrification, resident hardship and displacement including strengthening existing neighborhood assets and investing in community-building opportunities that promote neighborhood stability and resiliency. 

Gupta welcomed a panel to the stage for a conversation moderated by Courtney Brunson, the Director of the Wealth Gap Partnership. Each panelist is a leader of an organization representing essential and overlapping elements of community wealth: housing and homeownership, arts and culture, food and health, and small business. When asked what key principles defined community wealth for them, the synonyms flowed: collectivism, self-determination, community control, cooperation, systematized collaboration, wellness, health, stability, and honoring diversity.  

As for what barriers created challenges for developing community wealth, there was further agreement: Racism, for starters. LEAF Executive Director Gerardo Espinoza cited the adage “poverty is a policy choice,” and pointed to our economic system, which overemphasizes the “invisible hand” of the free market as a means to moderate outcomes for all communities: “The invisible hand has given us invisible results,” he said. More subtly, an internalized sense of disempowerment burdens some underserved communities, in which an “I can’t” attitude is internalized among elected officials and residents. “That makes them willing to vote for things that are Band-Aids on bullet holes,” said Boston Ujima Project’s Rei Fielder.




Soni Gupta, Associate Vice President of Programs, Advancing Community Wealth at The Boston Foundation

Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A
Sharon Cho, Director, Dudley Neighbors Inc.
Gerardo Espinoza, Executive Director, Local Enterprise Assistance Fund
Rei Fielder, Director of Coalitions, Policy, and Grassroots Organizing, Boston Ujima Project
Kimberly Lyle, Chief Executive Officer, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation
Courtney Brunson, Director, Greater Boston Partnership to Close the Racial Wealth Gap at The Boston Foundation (Moderator)

The panel spoke about how to rebuild institutional trust, which has eroded generally over the last 50 years but specifically among communities that have been displaced: “There is so much mistrust inherited from the ‘urban planning’ era,” noted Sharon Cho, Director of Dudley Neighbors, Inc. Her organization embodies one solution in the land reform sphere to reciprocally rebuild trust and community wealth. When Boston’s Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) started, there was a lot of vacant land in its Roxbury neighborhood, Cho recounted. “It was not desirable to the market,” and people who’d been displaced from elsewhere were settling there. They realized they’d need to protect any development or risk repeating the routine all over. So DSNI established Dudley Neighbors as a community land trust, which acquired some 60 acres of land and removed it from the speculative market, so the land went “not to the highest bidder but the highest purpose,” as Cho put it.  

Gentrification threatens businesses too. Kimberly Lyle, CEO of Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation shared how her organization is using capital investments and equitable access to resources (e.g., multilingual document support) to help local businesses survive and thrive. Many of these businesses were small enterprises that are run by community members and serve the neighborhood, often in culturally specific ways. One major takeaway from the panelists was that while preserving housing is crucial, the preservation of a sense of belonging is as well—since it creates a type of richness in community that comes with easy access to your favorite bodega, salon, or noodle shop. Fielder reminded us that artists and cultural workers are part of the local economy as well, and—when organized and included—can be a catalyst taking us “from radical imagination to practice.”  

Watch TBF’s Events page for future events in the Minding the Gap series.