A group is coming together in Smithfield on Saturday to find ways to create economic opportunity in the African-American community.
The Economic Empowerment Summit will be at First Missionary Baptist Church at Fourth and Caswell streets.
“It’s a venue about providing education and context for the economic plight of persons of color, particularly African-American folks in our community and even in our country,” said the Rev. Sterling Freeman, the church’s pastor.
The summit is a project of the Johnston County African-American Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. The goal is to leave the summit with concrete steps community members can take and to follow up with another summit next year, Freeman said. He hopes to see 100 to 150 people attend; the event is free and attendees should RSVP.
Freeman said African-Americans face economic disadvantages such as income disparity and a lack of home ownership. African-Americans are also much less likely to have assets like stocks and bonds that they could invest in the community, he said.
“I’m sure we can attribute a portion to the personal decisions people have made, but then, and we’ll talk about this at the forum, we have to go back and look at the history of our culture and our society and our country,” Freeman said. “And look at the discrimination and the opportunities to pursue wealth that African-Americans did not have for so long.”
Freeman said this created gaps in opportunity.
“And now we can’t expect those things to be automatically closed,” he said.
The Rev. Charles Stokes, another organizer, said he hopes the summit will start a revolution in the way African-Americans do business.
“We need to circulate more of our own money among our people, as all other ethnic groups do,” he said. “This will, in turn, stimulate new entrepreneurs, employment and overall economic growth for this part of our great state.”
The summit starts at 10 a.m. with a presentation to explain the historical context of economic disparity. A panel discussion will follow.
“We’ll talk about, as Christian folk, the biblical response to the economic plight of African-American communities and also poor people in particular,” Freeman said.
Discussions will continue during lunch. Afterward, Farad Ali will speak. A former banker and Durham city councilman, he is now a consultant with the Institute of Minority Economic Development.
Ali said he wants to energize people about entrepreneurship and innovation. And he wants to give attendees a historical perspective of communities working together.
“I want to talk about ... how this has been done in our communities,” he said. “It’s really about community economic development, not just economic development.”
Ali wants to encourage people to make decisions purposefully and to set goals and follow through. For instance, if a student strives for A’s rather than C’s, those good grades could lead to scholarships for college. College leads to better jobs, which means more money. That can then be invested in the community to help a different student have enough money to go to college, and the positive cycle starts over again.
If people act with intention and together, they can start these positive cycles, Ali said.
“Without that kind of intentionality, you leave those things for happenstance,” he said. By making people aware of what they’re doing, “you change the trajectory of things that really matter.”
The summit will wrap up with a presentation by Generations Community Credit Union and a brainstorming session, Freeman said.
“We’ll continue to work throughout the year on this idea of perhaps building a credit union,” as well as other ideas that come up during the summit, Freeman said.
Stokes said the community needs a summit like this because of how slavery and segregation have shaped the civil behavior of African-Americans.
“The complex issues surrounding this history and how they impact African-Americans’ survival should and will be discussed, over time,” he said.