Based on recent events with Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, a huge national conversation has opened up on race, privilege and the systems we live in. For the purpose of this article, I am less interested in the examination of privilege and race. That is an important part of the discussion, worthy of comment and conversation, and it is being explored in many places and better served there. Simply google, check out The Root, Black Girl Dangerous, Feministing, or any number of articles in the New York Times or other news magazines. At this point, it is hard NOT to find a publication talking about it.
I am curious about systemic and cultural change. Where do we go from here? How do we make systems more just? How to we live in a more just way? What is the Next Culture for the justice, economic, and social systems? Do we work within existing systems to change them or do we dismantle what we have and recreate new ones?
I know the national civil rights groups will be having a forum soon to discuss some of these questions and supporting the outcome of that seems like a place to start, but what else?
In the spirit of “starting where you are” I have begun a campaign within my industry for investors and money managers to not invest in companies that support the prison industrial complex, and to invest in those that have positive hiring practices for formerly incarcerated people. None of this began, nor will end, with me. Enlace has been working to get companies that own over a million shares of the two largest private prisons in the county to divest. The Quakers are in the process of creating a list that would also include companies that use prison labor and price gouge prisoners. For example, phone calls are often up to $8 a minute for inmates.
There is a national Ban the Box movement that has been adopted by many companies and cities. This asks employers and landlords to not ask about non-violent felonies a person may have committed as a condition of residency and employment. (Ban the Box refers to the checkbox on an employment application for the question “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”) It is incredibly hard to re-establish yourself once a felony is on your record; currently it often sentences people to poverty, homelessness and underemployment for the rest of their lives. There are a growing number of cities establishing this in their city charter so employers and landlords would have to abide by banning the box. Many larger companies are also now establishing such a policy. Walmart even has a hotline that formerly incarcerated folks can call to ask questions about how to fill out the forms in the most positive light.
New York and Massachusetts just passed bond initiatives that will employ and train over 2,000 recently incarcerated people. There are many other statewide proposals being talked about, special prosecutors to investigate reports of police violence, video cameras for officers, independent citizen councils to watch police departments.
And, while all of these seem like moves in the right direction, I still carry the question about the wisdom adding band aids to a broken system. And how does one even think outside of a box that is so prevalent?
Posted by Renee Morgan, President, Better World Investments
Born in 1967 in San Francisco, CA, Renee has been a resident of Boulder, Colorado since 1995. Renee graduated with a MA in Counseling Psychology from Lesley College and a BA in Political Science from San Jose State University. While this may be an odd entry into financial planning, it probably makes apparent her interest in Socially Responsible Investing. Prior to founding Better World Investments Inc. in 2005, she was with Trilogy Financial Services, Inc. starting in 2000. Renee currently holds FINRA licenses 6, 7, 66 and is insurance licensed. She has won several service awards with First Affirmative Financial Network.