Columnists Opinion Starlett Quarles

THE X FACTOR: Juneteenth, reparations and our economic freedom

On June 19, we celebrated 154 years of freedom in the state of Texas with the African American holiday of Juneteenth. Although the Emancipation Proclamation became effective on Jan. 1, 1863, the entire abolishment of slavery in America was said to have not been truly enforced until June 19, 1865.

However, even though chattel slavery has been abolished, black people have yet to experience true socio-economic equality in the United States. And with the recent focus on reparations in today’s political discourse, I wanted to talk to Robert Sausedo, president and CEO of Community Build, about his thoughts on the evolution of our economic freedom since our “Emancipation Day.”

Established in 1992 in response the Los Angeles Riots, Community Build is a nonprofit community development corporation whose mission is to “revitalize low-income communities in South Los Angeles through human capital investment, community economic development and commercial economic development.”

SQ: What does Juneteenth mean to you?

RS: Juneteenth is a very important day for us to remember and celebrate. It personifies how even today, the things that are meant for us as a people are often delayed. In the words of former radio talk show host Paul Harvey, “It’s the rest of the story.” Juneteenth is also one of the most underrated and under-celebrated days by, and for African Americans, and the American people in general.

Juneteenth to me means that while this marked the effective end of slavery in the United States, it earmarked the beginning date for African Americans to step into our greatness. And despite racism, [we become] co-participants in the economic prosperity of this nation.

SQ: Do you believe we should be still seeking reparations? Is that even realistic? 

RS: I absolutely believe that we as African Americans should be pursuing reparations; and perhaps the narrative should be redefined as restitution. It isn’t only reparations for what our people endured during slavery, but the restitution for the many decades of purposeful and willful acts of racism, social injustice and legislative mandates that continued to treat us as if we are less than.

It’s reparations and restitution for all of the many decades of keeping us locked out of the same academic, career and business opportunities afforded to others in this country. It’s reparations and restitution for every other group being able to leverage our multi-billion dollar spending power for their own benefits; while subjecting African Americans to substandard living, jobs, redlining, lack of access to capital and the other accoutrements that a society should freely provide for all of its cohabitants.

Yes it is realistic, however, we must understand that it’s a tall order to ask all of America to look at themselves in the mirror and own up to their prejudice, seek forgiveness and reconciliation by doing the right thing.

SQ: If we are rewarded some type of reparations, do you think we’ll invest with each other or in our communities?

RS: On the surface, we should be considering a collective and cooperative approach to investing in our community. Nonetheless, the lack of financial literacy could prevent this from happening. 

We should also be mindful of the fact that there are forces who don’t want to see us have the same economic parity because our disjointedness and lack of unity is the fuel for their prosperity.

SQ: In your opinion, although chattel slavery has been abolished, in what ways do you believe we are still “financially enslaved?” 

RS: Our financial enslavement comes in large part in two primary forms. First, in general, there is a serious lack of financial literacy, discipline and proactive financial planning that exists in our community. This has led to a lack of unity for collective and cooperative economics, which is the way we scale our way out of poverty.

Secondly, the impact of the systemic systems put in place by U.S. housing, economic, public policies, and the long-term lack of access to capital and reinvestment, are the undergird of excessive debt that continues to keep African Americans financially enslaved.

SQ: So how can we begin to overcome that? Wealth is a mindset.

RS: You are absolutely right. Wealth is a mindset and we as a people have to become untrained from this western idea of individualism and see our value; the same value others see to enrich themselves.

Secondly, we cannot do this without returning to being a true righteous people of God; and allow Him, through prayer, to guide our actions.

SQ: You thoroughly understand the value of investing in our own communities. So what are your thoughts on an effective community economic development strategy?

RS: While I don’t have all of the answers, I believe an effective community economic development strategy [is] one that: requires commitment from all socio-economic classes in the African American community; positions us to rely on our own cooperative and collective economics … in our community; recognizes that we are our own solution; leverages the impact [that] local and national policies have had on our community by holding the system accountable; and re-educates us on the economics and creation of policies that allow for African Americans to benefit from our contributions like many other ethnic groups have been granted.

SQ: Since we were never given our “40 Acres and a Mule,” what does our Financial Freedom ultimately look like to you?

RS: To me, [our] financial freedom looks like:

• Moving our people toward being debt free.

• Taking personal responsibility for being lifetime learners and investors in our community; either directly or by supporting one another.

• Equality in the marketplace- in [corporate America] and [entrepreneurship].

• African Americans jointly solving the economic issues of our communities.

Starlett Quarles is a Gen X Advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, please visit www.TheDialogueLA.com.