“The Invisible Knee” - a call to action for economic equity

“The Invisible Knee” - a call to action for economic equity

A call to action for economic equity by Portland Business Alliance board members and past chairs: Sam Brooks, Janet Campbell, Andrew Colas, Alando Simpson, Charles Wilhoite

To all members and the greater Portland community:

Recent events have reminded us that justice for Black Americans has and continues to be intentionally neglected since before the founding of the Union. We stand firmly with all people who are demanding that our leaders take action to prevent another unnecessary loss of life. And, we offer our own call to action, that we intend to initiate to include economic justice across our greater Portland region for the Black community as a priority in our advocacy, alongside calls for social reform.

Adam Smith, the founder of the field of economics, asserted that there was an Invisible Hand, or “unobservable market force that helps the demand and supply of goods reach equilibrium.”
Since that axiom was proffered in the late 18th century, market forces have defined the global economy and propelled the United States to economic greatness among nations. While this has benefited most of our fellow Americans, it has failed to deliver the Wealth of Nations to Black Americans; and it is the cold, unequivocal truth that economic inequity perpetuates a system of injustice. 

If we are to achieve justice that is lasting, and durable, we must include an unapologetic Black economic resilience agenda for our region. We know that the median household income of Black Portlanders is barely half that of white families and less than ALL other races. We know that access to capital, quality education and healthcare create additional challenges that dampen an already bleak economic outlook for Black Americans.

The pathway forward does not require the elimination of capitalism, or upending the entrepreneurial spirit of our region, but instead empowering the Black community to aspire and achieve wealth through the fostering of an economic ecosystem that recognizes the historical systemic barriers Black people face when working to amass wealth. We know that George Floyd lost his life when a knee was held against his neck by Officer Derek Chauvin. It is the Invisible Knee, however, that has kept Black Americans from prospering: it is the unobservable forces that have prevented Black families from building, growing and sustaining generational wealth within the broader community.

The private sector can’t do it alone. However, as directors and past chairs of the board of the Portland Business Alliance, we know that the business community can and should play a role in turning around the economic inequity for Black families in our region through market-based approaches that are both measurable and accountable, and that deliver lasting change in our region, side-by-side with social justice reform. It is time that we create a regional economic equity plan that encompasses explicit strategies on Black wealth creation.

Today, we call out this needed approach as Black business leaders representing diverse industries. In the coming weeks we will submit our recommendations as the Alliance with one voice to stakeholders alongside other advocates of universal equity within this region.

We must begin now, more than ever, to empower our Black residents with the entrepreneurial tools to build wealth and develop economic prosperity and independence. This is an agenda that may initially benefit only one race in name, but will ultimately uplift all our residents and ethnic groups as we see our economy achieve new levels of greatness in the 21st century rooted in the overall refuge of our Black community.

In solidarity,

Sam Brooks
Co-Founder, Brooks Staffing
Chair Emeritus, Board of Directors, Portland Business Alliance

Janet Campbell
Vice President/Chief of Staff, Cambia Health Solutions
Executive Board Member, Portland Business Alliance

Andrew Colas
President, Colas Construction Inc.
Board Member, Portland Business Alliance

Alando Simpson
Vice President, COR Disposal & Recycling, Inc
Executive Board Member, Portland Business Alliance

Charles Wilhoite
Managing Director, Willamette Management Associates
Chair Emeritus & Board Member, Portland Business Alliance