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Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Betsy Hodges: What is systems change, and why is it needed?

Betsy Hodges, former Mayor of Minneapolis and expert in local anti-racism policies, with mayors and experts explored policies that explicitly address racial justice in systemic ways. The conversation ranged from specific policies to understanding how systems can affect people in unseen and insidious ways. Join us for a deeper understanding of how local policy, systems, and racial bias prevent economic inclusion and how some leaders are talking the problem head on.

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Betsy Hodges, Part 1: What is systems change, and why is it needed?” | 16:06

Betsy Hodges: Well, good afternoon everybody. Very excited to be here. I am Betsy Hodges, the former mayor of Minneapolis, currently on the Kauffman Mayors’ Council, and we are here this afternoon to talk about systems change in cities. This idea was born out of a trio of crises that we are experiencing in the United States that also has created an opportunity to be honest.

The crises are the systematic racism and the increasing cycles of uprisings around it, COVID and it’s early and clear differential impact on people of color, and the seemingly widespread acceptance of authoritarian tendencies and violence as an acceptable form of political action. These are outcroppings; some might say the natural consequence of systems that were designed from the start to get better outcomes for white people.

The opportunity that these crises present might seem like cold comfort, but it is an opportunity, there are opportunities here. More people are seeing that the systems were designed for whiteness to persist, but perhaps not for human beings of any race to thrive. COVID, in particular, and the protests surrounding COVID, and the requirements of COVID, have exposed that the systems and authoritarian responses to it, also fail white people in large numbers.

I have a hypothesis that this will reduce the resistance that many white constituencies have to policies that are designed to change systems and not just provide services. The need for new policy, for new thinking, as well as new opportunities for transformative policy change, is pulsatingly evident in entrepreneurial and small business sectors. The upheaval there is its own crisis within a crisis and its own opportunity, as well.

In my role on the Kauffman Mayors’ Council and building on Kauffman’s excellent work supporting entrepreneurs in the United States, today I want to have a conversation about what that means – what these opportunities mean in response to these crises with an extraordinary assembly of people.

Gary Cunningham: Let me just start by talking about systems change just for a minute so that we’re level set. If you think about an iceberg, and you think about what happened… What you see on the top, those are really the events that happen that are above the waterline, if you will. So that’s what everybody focuses on is the symptoms or the event of what is happening.

What is our mental model? What are our mental maps that we have designed and developed that keep us stuck, or keep us in the current feedback loops? If you can’t break out of the feedback loops that you have in some way, you’re going to continue to get the same results that you’ve been getting.

— Gary Cunningham
President and CEO, Prosperity Now

But underneath that, there are trends and patterns and feedback loops that maintain the current system, and then there’s feedback loops that reinforce the current systems that are operating. Then the systems are structured in a certain way to get the results they have been getting, and so those structures actually matter in these contexts, but this happens below the surface.

Then there is, what is our mental model? And what are our mental maps that we have designed and developed that keep us stuck, or keep us in the current feedback loops? Because, if you can’t break out of the feedback loops that you have in some way, you’re going to continue to get the same results that you’ve been getting.

I want to talk about this a little bit deeper, and say that you have to think about it, in… If you had an upside-down pyramid, if you think about it, the top of the structures… structural change, you’d have to think about the policies, practices, and resources. How do resources flow for the problem that you’re trying to solve? And those are the explicit things that we talk about.

So often, what we do is we develop universal solutions to problems. Take the PPP for example, that was a universal solution that was designed to address issues of small businesses in the coronavirus and giving them support. But what we found is that universal solution actually didn’t go to everyone equally because the structures of how they structured the program… That you had to have a relationship with a big bank or a major bank in order to get us there, or in order to get the PPP dollars, left behind a majority of businesses of color.

So, here you had a universal approach that sounded great on its surface that had impacts for communities of color, and we know that these small businesses and communities of color are the lifeblood. They had to re-engineer the program after they found out it failed in order to re-target resources to community development financial institutions who have the relationships with – remember I talked about relationships and networks earlier – with these communities in order for them to participate in this universal program.

This happens time and time again because all of us want universal solutions and universal solutions… You can have universal goals that we all agree on, but you really have to really think about, what is the impact of that universal going? Then who’s going to benefit from that if there aren’t mechanisms for other communities to participate? When you think about systems change, I’d like you to think about it in the context of targeted universalism.

I’ll give you just one example, then I’m going to turn it over to my good friend john, to talk about this in the context that he knows it in. I happened to have some relationships in Minnesota. One of the things that back in 2014, the county, Ramsey County, started working on this question of out-of-home placements, which is a huge driver of cost for county structures, and cities have similar structures, but I want to use this because it’s neutral. People don’t get so heated about it.

What they did was they… really started taking apart that iceberg that I talked about. First, they did the analysis to determine what was going on, then they had to come back and say, “Okay, if we’re going to fix this problem, what do we have to do to intervene? And then how do we not just intervene on the surface level, how do we really intervene on what’s going on underneath the surface?”

What they found was that they had a system that didn’t engage the families of those young people that were getting placed in the out-of-home services that was driving up the cost. They were able to really formulate what they call a collective impact model that actually transformed that system that had, in 2005, as an example, Ramsey County had 3,300 juveniles in detention. Through this transformational process that they went through, they were able to reduce that down to 846 young people that are in juvenile detention.

An intervention oftentimes backfires, and make things worse, not better. Not because people want to make things worse, not because people are racist, but because they’re dealing with this complex system.

— john a. powell
Director, Othering & Belonging Institute; Professor of Law, UC Berkeley

Now this has all kinds of other externality effects, meaning those young people end up going to school and graduating school, because they spend more time in school. They end up participating in our systems and structures in a more positive way, etc., and so not only is the county saving money on the bottom line, but they transform the system of how juveniles interact with the system.

john a. powell: Betsy talked earlier in terms of the system in the United States around race, around gender. In many instances people didn’t get an argument as to whether or not there is some intentional actor behind that, maybe there was maybe there wasn’t. But what’s more important is to look at how the system actually performs, not how we intend for it to perform. And so, in that sense, systems analysis is very outcome-oriented, and it is a little bit counterintuitive because even as we make interventions, those interventions don’t necessarily produce the outcomes we want.

Gary talked about feedback loops, there are two kinds of feedbacks. One is called negative feedback, and the other one called positive feedback. Negative feedback is basically the idea that you make an intervention in a system and the system adapts to that intervention, so that it maintains much of its current functionality.

If you go back and look at the history of Detroit schools, we’ve made all kinds of interventions: more money, I think there’s something called the Milliken Remedy, to teachers, magnet schools, all of these interventions. And yet, today, this year, we’re saying students coming out of Detroit can’t read, so what happened to all that money? What happened to all those interventions?

Well, a lot of things happened, and I won’t go into all the details because you’re mayors and you know things happen. One of the things that happens is that because of the structure and the system, when the courts ordered the school systems integrated in Detroit, it was in 1976, the Milliken case, (U.S. Supreme Court) Justice (Thurgood) Marshall anticipated correctly that you’d have white flight. He actually caused the choice to become more segregated, both racially, but now also economically, and you compound that.

Where does Detroit get its money for schools from anyway? Well, it gets it based on property taxes. Well, my family is in Detroit and a few years ago my dad sold the house I was… I grew up in with nine kids, and I took a picture of the house because the house is impeccable. Sold the house for $5,000, a five bedroom, three [bathrooms]… That house in the suburbs would be worth probably $400,000.

Not only affects my dad and me because the family, my mom and dad have passed. There’s no wealth question here. When Detroit tries to tax… Levy tax, and the rate of tax in Detroit is very high, the yield is very low, in part because of the value of the house, which is caused in part by whites actually moving stuff from the housing market in Detroit, so they’re not competing for the house, so the demand is… And the system keeps going on and on.

One strategy is that, “Okay, let’s raise taxes more.” Okay, they raise taxes more, and now the Black middle class is saying, “We’re paying a lot of taxes. We’re not getting any services, we’re leaving.” Even though you raise the tax rate, you reduce the tax yield, and you further racially segregate and economically segregate the system.

At this point, my brother still works in Detroit, lives in Detroit. At this point, Detroit is a city where Black people have a lot of influence, elected officials. The mayor currently is white, but very sensitive to the concerns of the Black community, but every intervention oftentimes backfires, and make things worse, not better. Not because people want to make things worse, not because people are racist, but because they’re dealing with this complex system, and all of you are dealing with complex systems.

Here in California, several years ago, the Black and Latino caucus got together and said, “Black and Latino kids are not doing well in school, in part because they’re in classrooms where there are too many students, and they can’t learn.”

Their strategy? They passed a, I think a multi-billion dollar initiative in California to reduce the classroom… Class size. Four years later, the gap between white students and Black and Latino students has widened, not decreased. Again, so how did that happen? When they made that intervention by reducing the class size, they increased the number of teachers required to teach, there are more classrooms.

You can’t do more than four or five things at once. You don’t have to, and this is the counterintuitive part: even though it’s a complex system, you don’t have to do everything. You have to do a few things that are leverage points, and then populate [that] across the rest of the system.

— john a. powell
Director, Othering & Belonging Institute; Professor of Law, UC Berkeley

What that did was to pull the experienced teachers out of the… What’s called the inner city, into the suburbs, so the classes were smaller, but the teachers were less experienced. Any educator will tell you, class size matters, but the single most important thing is the teacher and the qualifications of the teacher. They actually ended up pulling teachers out of these very classrooms and out of the very systems they were trying to fix, the system adapted, and so we have to look at complex adaptive systems.

I said, “Okay, stop. You can’t do more than four or five things at once.” Which you don’t have to, and this is the counterintuitive part: even though it’s a complex system, you don’t have to do everything. You have to do a few things that are leverage points, and then populate [that] across the rest of the system.

The obvious question now is, what are the leverage points? Which points have leverage points? There’s no clear answer because systems are complex, we guess.

One of the things you can do is come together as cities, and present some sort of collective approach to address this, appeal in both the states and more importantly to the federal government, because by yourself, and cities tend to be the home of the disproportionate number of people of color, but, also, for everyone who lives there, how do you address these problems given the constraints in terms of jurisdictions, in terms of taxes, in terms of budget, in terms of schools, in terms of housing? And you don’t have a free hand.

Let’s just look at housing just for one second. The low-income housing tax credit. What many cities have done, and, we actually tried to get some cities in New Jersey from stopping doing this, they were building all of the low-income housing within their city because the rationale is, “This is where poor people live. We need more housing in the city.” But in doing so, you are basically driving out the middle-class, if you build all the low-income housing in the city, which then reduces your tax base, which then puts you in a deeper hole.

I focus more on responsibility than blame. Maybe we can be blamed for the past, but we know we are responsible for the future. How do you organize your city, a system nest in other systems, to produce the outcomes you want?

— john a. powell
Director, Othering & Belonging Institute; Professor of Law, UC Berkeley

We struggle with cities saying, “Think about housing as an access to opportunity. Think about housing as an access to schools, as an access to jobs, as an access to transportation.” Some cities try to do that, some did, but most did not. I wrote a piece called Opportunity-based Housing. That housing is not just a place you live, it’s a hub or a bar to a whole number of other opportunities.

Finally going back to what I said earlier, without placing blame… Maybe there’s blame, and I say… I focus more on responsibility than blame. We are responsible for the future. Maybe we’re… Maybe we can be blamed for the past, but we know we are responsible for the future. How do you organize your city, a system nest in other systems, to produce the outcomes you want?

A perspective from Pittsburgh

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Betsy Hodges, Part 2: A perspective from Pittsburgh” | 4:28

Mayor William Peduto: We formed a Marshall Plan for middle America to look at the northern Appalachia, to see the Ohio Valley, and to see the areas that had been left behind. Areas in our own cities that are Black and Brown communities that have no connection to Carnegie Mellon University or Youngstown State, or Marshall [University], because there aren’t ladders of opportunity in the systems to connect them to a growing new economy, and understanding that 30 miles down the road, there’s a rural community, and it’s a white neighborhood, and it has relied upon a mine or a factory for generations. And again, that lack of opportunity.

What if we work together creating a Marshall Plan that would invest and connect people to newer types of opportunity in the communities that they call home? And in the process, check a lot of the boxes of how that can help to sponsor and support entrepreneurship in green development and starting to change the energy policies of an area that has been built on coal, gas, and oil to one that can transfer to green, but doing it in a just way that puts people first?

In Pittsburgh, a year ago our Gender Equity Commission set out to show how the opportunities, especially for young women, aren’t the same as for young men in the city. But then what they decided to do with the University of Pittsburgh is overlap that with a study that looked at race. What we found is that the opportunities for Black women in the city of Pittsburgh are some of the worst in America. That a young Black woman would have a better life if she were to leave.

So, now we have the baseline, and the question is, what do we do to change it? We can’t simply rely upon what city government does, which is pick up the trash and fill potholes and do those other types of programs. We have got to be the leaders that bring others involved — academia, the corporate community, the philanthropic community — and put together not just programs, or rely upon Washington, but fundamentally change the system. Fundamentally give the opportunity where it lacked before.

We can make sure that the opportunities for young women in our public schools start before kindergarten, and we can make sure that there’s access to quality housing, and like you said, not just building concentration of poverty and then warehousing it in one neighborhood, but creating in those neighborhoods opportunity for subsidized housing, affordable housing, and market rate housing, and then building a community around that, the place, the third places, the critical places where you live as a person: a church, a bar, a gym, a restaurant, all the things that other neighborhoods have and make sure that every neighborhood has that.

I don’t think there’s been a greater opportunity in my 56 years on Earth in order to actually be able to make systemic change happen. I hear it in the protesters, and the activists, even though many times I disagree with what they’re saying, they’re saying, “We don’t want to wait.” And there’s a willingness from those that have sat on the sidelines for decades to finally get up and to be a part of that change, but we’ve got to win their hearts and win their minds in order to be able to do so. And I believe that we can, and I do believe that we can make systemic changes, which will even out the playing field so that every Pittsburgher has the same opportunity to succeed.

I don’t think that’s being radical, I think that’s being rational, and I hope that this dialogue will not only give us some ideas of the programs and policies that are out there, but what are the means of making it happen? I can tell you with what both of you said, I agree 100%, but if I were to run on that platform for re-election, I would lose.

Tacoma: Planning the path forward

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Betsy Hodges, Part 3: Tacoma: Planning the path forward” | 4:26

Mayor Victoria Woodards: The reality is that, if we don’t transform all of our systems, including our economic development system, people are going to continue to end up in the policing system. Personally, I’m not interested in making a “perfect” criminal justice or policing system to put more people in it. We’ve got to work harder on creating the opportunities and removing the barriers in all of the systems. Let’s be clear: The mayor’s job is not just what happens in the four walls of city hall, but what happens in our entire city.

In Washington state some time ago, citizens passed what we called I-2000, which was really taking away the opportunity, especially for government and local governments to look at race as a way to award contracts, and to hold people accountable when we give them money to spend.

While that has passed, we have found some ways that require us to be more strategic, but now we’ve got to do disparity studies around everything that we want to do in order to justify why we’re going to focus on a particular community. So, because of that, we’ve done our disparity study, and while I don’t like not just being able to do it because we know it’s the right thing to do, the disparity studies do give us the data that will tell us what needs to be done.

I’ll tell you as it relates to equity and contracting, we did our disparity study, and then we were able to focus on equity and contracting. At the time that the disparity study came out, only 6% of $325 million annually, only 6% of that was going to people of color. Well, because we did the disparity study, and we were able to focus on contracting, we’ve doubled that number to 12%.

So, while it sounds good that we doubled it, it’s still not enough, but that is one area where we are really focused on and making sure that through equity and contracting, we are able to get people certified and trained, so that they can be a part of that system, so those small businesses can participate and have access to those funds.

Cities are at the forefront. We are where the rubber meets the road.

— Mayor Victoria Woodards
Tacoma, Washington

Speaking of access, we are also very grateful that we are providing… Or we are partnering with the National League of Cities to provide a more equal access to capital through micro-lending. We are really excited about this opportunity, it’s scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2021.

We’re using it… We’re trying to become what’s called a Kiva hub, and that results in new private-funded micro-lending with an emphasis on serving underrepresented businesses. It’s an opportunity to highlight our local minority-owned businesses and give them an opportunity to that capital.

Kiva is a proven international model that enables entrepreneurs to directly apply to its site, and a fundraising platform that has 1.7 million leaders on it, Kiva leaders already. It’s not like, we’re just going to say, “Here’s the website, go apply.” We’re going to provide all the technical assistance and support to those businesses, so that they have, not just access to the money, but actually can be successful in applying.

As I said, we’re launching that. Our goal right now for the first quarter is to have at least 10 businesses who get funding, but we’re going to continue to stand that up, to see how successful it is and continue to support businesses in our community that we know can take advantage of that. But we’re also looking at how we do business as a city.

Cities are at the forefront. We are where the rubber meets the road, and while we have to continue to make sure that our federal system does what it needs to do, and our state system does what it needs to do. At the end of the day, our local businesses are not looking to state and looking to the federal government. They’re looking at their local cities and they’re in their local cities operating. How can I be successful? How can I grow? What support can you give me? And that’s the job that we have every day.

Toward a ‘new economic model’ in Jackson, Mississippi

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Betsy Hodges, Part 4: Toward a ‘new economic model’ in Jackson, Mississippi” | 3:48

Dr. Robert Blaine: When we started thinking about this work, we were looking at economic models that you might find around the country and around the world, and essentially, we said that when you look at lack of opportunity, lack of access, blight, crime, poor educational outcomes, essentially what you’re looking at are economic models of humiliation of communities.

What we said was that we wanted to focus on a new economic model that was focused on the inherent dignity of every citizen in the city of Jackson, and what would it look like if a city focused on an economic model of human dignity? As we started to think about that work, it started to spell itself out as a set of goals that were all focused around, how do we focus on the true dignity of every citizen in the city?

One of the goals that we came up was… With was, to really focus on an environment of growth in the city that rejected some of the gentrification models that we’ve seen around the country, and around the world. And so, when we came to this work with the Kauffman Foundation and the National League of Cities, we said that we wanted to focus on equal business opportunities, but we wanted to do that through a mechanism that would build capacities, because one of the… As Mr. Cunningham said, one of the analysis points that we looked at was that while we have a large number of small and disadvantaged businesses in Jackson, the capacity of those institutions to be able to execute larger and larger contracts is pretty small.

What would it look like if a city focused on an economic model of human dignity?

— Dr. Robert Blaine
Chief Administrative Officer, City of Jackson, Mississippi

And so, if we wanted to build on that capacity, we had to really focus on what a capacity-building engine would look like in Jackson. One of the things that we focused on was really trying to build a sheltered market in essence, and so what we did was, we were actually taking 10% of our discretionary to spending and creating a sheltered market specifically for small and disadvantaged businesses through a rewriting of our EBO ordinances. How are we rewriting the rules of EBO protecting a revenue stream and making sure that those businesses have access to capital, training, partnership and education?

If we can build the infrastructure, so that it can actually be replicated and then actually drive the population that we’re trying to serve into those markets, the goal is that we will actually build capacity in some of our, I think, neediest, well most needing, or most deserving underserved populations across the city.

We’ve created what we’ve called our business entrepreneurs assistance team, our BEAT team, which is really a set of planners that uphold every business that comes to the city… They hold their hands through the entire process. And it’s not just having access, but it’s actually creating a linkage and creating a partnership that is going to be there for the long haul.

Systems are often created for those that have the greatest amount of access. So, how do you build a system that’s actually focused on those that have the least amount of access, in order to be able to create the greatest amount of change?

— Dr. Robert Blaine
Chief Administrative Officer, City of Jackson, Mississippi

I think that the difficulty is that often systems are created for those that have the greatest amount of access. One of those things… The things that we have been talking about is, how do you build a system that’s actually focused on those that have the least amount of access in order to be able to create the greatest amount of change?

A seat at the table, for all

Watch: “Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Betsy Hodges, Part 5: A seat at the table, for all” | 7:13

john a. powell: You can’t go out talking about negative and positive feedback loops and complex adaptive systems, and think people are going to think this… You’ll just be BSing them. We’re asking you to give us a job, and you come and talk about systems.

You have to both do something with the systems informing what you do, but you also have to create a narrative that allow people to sort of see… And the police is a good example because one of the things, again, I had another conversation about this, this morning — the goal is really to have a safe policing, responsive and reflective of the community. Is that abolishing the police? Does that define the police? Maybe, maybe not.

People state a goal and argue about the goal, but really what they… If you look under the hood, they really want something different, and there’s a lot of agreement about every community should have safe, responsive policing that’s reflective of the community.

But if you go to the way they to get there, when they find the police, you’re going to get disagreement, and you should, because we actually don’t know. But I think issues get framed in such a way that there’s no movement. And I’ll just give you one last example. I worked with Detroit during the bankruptcy, and I actually called for them to … so that there was a call saying, “Stop giving the business these tax increment financing.” And if you go to Detroit, you saw this building going on downtown to people who are billionaires, they don’t really need it, but they get it.

How do you argue for systemic change from those who’ve benefited from the system?

— Mayor William Peduto
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The city is not going to stop because city wants them, but the people in the community felt like it’s going to white people, it’s not going to any person in the community. To me, an obvious thing would have been to link them, to link a tax increment financing zone in downtown Detroit with something in the neighborhood, and this different time… In different state laws. But most of the time you can do that. That would have been such a win-win situation, instead it was a binary, either the rich white folks downtown win, or the neighborhood wins.

I think part of a mayor’s job is to actually create those bridges, to create that dialogue so you understand the system, and you understand you need some of those rich businesses in downtown Detroit, but you also need to bring the community along. But this shit don’t get framed like that. You have to frame it like that, that’s part of your job as a mayor, understanding how the systems work.

Mayor William Peduto: Just going back to your other question as well, how do you argue for systemic change from those who’ve benefited from the system? I’ll say this is the spokesperson for white people: White people don’t like wasting money. If you create an open and fair field for competition, you will get more people that are involved in the process of bidding for government work – a better product at a lower price.

We’ve created a system, and I’d like to share it with both other cities and anybody else. It’s an open platform, it’s called Beacon, and all you have to do is Google, Beacon Pittsburgh. I gave an order very early in my administration. I said, “Government contracting is Byzantine, and it is created to favor of the very few.”

In our research, entrepreneurship is the #1 way that builds wealth in communities, particularly communities of color.

— Gary Cunningham
President and CEO, Prosperity Now

Just as Dr. Blaine had stated about sheltered markets, when we offer a contract for our housing authority to be able to provide drywall hanging for 400 units, we know there’ll be one or two companies that will bid on the work. If we break it into 40 contracts for 10, we’ll have 50 companies bidding on the work, and those companies will eventually start hiring people, and we’ll get more and more people bidding on work. But we have to be able to create it in bite-size.

The first contract we did was for cleaning our senior centers, and our seniors were livid. The bathrooms were not clean. The kitchens were not clean, and we had one company for over a decade bid on the work. We had 13 companies bid on the contract. We saved money because of the competition, and it went to a minority, women-owned firm who still has that contract, because they do great work.

People shouldn’t be afraid of competition.

Gary Cunningham: I’m so pleased that the mayors here are focused on entrepreneurship because in our research it’s the #1 way that builds wealth in communities, particularly communities of color. We are working right now with 40 African-American led CDFIs across the country to bring that CDFI capital to cities across the country.

I think the second thing is that, understanding the ecosystems of how capital happens, how technical assistance happens, and how access to markets, because it also has to be a public-private solution. It can’t just be a public solution. You also have to bring the private sector to the table, and understanding that ecosystem of supports across the business life cycle, because a lot of resources get focused on the startup and that end of the market, not enough on what I call the missing middle, so you can’t grow firms big enough to have sustainability in these communities.

Mayor Victoria Woodards: We’re really fortunate in Tacoma that we have one of 40 MBDA centers in the United States, and that’s a minority business development agency that really is working on startup, but more importantly is working with that middle group. How do we… We are one of 40 in the country. We were the first MBDA in the country to really… And, it’s so funny guys, I felt like, “Was Gary looking at my notes?”

How do we create a growth mindset in our cities? This idea of an environment of abundance vs. scarcity?

— Dr. Robert Blaine
Chief Administrative Officer, City of Jackson, Mississippi

But we implemented it using our public-private partnership model, and we are seeing great success with that. But the important thing that we’ve done is a lot of the dollars that we’re able to leverage through the MBDA is for that middle, it’s not just, how do you start it, but we’re focusing on how do you grow? How do you sustain?

Dr. Robert Blaine: I just wanted to make one last point, which was that… And I love what Mayor Peduto was saying, and it really centers around a growth mindset, and how do we create a growth mindset in our cities? This idea of an environment of abundance vs. scarcity? One of the things that we struggle with, for example, in the deep south is the legacy of segregation. That was a legacy that was really focused on scarcity and that it was a very much, “I win, you lose,” discussion.

And so, building on that growth mindset is a really big thing here in Jackson, and we feel like if we can really build that model, then that’s something that can be truly be replicated.

Gary L. Cunningham was appointed president and CEO of Prosperity Now in August of 2019. Under his leadership, Prosperity Now has been at the forefront of efforts to direct CARES acts funds to community development and financial institutions to support Black-owned businesses disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gary is a recognized and respected expert on entrepreneurship, job creation, and racial wealth equity, and is a sought after thought leader on issues related to building a more inclusive economy. Prior to joining Prosperity Now in 2019, Gary was president and CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association in Minneapolis and has been recognized as an innovator in minority business development. Gary has held senior leadership positions in philanthropic community development, healthcare housing, and transportation organizations, and he and his wife, Betsy Hodges, live in Washington, D.C.

john a. powell is director of the Othering & Belonging Institute and professor of law, African-American and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He was previously the executive director at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, and prior to that, the founder and director of the Institute for Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota. john formerly served as the national legal director of the ACLU. He is a co-founder of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council and serves on the boards of several national and international organizations.

Mayor William Peduto is now completing his seventh year as mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after having served 12 years on the city council and for the seven proceeding years as a city staffer. As mayor, Peduto has led a collaborative effort to make Pittsburgh a leading 21st century city, partnering with the White House on numerous initiatives that resulted in direct access to federal support related to affordable housing, education, economic development, energy efficiency, immigration, manufacturing, community policing, workforce development, technology, and transportation. Pittsburgh is also one of nearly 50 to commit to join an effort by the Kauffman Foundation and the National League of Cities to drive innovation and inclusive economic development through entrepreneurship.

Mayor Victoria Woodards will soon begin her fourth full year as mayor of Tacoma, Washington. Like her colleague in Pittsburgh, Mayor Woodards also first served on her city’s council, spending four years there before becoming mayor. A U.S. Army veteran, Woodards launched the city’s equity and empowerment initiative as an at-large council member, which led to the creation of the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights. She also led the city’s partnership with former President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper anti-violence initiative and spearheaded the city’s Project Peace initiative, which bridge community members with the Tacoma Police Department. Tacoma is also a participant in the NLC commitments program, with a focus on supporting entrepreneurs underserved by traditional banks through a micro-lending platform to provide more equal access to capital.

Dr. Robert Blaine serves as the chief administrative officer for the city of Jackson, Mississippi. In his role as CAO, Blaine manages an organization of over 2,200 employees and a budget in excess of $350 million. He arrived at this position through a background in academic administration. Prior to his appointment to the city of Jackson, Dr. Blaine served as associate provost at Tougaloo College, dean of undergraduate studies and cyber-learning director of the quality enhancement plan, director of orchestral studies, and professor of music at Jackson State University. Dr. Blaine leverages his experience as a transformative academic leader, as he assists Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba in the transformation of the city of Jackson into the 21st century intelligence city through their economic model of human dignity.