Advancing Racial Justice: Center for Economic Inclusion

Advancing Racial Justice: Center for Economic Inclusion

The Center for Economic Inclusion was founded less than five years ago, but it’s already leaving a big imprint on some of the region’s biggest employers. Based in St. Paul, the center works to boost inclusivity and racial equity in the Twin Cities. It operates on a simple but perhaps overlooked premise: An inclusive economy is good for business. As founder and CEO Tawanna Black puts it, “It’s not just about the moral imperative … Teams that are all the same don’t drive the same level of business results.”

It’s not just about hiring more diverse staff; a big part of Black’s mission is helping regional employers dismantle institutional racism. She’s worked with Fortune 500s like U.S. Bancorp, as well as public sector entities including Ramsey County. “We work inside businesses every day, helping them understand the things that get in the way of equity and inclusion,” Black says.

The center’s mission became especially relevant in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Many business leaders want to help effect change, but weren’t sure where to start. After Floyd’s death, the center, which employs 25 and had an annual budget of $4.5 million in 2020, advised more than 30 companies, foundations, and local governments on key policy decisions. The center also advised those organizations to “strengthen the racial equity and efficacy of their investments,” leading to the deployment of more than $100 million in capital toward “antiracism and systemic change” in the Twin Cities, Black says.

“The center both challenges and supports leaders and organizations in dismantling policies, systems, practices, attitudes, and behaviors that uphold racism and economic exclusion by intentionally establishing new systems that foster inclusion,” Damaris Hollingsworth, principal with Design by Melo, wrote in her nomination of the center for a Community Impact Award.

Despite a year of strong progress, the center’s work is far from complete. “The data show that Minnesota is going backward as it relates to wage equity. That means we’re hiring people of color and white people to do the same work, but we’re paying them differently,” Black says. What’s the solution? Continuing to promote anti-racist policies among major employers, for one. Going forward, the center is also looking to increase employment for Black and Indigenous people in the Twin Cities by 10 percent by 2025. Black emphasizes that those jobs will provide “family-sustaining wages” for residents.

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