Angela Glover Blackwell

CEO

Biography

Angela Glover Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer, started PolicyLink in 1999 and continues to drive its mission of advancing economic and social equity. Under Blackwell’s leadership, PolicyLink has gained national prominence in the movement to use public policy to improve access and opportunity for all low-income people and communities of color, particularly in the areas of health, housing, transportation, and infrastructure.

Prior to founding PolicyLink, Blackwell served as Senior Vice President at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she oversaw the foundation’s Domestic and Cultural divisions. A lawyer by training, she gained national recognition as founder of the Oakland (CA) Urban Strategies Council, where she pioneered new approaches to neighborhood revitalization. From 1977 to 1987, Blackwell was a partner at Public Advocates, a nationally known public interest law firm.

As a leading voice in the movement for equity in America, Blackwell is a frequent commentator for some of the nation’s top news organizations, including The New York Times, the Huffington Post, Washington Post, Salon, and CNN, and was most recently published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. She has appeared regularly on such programs as public radio’s Marketplace, The Tavis Smiley Show, Nightline, and PBS’s Now. Blackwell has also been a guest on the PBS series Moyers & Company and PBS’s NewsHour. She appeared in the sixth and final segment of the PBS six-part series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Blackwell is the co-author of Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), and has contributed to What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities and the Nation (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and CFED, 2015), Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America (Yale University Press, 2014, second edition), and Ending Poverty in America: How to Restore the American Dream (The New Press, 2007), among others.  In 2013, Blackwell and PolicyLink collaborated with the Center for American Progress to produce All In Nation: An America that Works for All

Blackwell serves on numerous boards, including the Children’s Defense Fund, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the U.S. Water Alliance, and FSG. She also advises the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve as one of 15 members of its Community Advisory Council. Angela earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

NY Federal Reserve's Search for President Deeply Flawed. Luckily, There's Still Time to Listen to Public and Restart the Process.

If recent reports regarding the selection of the next New York Federal Reserve president are true, the New York Fed Board's failure to listen to the public is deeply disappointing. Community groups, labor unions, and elected officials at the local, state, and federal level were clear about what they wanted: an open and transparent process with significant public involvement that results in someone who prioritizes full employment, is an effective regulator of large financial institutions, and represents the diversity of the district. 

These requests have apparently been ignored, and the consequences could be devastating for the over 100 million Americans who are economically insecure and striving to access quality jobs and rising wages.

The president of the New York Fed has tremendous influence on economic policy in part because that leader gets a permanent seat on the committee that votes on interest rates. John Williams, the presumptive new president, has underestimated maximum employment for years. In March 2015, Williams said we were close to full employment when the overall unemployment rate was 5.5 percent and Black unemployment was 10.4 percent. As Matthew Yglesias points out, if Williams had been at the helm of the New York Fed over the last couple of years and successfully raised interest rates in the way that he called for, millions of people would have remained either locked out of the labor market or stuck with flat paychecks.

The perspectives of low-income and working-class people matter because they have a pulse on the real employment situation in America and how to maximize our human potential. They know that while the headline unemployment number may be low at just above 4 percent, that number hides the reality of persistent joblessness and racial inequity in the labor market. They know that we can do better than 6.9 percent unemployment in the Black community. They weighed in on the New York Fed process because they are the ones whose livelihoods are on the line when officials choose to err on the side of higher unemployment. 

The New York Federal Reserve Board still has time to listen to the public and restart the process. If the New York Fed chooses to appoint Williams, I believe a vetting of the process and the candidate in federal hearings is appropriate, so the public can ask vital questions and get answers from one of the most powerful economic policy makers in America and someone who will have enormous influence over all of our economic lives. 

Mayors Must Create a Bold Vision for Equity

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the U.S. Conference of Mayors summer meeting in New Orleans to discuss the importance of equity — just and fair inclusion — to their cities’ future. This was also the first meeting of the conference since their president, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, ordered the city’s Confederate statues removed. In an earlier speech about this decision, Mayor Landrieu explained, “Centuries old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.” The conference took a moment to applaud his bold actions, which are all the more courageous given the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounding that city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Given today’s political climate, cities — with their economic power, diversity, and innovation — must continue to take bold actions, address old wounds, and lead our nation toward inclusive prosperity. This requires transforming policies and systems that have long perpetuated racial inequities.

While millennials, as well as companies and investment capital, are flocking to cities, many vulnerable communities who stuck with cities through their long decline are disconnected from these emerging opportunities and are at risk of being further left behind or displaced altogether. As I explained at the conference, local leaders must think intentionally about racial equity and ensure that low-income people and people of color are able to participate in, and benefit from, decisions that impact their communities.

We call this pathway for achieving healthy, vibrant, prosperous communities “equitable development.” Specifically, I shared four principles to guide equitable development:

  1. Integrate strategies that focus on the needs of people and on the places where they live and work.
  2. Reduce economic and social disparities throughout the region.
  3. Promote triple-bottom-line investments (financial returns, community benefits, and environmental sustainability) that are equitable, catalytic, and coordinated.
  4. Include meaningful community participation and leadership in change efforts. 

For example, the City and County of San Francisco entered into a historic community benefits agreement with Lennar (the second-largest national housing developer) around a major development in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. As a result, Lennar will ensure that 32 percent of housing units are affordable; provide housing preference to existing residents; and provide over $8.5 million in job training funds. Such commitments would not be possible without thinking about enduring inequalities and putting people at the center of development plans.

Reducing inequality and creating opportunities for all to participate in building a stronger economy is not just the right thing to do — it is urgent and fundamental to the economic future of cities, regions, and the nation. Already, more than half of new births in the U.S. are children of color. By the end of this decade, the majority of children under 18 will be of color. By 2030, the majority of young workers under 25 will be of color. It is evident that what happens to people of color will determine the fate of the nation.

As I shared this message with the mayors present, I also understood that they have a responsibility to all their residents. But equity is not a zero-sum game. Intentional investments in the most vulnerable communities have benefits that cascade out, improving the lives of all struggling people as well as regional economies and the nation as a whole. I call this the “curb-cut effect”, after the ramp-like dips on sidewalk corners. Championed by disability rights activists in the 1970s, these investments not only enabled people in wheelchairs to cross the street, but have helped everyone from parents wheeling strollers to workers pushing carts to travelers rolling suitcases. In fact, studies show that curb cuts have improved public safety as they have encouraged pedestrians to cross safely at intersections. 

The strategies may be unique in each city, but the struggle for equity is the same across the United States. Fortunately, mayors understand that the work they do is more important than ever, particularly when it comes to addressing racial inequality. Reflecting on the meeting, I am reminded of another quote from Mayor Landrieu’s speech: “If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.” Mayors must grapple with inequities in their communities, embrace the changing faces of their cities and towns, and maximize equitable development to foster communities of opportunity for all.

Together, we can build a nation in which no one, no group, and no geographic region is left behind. 

Infrastructure Is Not Just Roads and Bridges

I once missed a job interview in Watts because the hour and a half I allotted for travel across Los Angeles wasn’t enough for the five buses I needed to get there. After two and a half hours, I turned around, defeated.

That was years ago, but President Trump’s infrastructure rollout this week brought the memory back to me.

When politicians talk about infrastructure, people generally think of roads and bridges. But these are just a part of the nation’s infrastructure, and not necessarily the most important part for millions of poor and working-class Americans who have limited access to public transportation, broadband and even clean water. If we’re going to talk about how infrastructure can get America back to work, Mr. Trump needs to think beyond concrete and steel spans.

My own frustration that day in Los Angeles pales in comparison to what many people face. Sixty percent of public transit users are people of color who rely on broken or inefficient systems. Only 62 percent of rural Americans have access to high-speed internet. Imagine what that means to a high school student applying to college or a small-business owner trying to connect with customers. From Flint, Mich., to the Navajo reservation in the Southwest, more than 1.3 million Americans don’t have running water at home, and many don’t have access to clean water at all.

Read the full op-ed in the New York Times>>

REGISTER -- 2/15 Webinar on Changing Demographics Projections to 2050


Wednesday, February 15, 2017
12:00 - 12:30 p.m. PT / 3:00 - 3:30 p.m. ET


The United States is projected to become a majority-people-of-color nation in 2044, but what does population growth look like beyond that year?

Join the National Equity Atlas team for an upcoming webinar: "Beyond a People-of-Color Majority: U.S. Demographic Projections to 2050." The webinar will discuss changing demographics of the U.S. and include a live demo of four indicators that now include updated demographic projections to 2050: People of color, Race/ethnicity, Population growth rates, and Contribution to growth: People of color.

Featured Speakers:

  • Ángel Ross, PolicyLink (moderator)
  • Justin Scoggins, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE)
  • Pamela Stephens, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE)

REGISTER HERE
 

PolicyLink Applauds Court’s Refusal to Reinstate Ban

The 9th Circuit, affirming the Court's right to review the president's action, refused to reinstate the Administration’s travel ban, thus upholding the nation's commitment to just and fair inclusion, at least for now.  Where you come from, where you live, and how—or if—you worship, may not be a basis for exclusion from the country without due process. Anything less, “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Today’s win is a small victory in a battle of immense proportions. Savor small victories, even as we gird ourselves for the next fight.

The Obama Legacy: How to Protect What We’ve Built So Far

(Cross-posted from Talk Poverty)

In the soaring State of the Union address that began his second term, President Obama challenged America to build “ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” It was more than a lovely turn of phrase. It conveyed the President’s vision of a nation in which everyone has a real chance to participate and prosper, and it pledged leadership at the highest levels of government to transform that vision into reality. The words drew upon the nation’s values and traditions, while calling on us to realize the promise of America by unleashing the potential in all our people.

 
From his first day in the White House, President Obama worked towards achieving this vision. It’s easy to forget that his presidency began in the depths of the Great Recession and the worst financial crisis in 80 years. President Obama recognized that bank bailouts, begun by his predecessor, were not enough to revitalize the economy, and they would do nothing to relieve the human suffering already caused by the financial collapse. In the administration’s view, economic growth and resilience required investments in America’s greatest asset—its people—and in the opportunities and resources everyone needs to thrive and succeed.
 

Vote Yes on Measures KK and JJ for an All-In Oakland

As America’s cities face the challenges of inequality, structural racism, and displacement, local governments must take bold steps to put in place a new model of equitable growth. One imperative is to transform underinvested neighborhoods into “communities of opportunity” that provide their residents with the ingredients needed to thrive. That is why I am excited about Oakland’s Measure KK, a $600 million infrastructure bond that promises to boost opportunity and mobility for residents in long-underserved Flatland neighborhoods, and Measure JJ, a measure to extend and reform renter protections for Oakland’s residents vulnerable to displacement.

Infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, parks, water lines, and more — might not sound like the solution to Oakland’s challenges of uneven growth. But it is crucial. As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx likes to say, infrastructure is a “ladder to opportunity” for struggling families. Streets and transit routes make it possible to access family-supporting jobs. Parks and recreation centers provide spaces to exercise, play, and socialize. Libraries connect people to learning opportunities. And so forth. Infrastructure is the skeletal support that connects people to resources, opportunities, and each other.

Despite its critical role in bridging to opportunity, years of discriminatory land use planning and inequitable investment have saddled low-income communities of color with some of the worst infrastructure deficiencies. Oakland overall needs an estimated $2.5 billion in infrastructure investment — including a $443 million paving backlog. The neighborhoods where cash-strapped families can afford to live are more likely to have potholes, crooked sidewalk squares, and tattered playground equipment. These inequities aren’t just inconveniences: they drain already-tight family budgets. Oakland residents spend hundreds of dollars every year on flat tires and car repairs due to potholes and bad roads — and this “hidden tax” hurts low-income residents far more than wealthier drivers.

Measure KK has the potential to dramatically improve health, quality of life, and economic security for thousands of Oaklanders. With Measure KK funds, Oakland’s new Department of Transportation is prepared to deliver ten times the current levels of street repairs for 10 years. Imagine, instead of just a quarter of our streets being in good shape, in ten years 72 percent of our roads could be smooth and safe.

Moreover, the funds would go where they are most needed. While typical infrastructure bonds do not target resources, Measure KK includes historic social equity requirements that will ensure that investments are distributed fairly across Oakland, and especially in underinvested, low-income communities of color. Projects will be selected through a transparent, multilingual public process, and an oversight committee will conduct independent audits of the spending. My organization, PolicyLink, is looking forward to working with the city, under our All-In Cities initiative, to develop the best possible equity criteria and make this infrastructure bond a model for the nation in terms of equitable infrastructure funding.

In addition, Measure KK has an intentional focus on “investment without displacement.” $100 million of the proceeds will fund anti-displacement and affordable housing preservation. This is essential in a city facing a ballooning housing crisis, where rents have increased 34 percent since 2011. Measure KK will provide critical funds to protect Oaklanders all across the city from being forced to move out of affordable housing so we can keep long-term residents in our community. Measure JJ will in turn add protections to residents in their existing rental homes as their neighborhoods improve.

Building the infrastructure needed to transform neighborhoods is the right thing to do for our neighbors who are struggling to stay and succeed in a rapidly-changing city. It is also a smart economic strategy. With the right hiring, job quality, and workforce development strategies in place, this investment can provide career pathways to hundreds of Oaklanders of color who are currently locked out of good jobs. Improving infrastructure in distressed neighborhoods will also have indirect economic benefits because living in a neighborhood with quality parks, safe streets, sidewalks, and other quality infrastructure improves one’s economic chances. There is also evidence that lower-wealth residents who stay in gentrifying neighborhoods improve their financial conditions (thus also adding to the local economy), while those who move out end up living in neighborhoods with higher unemployment, lower-performing schools, and lower quality of life.

On Tuesday, Oaklanders have a chance to truly expand opportunity and take a serious step toward making Oakland an “all-in” city where everyone — especially those who’ve been waiting the longest for this moment of resurgence — has a chance to fully thrive. I encourage all Oaklanders to vote YES on Measures KK and JJ this election day.

Angela Glover Blackwell is the Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.

The Spirit of Equity Summit 2015 Endures

I can hardly believe that it has been a full year since Equity Summit 2015. Today, we mark its anniversary and other PolicyLink milestones, including the release of The Equity Manifesto and the announcement of the All-In Cities initiative. Throughout this past year, we have carried the mantle that this is Our Moment to grow our networks, foster supportive partnerships, and continue to grow the equity movement. 

With that spirit as our guide, we, along with partners Neighborhood Allies and Urban Innovation21, released Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh last month, a five-point agenda for realizing the vision of a new, “all-in” Pittsburgh, in which all residents can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. The National Equity Atlas team, in partnership with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), has continued to expand, building upon the goals of the Summit’s Data Expo. Just this week, the Atlas added interactive neighborhood-level opportunity maps that allow users to visualize disparities in unemployment and disconnected youth among people of color across cities, regions, and states.

In a post-Summit survey, we asked attendees how Equity Summit 2015 impacted their work. Ninety-five percent said that their understanding of equity issues broadened or deepened, while 88 percent said that participating provided new connections or partnerships to advance equity. We were humbled by the positive response, but we know that coalition building doesn’t just happen within the confines of a convention center. This movement is powerful, because people are connecting and collaborating in places as varied as mobile networks, sidewalks, social networks, and board rooms.
 
We’d love to hear from you about any impacts that you have seen from collaborations fostered by the equity movement. How do you continue to #claimthetorch of equity in your work? Share your story by emailing info@policylink.org, and we may share it on Equity Blog or over social media

Equity is…

 
 
Equity is a big, dynamic idea. The field — the universe of people working to create a just, fair society — is blossoming. Reading the provocatively titled blog post, “What the Heck Does Equity Mean?,” by Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Elizabeth Russell, I was struck by two thoughts. First, I am not surprised they found that a universal definition of equity is elusive. Second, I am not concerned.
 
Rather, I am thrilled to see so many people and organizations embrace the hope of equity and grapple with the complexity of translating that hope into action. I am grateful to see people in philanthropy and beyond search for their own ways to express equity and contribute to a broad-based effort to transform America into a nation in which all can participate, thrive, and succeed.
 
PolicyLink, the organization I lead, was founded nearly 20 years ago with a mission to advance economic and social equity, and for a long time we didn’t have a concise definition either. But we knew in our bones what equity meant and why it mattered. We saw equity as the antidote to structural racism and social and economic disparities across the nation. We were determined to advance policies to build a fair, inclusive America that delivers on the promise of opportunity for all.
 
Equity is different from the formal legal equality conferred by landmark laws such as the Civil Rights Act. Equality gives everyone the right to ride on the bus, in any seat they choose. Equity ensures there are bus lines where people need them so they can get to school or the doctor or work. It means policies and investments that grow good jobs and expand entrepreneurship opportunities for low-income people and people of color. It means policies that build human capabilities by upgrading the education and skill of the nation’s diverse workforce. It means policies that dismantle destructive barriers to economic inclusion and civic participation, and build healthy communities of opportunity for all.
 

Staff News from PolicyLink

"A movement is not a flash of light — it is a flame, a torch passed from one generation to the next and every so often we are blessed with moments where the smolder transforms to blaze again and we’re forced to race down the path of progress."

These words by poet Mayda del Valle set to motion, photography, and song through the video "Our Moment" not only capture the equity moment that is unfolding in our nation; these words capture our moment at PolicyLink. Now, more than ever, we are planning for the next evolution of the work to create a just and fair society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

To this end, I'm pleased to share with you the next generation of leadership at PolicyLink. These leaders are fire, ember, catalyst, combustion — they have claimed the torch and will ensure the equity movement blazes bright for years to come.

Please join me in congratulating nine people whose excellent work and outstanding contributions have led to these promotions, effective immediately.

Six staff are being promoted to senior director:

 

Michael came to PolicyLink in 2011 as director of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink. Under his leadership, PolicyLink has emerged as a national leader in building cradle-to-career systems that are ensuring that all children and youth in America have a pathway into the middle class. His experience in the federal government and with foundations contributes to his abilities to guide the organization in strategic planning, policy development, policy campaign strategy, capacity building, and programmatic design and implementation at the local, state, and national levels.
 
Josh has been at PolicyLink since it began, and over time has led development, strategic direction, community-building, and technology program activities. His deep knowledge of equity and broad understanding about PolicyLink programs, funders, and partners enables him to bring a wealth of experience to building diverse alliances, supporting new programs, and helping to plan for the future of PolicyLink.

Kalima is nationally known for her leadership of affordable housing and community development efforts. She led the PolicyLink post-Katrina engagement in New Orleans for five years, and has continued to provide support and guidance to that city in the years since. She has worked with federal agencies to develop and lead planning for sustainable communities and co-leads PolicyLink programs to connect arts and culture to equitable development. She has led advocacy efforts to achieve policies related to infrastructure, workforce participation, accessibility, and new investments to serve low-income communities and communities of color.
 
The senior directors will be the gravitational center of PolicyLink, driving the programmatic portfolio to ensure that the 100 million people in America living in or near poverty, especially people of color, achieve economic security, live in or connect to communities of opportunity, and receive supports they need to actively participate in defining and advancing equitable growth in their communities.

For more about Michael, Josh, and Kalima, and the six new senior directors, visit our staff page at policylink.org.
 
I am enormously proud of these individuals who are taking on advanced leadership at PolicyLink and of all of the 63 people in our organization who are determined to realize equity for all.