Angela Glover Blackwell: Achieving equity shows economic results

April 01, 2014

Angela Glover Blackwell , founder and CEO of PolicyLink and recipient of Brandeis University's inaugural Richman Fellowship in Public Life, led a conversation among local leaders about on-the-ground efforts in the Boston metropolitan area to promote regional equity, including the successes and challenges facing regional equity work. Dr. Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, director of the Heller School’s Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy (ICYFP), nominated Blackwell for the prestigious award, and ICYFP, as well as Heller's Institute on Assets and Social Policy were instrumental in her two-day visit to campus. 

Speaking in a separate session to graduate students, the soft-spoken Blackwell provided powerful insights into her own career as a community activist which led, in 1999, to her founding PolicyLink, a national research and action institute that advances social and economic equity. Early on in its history, PolicyLink was home for Heller Professor Andrew Hahn’s sabbatical. Blackwell gave a shout-out to Hahn for his work there when speaking to the Brandeis audience.

Blackwell advised students that social change requires long-term commitment and important relationships, citing her own work on food deserts beginning 20 years ago, to the time when it finally captured the national policy stage in the late 90s, as well as her strong connection with Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Canada, who will be the Brandeis graduation speaker this May, came to national attention with the Harlem Children's Zone, a model for the Obama administration's "Promise Zones." Through PolicyLink’s outreach and development of this anti-poverty program as well as its work with several Promise Zone partners through the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink, Blackwell’s group continues to provide insight and support to the administration, and to help the selected communities succeed.  This illustrates a tag line used by the group of “Lifting up What Works.”

The university-wide lecture and panel discussion on regional racial equity demonstrated how achieving equity actually promotes economic opportunity and growth. Blackwell cited studies that demonstrate longevity in economic growth periods when equity issues are boldly addressed. Panelists shined a spotlight on affordable housing and the importance of keeping race and ethnicity on the front burner since these issues remain the main drivers of disparities.