Anne E. Price, Director of the Closing the Wealth Gap Initiative

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Anne E. Price has spent 20 years working in a wide range of areas including child welfare, hunger, welfare reform, workforce development, community development and higher education. She is the director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap (GRWG) Initiative at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland, California. The Insight Center is a national research, consulting, and legal organization dedicated to building economic health in vulnerable communities.

The CRWG Initiative seeks to promote the leadership of experts of color on asset building policies and practices both in policy arenas and in the public discourse to ensure that economic policies are racially inclusive, use asset building as an anti-poverty strategy, and to close the racial wealth gap.

What (or who) inspired you to do the work you are doing?

I had a keen awareness of how place and race shapes opportunities from an early age. My mother made sure of that. Upon reflection, it was a wonderful gift. I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, which is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S.  I was fortunate enough to live in a school district with one of the highest performing high schools in the state. In contrast, my mother was a teacher who taught in the worst performing schools in the central city. I spent my childhood in schools with the best facilities and those with the worst.

I was deeply influenced by a group of outstanding school teachers who were passionate, innovative and deeply committed. I listened to them talk for hours and hours over the years about bad policies, lack of visionary leadership and how low teacher expectations were hurting black children. These teachers felt it was their mission to save children.

One important thing we need to do for our children is commit ourselves as a nation to eliminating inequities and providing opportunities for all families to build wealth. Without wealth, families and communities cannot become and remain economically secure. Public policies have and continue to play a major role in creating and sustaining the racial wealth gap, and they must play a role in closing it.

What movie character do you identify with and why?

I’ve always thought I would play Charlotte Vale in the 1942 classic movie “Now Voyager” starring Bette Davis. Vale grows from a “walking disaster of sheltered neurosis,” at the constant whims of her domineering mother who imprisons her both psychology and physically, to a self -assured woman. In one of her moments of awareness she proclaims:”Don’t ask for the moon—we have the stars.” It is only a bonus that the film inspired Jackie DeShannon to write the song “Bette Davis Eyes” in 1974.

What is the biggest policy challenge facing the United States and how would you fix it?

Economic inequality is one our biggest challenges.  Government has implemented policies that are making those at the top very rich, while closing off options for the vast majority of Americans. This is why it matters: Wealth accumulation in a few hands is incompatible with true democracy. I agree with George Packer when he asserts, “inequality hardens society into a class system, imprisoning people in the circumstance of their birth.” This has not always been the case. We can point to a period in our history — the 30 years from the end of World War II through the mid-1970s when the U.S. realized equalizing growth and broadly shared prosperity. But not all groups have benefitted equally.

Communities of color have largely been excluded from government policies that have helped families build wealth, contributing to a longstanding racial wealth gap. And the gap is wider than it’s ever been in our nation’s history.  The typical family of color now owns a nickel to the white family’s dollar. This is wealth that will not be easily restored in a generation. There is no easy return to “normal.” We should further explore how a true ownership society would narrow economic inequities.

Given that policies and practices caused the racial wealth gap to widen, it follows that it will take large scale, structural solutions to close it. We should concentrate our attention specifically on housing, jobs and tax reform in the short run.

What do you do when you are not saving the world?

I am a big lover of the arts in all forms. In my free time I dabble in mixed media art, creating collage images that address race and gender in advertising. Art allows me to be more provocative and provides for uncensored expression of ideas that are not remotely possible as part of my day job.

What was the last book you read? What is the most important thing you learned from it?

I recently read, “Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home” by Anita Hill, and a recent biography of Harriet Tubman.

Hill’s book speaks of the racial wealth gap framed in women’s narratives, including her own. Her book helps make the case that profound impact of a loss of a home on a family is a woman’s issue. Racial wealth inequity is a woman’s issue.

Harriet Tubman’s story is important to me because she is, simply, as important a figure as Frederick Douglass, or Abraham Lincoln, or Thomas Jefferson. And her story is important for the lives of women today. We need the same kind of vision and fierce belief and assertion of selfhood and insistence of equity.

What advice do you have for young people who are interested in your field?

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Ritual latte drinking is my guilty pleasure. The Bay Area is filled with wonderful little coffee shops that serve amazing espresso from small roasters, so I am always trying new places.

How can people find out more about your work or get involved?

People can visit the CRWG Initiative at www.racialwealthgap.org and connect with us on twitter @racialwealthgap.

Through the CRWG Initiative’s Experts of Color Network (ECON), a network of over 170 of the nation’s leading experts of color in the asset-building field, we are educating policymakers about the racial wealth gap, providing the media with experts who can speak on issues that are most relevant to today’s economy, and developing solutions to close the racial wealth gap.

Our scholars, policy specialists, advocates and community leaders have given Congressional briefings, and provided testimony on issues like housing, jobs, savings and investment, debt, credit, social insurance and business development. Through strategic communications, they are actively framing economic issues with a racial lens and building public will for inclusive policies.

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