May 11, 2018

What a Lynching Memorial Can Teach Us About Housing Justice

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National Memorial for Peace and Justice

I recently had the profoundly humbling experience of visiting the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

The memorial pulls no punches — to see it is rattling, sickening, and hard. As The New York Times aptly put it, the memorial “demands a reckoning” with atrocities inflicted in the name of white supremacy, namely the lynching of thousands of black people over the course of decades.  

Demand, it does. It also asks us to hope. The memorial unearths some of the most overlooked brutalities in our nation’s history and holds them up to bright sunlight. 

Our country also bears the marks of insidious patterns of control and discrimination. On my visit to the memorial, I was struck by how lynching was enmeshed with issues of land, money and power – and how the suppression of access to these things for people of color continues to play into the housing challenges we grapple with today

I was struck by the urgent necessity of resolving access to housing and greater opportunity, as a vital step in unwinding these issues and confronting the segregation that plagues our communities. 

We know the difficult truth that where you live determines the life you can have. And we know the even more confronting truth that many communities of color have been harmed, and their inhabitants cut off from opportunity, by decades of discriminatory lending practices and fair housing violations.  

Only by shining light on the impossibly hard truth, can we hope to heal and overcome. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is an extraordinary effort in that direction. We — social innovators, business leaders, philanthropists, policymakers, advocates — must clarify and focus our own efforts to end housing injustice in America and offer everyone an equal opportunity to succeed. 

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