Prior to his ascension to the presidency, Abraham Lincoln gave what is often referred to as the “House Divided” speech. That address was delivered against a tumultuous backdrop: our country grappling with whether slavery would be eradicated or normalized across the entire nation. The abolishment of slavery prevailed, yet the seeds of racism continue to bear fruit in virtually every element of our society today.

Jay Williams

A quest to rid our state from the divided house of “Two Connecticuts does not mean that everyone should live in the same size house, drive the same type of car, or earn the same salary. Yet, no groups of citizens should be consistently excluded from opportunities to prosper due to systemic and structural barriers that are rooted in racism (or classism, sexism and so many of the other “isms,” for that matter.)

Racism undergirds so many of the inequities and disparities that we see today. These racial and ethnic disparities are so commonplace that many are perceived as acceptable, the natural order of society. That could not be further from the truth; in fact, the data in our state point to a pervasive problem.

  • In Greater Hartford, 32 percent of Black and 27 percent of Latino adults report that they have a negative net worth, compared to 14 percent of white adults. (2019 Greater Hartford Community Wellbeing Index)
  • The proportion of Black and Latinx residents who are unemployed notably exceeds that of white residents; while 6% of white residents are unemployed, 12% of Latinx and 14% of Black residents are unemployed.
  • In Connecticut, Black people constituted 11% of state residents, but 41% of the incarcerated population. Vera Institute of Justice (analysis of 2018 data)

The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these disparities:

  • During the pandemic, 24% of all Connecticut residents say they are either just getting by or finding it difficult to get by financially. For Black residents, that number is 55%.
  • 37% of Latinx residents report that at least one resident of their household has lost their job during the pandemic, twice the rate of white residents.

The economic impact of systemic and structural racism is staggering: McKinsey & Co. estimates that the racial wealth gap will “cost the U.S. economy between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion between 2019 and 2028—4 to 6 percent of the projected GDP in 2028” and by closing the gap the U.S. GDP could be 4-6 percent higher in 2028.

No organization, community, state, or society can fully prosper while systematically excluding significant proportions of its participants from equitable opportunity. The loss of creativity, productivity and economic output is a consistent and insurmountable drag on the prospects of any entity. We simply cannot compete with so much of our talent marginalized and sidelined.

Yet, Connecticut can prosper as a state of diverse lived experiences. We have the wealth and the resources to set an example of what a more equitable state would look like. The question becomes whether we possess the will and the fortitude to pursue that future.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving believes that in being true to our mission to create a truly vibrant Greater Hartford, we must be explicit about naming the root cause of inequitable opportunity – systemic racism – and how it led to the disparities in our region. We must take significant steps to dismantle structural racism and achieve equity in social and economic mobility in Greater Hartford’s Black and Latinx communities. While this requires a long-term commitment, the time to act is now. We know it won’t be easy, but working together, we can achieve greater equity in our region.

As we approach our 100th Anniversary, and as the largest community foundation in the state, the Hartford Foundation is committed to being a leading voice on this issue. While we have embarked on our own journey of reflection, learning, and aspiration around equity and inclusion, we simultaneously believe that we must use our platform to encourage, inspire, and cajole our broader community to do the same. We see no alternative; as Abraham Lincoln admonished our nation more than 160 years ago, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Jay Williams is president of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. He is a panelist in a series, “The Two Connecticuts: Conversations about Race and Place,” that starts on September 22.

This four-part special series, co-sponsored by the Connecticut Mirror, will examine how segregation affects people of color — depriving them of personal dignity, economic opportunity, and access to healthcare and safety — yet also disadvantages the state as a whole. Register and find additional information here.  Attendance is free and the program can be accessed virtually.