Changing the Narrative.
Investing in community media as an economic development strategy is a force multiplier, Morgan says. More diverse media ownership gives communities power and resources to control their own narrative, and part of that narrative is the transformational impact that community development and revitalization can have on closing the racial wealth gap — and boosting the economy overall. As that story is told more broadly, the CDFI world attracts more funding.
Already, racist policies and discriminatory practices against Black Americans have cost the country $16 trillion over the last 20 years, according to research by Citigroup. Closing the Black wealth gap could add as much as $5 trillion to the economy over the next five years, researchers say.
The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is one of the country’s largest Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFI), connecting underinvested places and people with funding, technical expertise and infrastructure. In the past year, LISC has become a lifeline for businesses devastated by COVID-19, securing more than $2 billion from companies like Lowe’s, Netflix, Wells Fargo, Verizon, and others looking to support women- and minority-owned small businesses and nonprofits in economically disconnected communities.
While the initial announcement of those investments garnered a lot of press, the work that they fund generally does not.
Maurice Jones, LISC’s former CEO, spoke to RJI in May 2020 about the difficulty of getting the news media to shine a light on the people, assets, history and challenges of low- and moderate-income communities as well as the work of organizations like LISC that are doing something about it.
“How do we show people the power of this work? How do we reach a wider audience? How can we interest the media in coming to places where we’re not cutting ribbons but places where we think miraculous work is going on and get the word out, and hopefully by getting the word out, persuade people of the efficacy of this work and convert people to invest in it?” Jones asked.
CDFIs aren’t the only institutions that would benefit from investments in community media. Banks and other lenders, under the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA), are required to meet the credit needs of the communities where they do business, including low- and moderate-income communities. The Act was a response to redlining — the discriminatory practice of denying loans to residents and business owners based on their race or ethnicity. Every two to five years, banks have to undergo an audit by federal banking regulators to see how well they are meeting the terms of the CRA. Banks that do not meet the requirements face heavy regulatory scrutiny and can have difficulty getting approval for mergers or expansions.
Josh Silver, a senior analyst for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), believes that providing loans, grants and other financial support to BIPOC-owned community media would help banks meet their CRA obligations.