Community Matters

Redlining: How it Still Impacts our Community Today

Charlie Gardner, Shamika Munnings
January 20, 2022

Exploring mistakes of the past can help us uncover strategies to build a better future. That’s why the Foundation collaborated with community partners to bring Undesign the Redline to Winston-Salem, an interactive exhibit that explores the history of redlining and inequality not only across the U.S., but also here in Forsyth County. The exhibit is open through February 28, 2022 (learn more about hours and guided tours).

The term redlining comes from a series of maps that the federal government commissioned for 239 U.S. cities in the 1930s, including one created for Winston-Salem (also pictured below). The color-coded maps show those areas that the government recommended were most prime for investment (green), and other areas where money should not be loaned (red), with blue and yellow areas valued in between.

Staff members Charlie Gardner and Shamika Munnings discuss what it’s been like to be involved in the exhibit and how redlining is still impacting communities today.

Charlie: To provide some context for our conversation, I'll take us back in time to 2018, so about four years ago, when the Foundation held a series of community listening sessions to inform its two new focus areas for community investment—Building an Inclusive Economy and Advancing Equity in Education.

Shortly after announcing these new priorities, our Vice President of Community Investment Brittney Gaspari was attending a conference in Cleveland when she came across the Undesign the Redline exhibit. Seeing the national history and local stories being brought together was such a profound experience, she knew we should find a way to bring the exhibit to Winston-Salem as a way to illustrate the importance of focusing on racial equity in our own community.

Shamika: Yes, thanks for taking us back to remind us how the Foundation's focus areas came to be. I think knowing our history is so important because if we know the true story, we can work together on real solutions. That's why I find Undesign the Redline so compelling—the exhibit provides critical information to help us understand the deep and systemic issues we’re still experiencing today.

What strikes me most is the way that explicit racism was built into the structure of homeownership, and the way the exhibit explores our collective responses to racism all the way back to 1800. After going through the exhibit, you start to understand why our city is geographically designed the way it is.

Charlie: I agree, it’s a powerful learning opportunity. Even though redlining is a concept that has become more commonly known in the last decade, many of us never learned how it’s a systemic issue that still impacts us today. Undesign the Redline reframes the narratives we’ve learned throughout our lives, such as why some neighborhoods are poorer than others. What stands out to me most is the intentionality behind these policies—the realization that this system was created to disadvantage people of color and advantage white affluent communities. It’s very eye opening in that way.

Redlining reinforced a strict racial hierarchy in our communities. The abolishment of slavery should have been an opportunity to democratize and create more equality. However, Jim Crow laws in the South and other discriminatory policies across the country contributed to disinvestment in Black communities—leading to the segregated geographic layout of our cities. This led to the racial disparities we continue to see today.

Shamika: Yes, many of the disparities we are working to address through the work of The Women’s Fund and the Black Philanthropy Initiative result from this same history. We uncovered similar stories and data in BPI's 2018 Rethinking Philanthropy report. This history is one of the key reasons why both initiatives are aligning their efforts with the Foundation’s focus areas of Advancing Equity in Education and Building an Inclusive Economy.

Charlie: Local history and data are so critical. I know the local stories told through the exhibit reflect many of the stories we heard in our community listening sessions back in 2018. The exhibit also reveals how all of this worked together to create the conditions we have currently, and it invites visitors to think about new approaches that might be necessary to tackle some of these really big challenges.

I hope this exhibit can be a tool to help people understand why we must explicitly focus on racial equity to see results. Our focus areas are centered on education and economic development, and the disparities we see today are a direct result of redlining. By focusing in these two areas, we believe we can also address the legacy of redlining.

Shamika: Yes, sharing stories can be so important to help change minds. I'll admit that it’s been both emotional and enlightening for me to serve as a tour guide and walk others through the information. I’m navigating my desire to ensure community members are educated about our country’s history of redlining and its lasting effects, while also remaining cognizant of the fact that the current systems in place were not created to benefit me or people who look like me. I'm realizing that while the education in this exhibit is necessary and important, we must remember that trauma is real for many community members.

Shamika: One tour in particular gave me hope and encouraged me to continue to show up and do what I can to move this work forward. It was so inspiring to witness this diverse group of grantees, volunteers, and visitors gathering around the final board of the exhibit to explore the question: So, what's next? How can we undesign redlining?

Everyone was so vulnerable in sharing their thoughts, perspectives, expertise, and even their frustrations. They listened to one another, grappled with the idea of how to create solutions to undo some of the harm done, and discussed who needs to be engaged in the process.

Here are my biggest takeaways from that conversation:

  • People in positions of power need to be keenly aware of our country’s history and the very real systemic disparities that still exist in our community as a result.
  • We must center the voices and experiences of people of color to repair the harm caused by Jim Crow laws, segregation, and racist policies like redlining.
  • It's only by knowing the true history that we can move forward with solutions.
  • We’ll need to work intentionally and collaboratively to undesign the redline.

Charlie: Thanks for sharing these reflections, Shamika. This kind of interaction is why I encourage community members to visit the exhibit in person before it comes down at the end of February. Joining a guided tour is a great way to connect with other community members who want to understand this history so we can work together to undesign redlining.


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