Black Economic Justice Institute
Fighting for Fair Standards and Democratizing Community Development
Priscilla Flint-Banks and Brother Lo Banks founded the Black Economic Justice Institute (BEJI) in 2012. As now Vice President Flint-Banks describes, BEJI’s overarching goal is “to advocate [for] and develop programs that address justice and economic opportunity for black and other people of color in Boston.”
BEJI’s initial energies focused on holding developers accountable to local hiring ordinances and workforce development projects. Today, BEJI has expanded its efforts. In addition to monitoring and advocating for fair labor standards, BEJI’s activities have grown to include youth programs, education and outreach, and coalition work around community development issues. And these activities have also opened avenues towards increasing participation in solidarity economy.
Democratic Community Development
BEJI aims to address the inequalities and impacts of economic and community development in Boston’s communities of color. At the same time, BEJI also sees an opportunity for community governance over the process of development itself. As the organization sagely puts it, “community development is happening all over Boston. It’s not a matter of if it happens in your neighborhood but when it happens, and who controls the process.”
Towards this end, BEJI has brought together a growing coalition in order to influence development along the Blue Hill Corridor, an area that stretches across three Boston neighborhoods: Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan. “We have an initiative called the Blue Hill Corridor Planning Commission (BHCPC),” explains Flint-Banks. “We are trying to stem the tide of gentrification…along that corridor there’s a lot of businesses, a lot of homeowners, a lot of apartment buildings, people who own businesses too.”
As capital flows in to some parts of the corridor and
retreats from others, neighborhoods, businesses, and families are forced to contend with uneven, and changing conditions. BEJI and the BHCPC intend to help gain community control through public education, outreach, and political partnerships. Says, Flint-Banks, “we feel like a lot of times what happens is that the Boston Planning Development Agency and the Department of [Neighborhood] Development, they are the ones that have the land and look at the building [plans] more. We’re looking at affordable housing, they’re looking at developers coming in. So, we’re trying to work with the developers as well as the city to say, ‘wait a minute, we as a community need to have a say in the development that goes on in our community.”
Community and Solidarity Economy
BEJI strives for more participatory democracy around development in multiple arenas. For example, BEJI is active with the Ujima Project. Ujima is building a community driven, socially just economy led by working class residents of color in Boston.
Flint-Banks see Ujima as clearing a pathway towards community autonomy. “We believe in the Ujima Project and believe that we should be self-sufficient; that we should have our own businesses, banks, [and] property because we know that this is a capitalistic world.” In order to create an economy in which the needs, values, and decisions of the community are centered, Ujima is combining a democratic, assembly governance-structure with alternative economic practices that foment cooperation and ethical decision-making—things like time-banking, alternative currencies, collective and ethical investing, and community decisions around business standards.
Sharing creative ideas about economic development, building power, and community well-being is central to a process of envisioning and constructing other economies and other worlds; it is central to the creation of solidarity economies. As a member of the Solidarity Economy Initiative, BEJI is sharing knowledge and building strong relationships with other communities. “The thing I like about the cohort[s] that we are involved with is that it [gives] us an opportunity to meet other like-minded people and get ideas from them,” says Flint-Banks.