In the past decade, eye-opening data on the fading of the American Dream have prompted a range of philanthropic efforts to boost economic mobility in the U.S. In recent years, many funders have devoted more attention to elevating economic mobility for Black Americans, who continue to face substantial barriers compared to their white counterparts.

Yet the Black rural South — the 200 rural counties in the South with Black populations of 25 percent or more — remains mostly overlooked. This region, marked by a long history of slavery, extractive economies, and structural racism, is home to some of the lowest rates of economic mobility in the entire nation. However, it’s also home to a rich network of resilient leaders and organizations tirelessly working to uplift economic mobility — if they can secure the funding to support their crucial efforts.

An Opportunity for Philanthropy to Move the Needle

For a recently released research study by The Bridgespan Group and National 4-H Council, we spoke to funders who are active in the region. Those conversations made clear that the Black rural South is far more integral than it might appear to many other national funders’ — and Southern regional funders’ — priorities. This is especially true for those aiming to move the needle on economic mobility and racial equity in the U.S.

Why? First, the need — and opportunity — are substantial in this region. “If equity is in your mission and vision statement and you don’t have a rural BIPOC strategy, you’ve missed the mark,” says Justin Burch, president and CEO of Mississippi’s Washington County Economic Alliance. “The data tells us this is where poverty is still living and where it’s more entrenched. So when we are trying to make decisions, there’s not only this moral imperative to it for us, but there’s an economic imperative to it as well.”

Furthermore, residents of the Black rural South often migrate to cities nearby or to other states and are thus intertwined with Black communities, rural and urban, across the U.S. Economic progress in the Black rural South therefore has ripple effects on Black economic mobility throughout the country.

Finally, chances are that many philanthropists’ giving in other regions is already affecting the Black rural South — particularly when focused on changing federal policies. Consider legislation around the new clean energy economy. Melanie Allen, co-director of the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, noted the opportunities that emerge from clean energy to reach affected communities, including the Black rural South. “Thinking about what it looks like for folks to be included in this new economy, and not the new economy to just be built up around them, has been and will continue to be really important,” she says. Similarly, educational and criminal justice policies affect the Black rural South, yet movements to give voice to — or tap into the expertise of — communities in the region remain underfunded.

Read the full article about investing in the Black rural South by Mike Soskis, Angie Estevez Prada, and Mark McKeag at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.