One of my favorite poems of all time is Langston Hughes’ “Harlem,” better known by the compelling question it posits: “What happens to a dream deferred?”

Far too many in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community can answer that question from personal experience due to a pipeline of privilege that favors white workers. People of color, particularly those from Black and Latine communities, are locked out of desired careers by a toxic mix of systemic racism and bias; comparative lack of generational wealth; and sparse access to corporate sponsors. This is certainly true in for-profit companies, especially in fields including finance, television and film, technology, music, and journalism. Sadly, it is also a pervasive issue for nonprofit organizations, even though social good and positive impact is at the very center of our missions.

I have no doubt that my colleagues in the nonprofit community want to improve, rather than echo hollow vows to increase diversity and retain BIPOC team members, but no anti-bias training, career fair, or positive intention can trump equitable payment for employees who hail from communities of color. This is critical at every level, from interns up, and it must be a competitive wage.

Black and brown communities generally do not possess the built-up generational wealth their white peers have. As a result—and this is admittedly only one of many factors—they do not have the same capacity to “pay their dues” by accepting unpaid or low-paying positions at the start of their dream careers.

“Despite all the ostensible progress Black Americans made in politics, business, and culture in the mid-to-late 20th and early 21st centuries, the economists find there’s been very little progress in closing the average racial wealth gap since 1950,” National Public Radio’s Greg Rosalsky writes in his aptly titled article “Why the Racial Wealth Group is So Hard to Close,” about a June 2022 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “By 1950, the ratio of white-to-Black wealth fell to 7 to 1. Today, it's 6 to 1. For every dollar the average white American has, the average Black American has only about 17 cents. (For those wondering about the median, it's even worse: for every dollar the median white household has, the median Black household has just 10 cents).”

Read the full article about racial wage inequity by Kyra Kyles at PhilanTopic.