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Transcript: Mike Bloomberg Announces the Greenwood Initiative

Remarks as Delivered in Tulsa

Watch his remarks here.

TULSA, OKLAHOMA – “Before I say good afternoon, I have to apologize to the people in the overflow room. We have more people in the overflow room than we have in the main hall, which is a nice problem to have and a lot better than if we had excess capacity here. So thank you, and hopefully you’ll be able to hear.

“Let me start then by saying good afternoon, and thank you, John, for those moving and inspiring words, and also to Kevin. And I also want to thank you for all your work to make sure that what happened in Greenwood will remain forever in our memories, and be commemorated.

“Exactly one year ago, I came right here to announce that Tulsa had won my foundation’s Public Art Challenge. The Challenge offered funding to cities that proposed public art projects that addressed important civic needs. We received 200 applications, but none more powerful, or more important, than Tulsa’s – thanks to the leadership of Mayor Bynum, the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission, and its chair, Kevin Matthews. So thank you for all of you.

“Tulsa’s proposal told the story of the Greenwood massacre that devastated John Rogers’s family and left a generations-long impact. And even though Greenwood was known as Black Wall Street, it wasn’t full of bankers. It was really just a thriving, upper-middle class community, where people worked hard, played by the rules and believed that they could get ahead.

“In other words, it was just like many other places across this country, except that this was a Black community – and that did not sit well with many white residents in Tulsa.

“The white mob that attacked Greenwood burned 1,200 homes, looted dozens of shops, left nothing but ruins and rubble across 35 blocks, and massacred more than 200 Black residents. But those horrific numbers don’t even begin to do justice to the story.

“I recently read a diary account from someone who was there that night, staying at a Greenwood hotel – possibly the hotel owned by John Rogers’s ancestors. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share part of that gentleman’s diary account:

“ ‘About mid-night, I arose and went to the north porch on the second floor of my hotel… and I saw the top of Standpipe Hill literally lit up by blazes that came from the throats of machine guns, and I could hear bullets whizzing and cutting the air.

“ ‘Three men—one of whom lugged a heavy trunk on his shoulder—were all killed as they were crossing the street… killed before my very eyes. The man who carried the trunk was very old,’ so the story goes. ‘Likely, he had in that trunk many things of great value… and thought as much of the contents thereof as he did of his own life. When the old man was hit—by a dozen bullets—he dropped his burden and shrieked, and fell sprawling upon the hard pavement. Blood gushed from every wound.

“ ‘I turned my head from the scene,’ the story goes.

“During and after the massacre, there were more than 6,000 arrests – of black residents. Not one white person ever went to jail.

“It was one of the deadliest and ugliest attacks in American history – but like most Americans, I had never heard of it before I came to Tulsa a year ago. And I remember thinking, how is it possible that high schools and colleges don’t teach this event? What was it in the history books that I misread or that I skipped over? But as I came to understand it, it wasn’t just Greenwood.

“Let me ask you, how many of us were taught in school about East St. Louis in 1917 – when a white mob killed more than two dozen Black Americans? Or Elaine, Arkansas in 1919 – when a white mob slaughtered 200 Black sharecroppers who dared to join a labor union? Or Rosewood, Florida in 1923 – when a white mob burned the whole town down?

“In just that short period, 1917 to 1923, more than 1,000 Black Americans were killed by white mobs in cities and towns across the country. But the truth is, what happened during that period was part of a continuum of violence that Black Americans faced, even after the end of slavery – violence that denied them their lives, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness – the cornerstones of the American dream.

“Just think about the sharecroppers who were cheated out of their fair earnings and sent into debt. They could complain – but not without being thrown off the land. They could report a crime – to the all-white police force. They could take the landlord to court – with its all-white juries. Or petition their elected officials – in all-white legislatures.

“They had nowhere to turn. And Black Americans who were cheated by banks that foreclosed unfairly, faced exactly the same situation. Even when Black Americans managed to use the ballot to win elections and gain power, whites simply took it away, sometimes violently overthrowing the elected government, as white mobs did in places like Louisiana in 1873, and Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898.

“For Black Americans, there was nothing that white landowners, businesses, banks, and politicians might not take: their wages and their homes, their businesses and their wealth, their votes and their power, and even their lives.

“What happened here in Tulsa demonstrates, I think, in incredibly stark relief the violent destruction of a prosperous Black community, and the enormous obstacles that so many Black Americans have faced not only in creating wealth, but in passing assets to their children and grand-children as generations of white families have done, thereby creating wealth.

“Hopefully such mob-led massacres are in our past. But you don’t reverse hundreds of years of theft and exploitation with some modern-day attempt to legislate equal rights, especially when those rights are routinely undermined by racism and inequalities that still exist.

“Now I will admit, I have never been one to look back. My brain is sort of programmed to look ahead. But I ask myself, could I have built my business and enjoyed my success under those conditions? Of course not.

“When I was starting out, I knew that my dealings with vendors, and suppliers, and customers were governed by a set of laws designed to protect me against theft and exploitation. That basic truth – which was critical to my success and to the success of every business in America today – was denied to Black Americans for hundreds of years.

“The 14th Amendment that gave citizenship to Black Americans and overturned the Dred Scott decision was a historic milestone for America, but it was also a dead letter for many of the very people it was meant to protect and empower.

“That’s just a fact – and I’ve always believed in facing facts and following data. If there is one data point that begins to capture the enormity of the legacy that has been handed down to Black Americans, I think it is this: today, the typical Black family in America owns one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family.


“That really is a disgrace – but when you think about it from an economic perspective, the exploitation worked exactly as it was designed to do – slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, segregation, and redlining.

“For hundreds of years, America systematically stole Black lives, Black freedom, and Black labor. A theft of labor and a transfer of wealth – enshrined in law and enforced by violence. And the impact of that theft over a period of centuries has meant an enormous loss of wealth for individuals and families across generations, a kind of compound interest in reverse.

“Well, it’s time to say enough – and to damn well do something about it.

“That is why I’ve come back to Tulsa today – because the challenge of African-American wealth creation today is inextricably linked to the racial inequalities of the past, and I’m determined to make breaking that link a centerpiece of my presidency.

“As someone who has been very lucky in life, I often say my story would only have been possible in America – and I think that’s true. But I also know that my story would have turned out very differently if I had been Black, and that more Black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth had they been white.

“Instead, they have had to struggle to overcome great odds because their families started out further behind, and were excluded from opportunities – in housing, employment, education, and others.

“This weekend, we celebrate the life of Dr. King, and we have to remember that he not only marched for equal rights, he marched for economic justice – because they go hand-in-hand. He knew that equality under the law was only the first step to true equality, and true equality is only achieved when there is no correlation between race and riches.

“Fulfilling Dr. King’s vision of economic equality across all colors is a monumental challenge. But I’m not running for president to do small things – but to do big things that will make a difference.

“That was the approach I took as mayor of New York City – and fighting racial inequalities infused everything that we did then from education and health, to juvenile justice and protecting clean water in every community.

“We made major strides in each of those areas, but much work obviously remains to be done across the country.

“So today, I am proposing a sweeping and ambitious strategy to invest in Black wealth creation and close the racial wealth gap that plagues our country.

“Just think about this: if we could eliminate the racial wealth gap in this generation, we could add $1.5 trillion to the American economy. Everyone would benefit. So what are we waiting for?

“Now, I know something about creating wealth and creating jobs. I did it in business – building a company from scratch that now has 20,000 employees around the world. I did it as mayor, where we helped lead the nation in job creation for 12 years. And I hope to have the chance to do it as your president.

“The strategy we’re announcing today is comprehensive – and inclusive. And it has three big goals. One: we will help a million more Black families buy a house, to counteract the effects of redlining and the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

“Two: we will double the number of Black-owned businesses, which right now are far too few.

“And three: we will help Black families triple their wealth over the next ten years to an all-time high. That will reduce, but not eliminate, the wealth gap between Black and white families – but it will build the momentum we need to close it entirely someday.

“Achieving these goals will help our country begin to confront the legacy of what Frederick Douglass called ‘the sin and shame of America,’ which did not end with Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House, or LBJ’s signing of a civil rights bills a century later, or even the election of our first African-American president.

“The time has come to fully commit ourselves to acknowledging our history and righting our country’s wrongs, and that’s exactly what I will do as president.

“As I told Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, I will support her bill to create a commission to examine the issue of reparations. There is no reason not to study possible remedies – but we also can’t wait for the results.

“So our campaign has sought out ideas and input from members of Congress, mayors and local officials, business leaders, ministers, academics, and community leaders.

“Our plan will empower each group to play an important role, and our work will benefit all Americans who have been subject to discrimination and bias.

“And most importantly, these are not pie in the sky ideas that sound good but will never happen. They are concrete proposals that we can afford and that we can get done – and we will.

“Let me tell you how – and let’s start with homeownership. Last year, homeownership by Black households dropped to its lowest since the 1960s, back when segregated housing was the official U.S. government policy. The fact is, generous federal housing subsidies helped create a white middle class while Black Americans were expressly excluded, crowded into neighborhoods where they were denied credit, and starved of public investment.

“Even after the Fair Housing Act was passed back in 1968, some landlords continued to refuse to rent to African-Americans, which is exactly why the Justice Department sued the Trump Organization.

“Now, it was Donald’s father who built and ran that business in all fairness, and I can’t say what Donald learned from his father – but let me tell you what I learned from my father.

“One of my earliest memories in life was sitting at the kitchen table, watching my father write a check to the NAACP. I remember asking him, ‘Why are you giving money to that organization?’ And I will never forget what he told me. He said, ‘Because discrimination against anyone threatens all of us.’

“I didn’t know at the time, but when my parents moved to the house that I grew up in, the owners wouldn’t sell it to them. They didn’t want a Jewish family in the neighborhood. Lucky for us, our Irish lawyer was willing to buy it and transfer it to my parents. But if my mother and father had been Black, I doubt that we would have been so lucky and we might not have grown up in that neighborhood. My parents knew that owning a home mattered, and that owning a home in communities with good schools mattered even more.

“Every American deserves that opportunity. As president, my administration will provide down-payment assistance to new homebuyers in the form of loans that will be forgiven over time. We’ll require lenders to update their credit-scoring models because millions of Black households don’t have a credit score which is needed to get a mortgage – and that all has to end.

“We’ll reverse the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken fair lending laws. That has to end.

“We’ll provide assistance to families to prevent foreclosures and evictions. Eviction rates can top 30 percent in some cities – and women and children are most often the victims. That has to end.

“We’ll encourage Community Development Financial Institutions, which receive federal support, to increase mortgage-lending for low-cost homes. We’ll offer more incentives to build more affordable housing, as we’ve done in New York. And we’ll offer $10 billion in incentives for local governments to reform zoning restrictions and other obstacles that raise housing costs and block economic mobility.

“Now, let’s turn to our next challenge: doubling the number of Black-owned businesses. Right now, there are only about 120,000 Black-owned businesses with at least one employee across our country. One study found that if people of color owned businesses at the same rates as white entrepreneurs, it would result in nine million more jobs for everybody and an additional $300 billion in income for workers. That’s not just good for those new minority-owned businesses and their employees – that’s good for America.

“To double the number of Black-owned businesses, we’ll start with increasing capital for entrepreneurs in Black communities. I know how important that is. When I got laid off back in 1981, I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I had an idea to start a business – and I was lucky to have enough money to get it started. Most entrepreneurs with good ideas need help to get them off the ground.

“In New York, we increased access to capital for small businesses by making seed-funding available, expanding loans, and connecting entrepreneurs with lenders. We can super-charge that work across the country – and also incentivize private investors to support start-ups in low-income neighborhoods, and improve access to credit through fairer standards, and strengthen enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act to make sure that lenders are investing in areas that need it the most.

“One of the best ways to improve access to capital for Black Americans is to help community banks keep their doors open. Since 2001, the number of African-American community banks has declined by 50 percent. These banks traditionally were the cornerstone of community investment. We need to revive that tradition – and my administration will lead the way by increasing federal deposits in those banks.

“In New York, we used city deposits to help open 20 new bank branches in low-income communities and it made a difference. At the same time, we have to help more people open bank accounts and stop relying on other services that charge outrageously high fees.

“One in five Black adults do not have a bank account, and one way we’ll change that is by making free checking accounts available to people who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. It won’t raise the cost very much.

“To help small businesses keep overhead down, we’ll work with local governments to open small-business incubators and affordable shared workspace, just the way we did in New York. We’ll create a national corps of small business mentors who will support entrepreneurs in communities where there are few small businesses, and I can guarantee that works because it did work.

“And we’ll help minority business owners buy the buildings they’re renting, through down payment assistance. Whether they own a restaurant or a beauty salon or a clothing shop, imagine if they owned the building and could pass that wealth on to their children, the traditional way it’s done in America.

“Now, I know starting a business from scratch isn’t easy. But in New York, we set up one-stop shops for entrepreneurs and existing businesses where people could get help writing a business plan, accessing capital, finding space, handling payroll and accounting.

“We can create these one-stop shops across the nation – I know they work, we’ve done it. They’ll also help small companies get certified as a minority- or woman-owned business, which improves their access to government contracts.

“Federal contracts are a $500 billion industry. But incumbents – and I know from my own experience trying to break into that industry is very hard. There’s an awful lot we can do to level the playing field, and I will work to double the value of contracts going to qualified minority-owned small businesses.

“Adding one million more Black homeowners and doubling the number of Black-owned businesses will take us part of the way to our third goal. The third goal is tripling the wealth of Black families. But achieving that goal will require us to do even more. So we will build on a pilot program that President Obama started in communities that suffer high rates of poverty, segregation, and unemployment.

“Our place-based strategy will invest $70 billion in 100 communities around the country. We’ll make those investments through a new neighborhood equity and opportunity office. That office will help communities develop revitalization plans and address the needs – everything from job training to transportation and infrastructure, to helping more people returning from prison find employment. These things work – Obama started it, Trump cancelled it, and we’ve got to bring it back.

“We’ll also increase financing for local residents who are willing to restore derelict homes and make them their own – something we did very effectively where I come from.

“And we’ll form partnerships with local schools to support a cradle-to-career approach by giving schools the resources to conduct a deep level of family and child engagement.

“Now, that starts with prenatal care, and it continues through tutoring and after-school programs, and the college and career application process, and it doesn’t end until students complete college or training and get a job acceptance letter.

“Making sure that all children get the education and support they need to succeed is essential to creating more economic opportunity. And so across this country, we’ll expand Head Start and Early Head Start, and reform juvenile justice programs so we can break the school-to-prison pipeline.

“In New York, we cut incarceration rates in jails and prison by 40 percent – in part by reducing crime and stopping gun violence, which kills so many Black and Latino young men.

“Now, as all of you know, in my determination to reduce gun violence, we employed a common big-city police practice called stop and frisk, and that resulted in far too many innocent people being stopped.

“When I realized that, we took action. And by the time I left office, we had finally cut stops by 95 percent. But as I have said, I was wrong not to act faster and sooner to cut the stops, and I’ve apologized to New Yorkers for that, and for not better understanding the impact it was having on Black and Latino communities.

“I’ve always believed, though, that leadership involves listening to diverse opinions, and acknowledging when you didn’t get them right, and learning from it. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.

“And as president, I will continue to make criminal justice reform a top priority, as I’ve done in my philanthropy, because I can’t think of anything more destructive to building wealth than sitting in prison – especially for young people.

“In New York, we made sure that every child went to a top-quality school, no matter what zip code they lived in. And we cut the racial achievement gap by a quarter.

“We also invested in the young people facing the gravest risk – Black and Latino young men. We created a program called the Young Men’s Initiative to close racial and ethnic disparities in education, employment, health, and the justice system.

“Before I left office, we began to see promising results, and we were thrilled when President Obama built on our work to create his own program, called My Brother’s Keeper. As president, I will build it out further – and reach even more people in need.

“We’ll also recruit more Black and Latino teachers, as we did in New York City, because studies show they can make all the difference, and having a role model at the front of the class is one of the best investments we can make.

“We’ll make public colleges tuition-free for all low-income students – and we’ll double the size of Pell grants. It will be one of the best investments we could possibly make.

“We’ll forgive college loans for students who were exploited by failed for-profit colleges. We’ll do it by reviving a successful Obama administration program that cleared their debts. This has already been done, but then it was cancelled.

“And we’ll also invest much more in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, because many of the HBCUs are struggling. Those colleges serve only 10 percent of Black students, but listen to this, their graduates make up some 40 percent of all Black teachers, 60 percent of all Black engineers, 70 percent of all Black doctors and dentists, and over 80 percent of Black judges. That really is an incredible record of achievement.

“And incidentally, President Trump promised to support them – but he broke that promise, like virtually every other promise he’s made.

“I’ve been helping more students afford college for years, and as president, I will make sure that HBCUs have the resources not just to survive, but to grow.

“There’s one other education initiative I want to mention. I know curriculum is not a federal issue, it’s a state and local issue. But we’ll incentivize states and localities to create financial literacy classes.

“These classes, which we need for every ethnicity all across the country, will prepare young people across the country to manage their money and introduce them to the financial services industry, as John Rogers has been doing in Chicago. As John and I know, there is a great deal of wealth in the financial industry, but nowhere near enough diversity – and changing that starts in our public schools.

“There’s one other curriculum change that we will encourage, and I think it’s long overdue: I believe that all students should be taught the history of slavery from the experience of enslaved people, and the history of places like Greenwood, because Black history is American history.

“Now, I started this speech by talking about what was stolen from Black Americans over generations because it has been buried and denied for far too long. But let me close with something else we don’t talk about enough: the incredible contributions that Black Americans have made to our country, even as they knew they would be deprived of their fair share of the rewards.

“From our country’s first days, Black Americans found hope – and kept faith – in the promise of equality embedded in the Declaration of Independence. And when war came, as it did in every generation, they signed up to fight on the front lines.

“To me, there are no greater patriots in America’s long history than the Black citizens who were willing to die for a nation that was denying them their rights. I’ve got to think it was in hopes that their service and sacrifice might redeem those rights for their children and grandchildren. I hope I would’ve been as selfless and magnanimous as they were.

“The redemption that they sought for future generations is still far from complete. The crimes against Black Americans still echo across the centuries, and no single law can wipe that slate clean. Not here in Tulsa, or anywhere else.

“But I believe that this is a country where anything is possible. And I believe that we have the power to build a future where color and capital are no longer related. That is the future I want to leave my grandchildren – and that is the future that I will work for and build as president.

“So on this holiday weekend, let’s rededicate ourselves to the words Dr. King spoke on his final day on this Earth in Memphis. He said, ‘We can get more together than we can apart.’

“That is true in the workplace. It is true in politics. It is true in life. And I am ready to roll up my sleeves, bring people together, and make it true for all America.

“Thank you, and God bless.”

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