Remarks as prepared
Delivered on Friday, October 27, 2023
Thank you, Cedric – and thank you for your leadership.
I also want to recognize our Maryland Secretary of Labor, Portia Wu and our Maryland Special Secretary for Small, Minority, and Women Business Affairs, Maria Martinez;
And it’s great to see Robbie Robinson and Tom Geddes.
Now, I know when you come to these national conferences, local mayors and governors always show up to thank you – and ask you to come shop and spend money. And I hope you do that!
But when Robbie invited me to speak, I knew I had to come.
Because the issue of growing Black wealth is one of the reasons I decided to enter public office in the first place.
I stand behind this podium as probably one of the most improbable governors in this country .
I am the son of an immigrant single mom who didn't get her first job that gave her benefits until I was 14 years old.
I felt handcuffs on my wrists by the time I was 11.
Before running for governor, I’d never held elected office.
But even though I’m new to politics, I’m not new to public service.
I led soldiers in combat in Afghanistan after 9/11.
I started and ran my own small business in Baltimore City helping underserved students succeed in college.
I ran Robin Hood, one of the largest poverty-fighting organizations in America.
And at Robin Hood, I had the chance to confront the racial wealth gap head-on.
We started an initiative called 90-0, which focused on the racial wealth gap in this country – and how we activate all segments of society to address it.
At the time, we mostly partnered with private donors and community organizations to advance our agenda.
But I made clear that if we wanted to tackle the racial wealth gap, we needed government involved.
Many in the organization questioned why we would partner with government.
They said government moved too slow.
They said other parts of societed needed to work around government to solve the issue.
But I would respond to them by saying, “why do you think the wealth gap exists in the first place?”
The racial wealth gap is intentional. It was created.
It was created by the Homestead Act.
It was created by urban redlining.
It was created by the inequitable distribution of the GI bill.
It was created by unfair appraisal values.
It was created by racist procurement policies.
The racial wealth gap was created by the misguided choices of people in power.
Inequality is a policy choice. Wage disparities are a policy choice. Low homeownership rates among African Americans is a policy choice.
You see: What I was trying to say to my colleagues at Robin Hood was this –
The only way to reverse bad policy choices is with good policy choices.
I entered government because I wanted to offer new policies:
Policies that could do more than paint over the cracks;
Policies that fix the foundation of what’s broken.
One of those foundational issues we must address is the racial wealth gap. And that’s why we made tackling the racial wealth gap a core priority of our administration.
We’ve made work, wages, and wealth our north star.
We are focussed on employment and good-paying jobs.
But if we aren’t talking about wealth, I don’t know what we’re talking about!
And what does wealth mean?
It means having the ability to own more than you owe.
It means having the ability to pass something on to your children besides debt.
It means the assurance that if something happens to you or a family member, it won’t become a generationally catastrophic.
And it means an economy that is more vibrant, resilient, and equitable.
Over the last two decades, racial inequality has cost the American economy $16 trillion.
Over the next ten years, the racial wealth gap is projected to cost the national economy another $1 trillion.
We must address this challenge. And it’s going to take us working together to build an ownership society.
And when you build an ownership society, all of society benefits.
People who own things develop trust in the system that enables their ownership. People who own things want to take care of the things they own.
Tom Friedman once said: “No one ever washes a rented car.”
And if you own a car, you want to keep it clean.
By creating an ownership society, we give people not just a stake in what they own – we give people a stake in their community and their world.
So that’s the “why.” But what about the “how”?
How do we build an ownership society?
We can start by reversing the bad policies that got us here. And that’s what we’ve been doing in Maryland.
In our first year, our major priority has been addressing inequity in how government contracts are awarded.
Nearly every year for ten years, Maryland has failed to meet its own Minority Business Enterprise Goals.
That must change – and I’ve worked with my team to implement new safeguards and accountability measures to ensure we meet our MBE goals.
To date, we’ve advanced over half a billion dollars in procurement awards to minority and women-owned businesses, and we’re just getting started.
We’ve also improved access to banking for small businesses, so our entrepreneurs of color can get the liquidity they need to get an idea off the ground.
And veterans of color will now receive new tax relief we codified into law in our first 100 days.
We worked with the General Assembly to address the appraisal gap from historic redlining, which has been one of the greatest wealth thefts in our state's history.
We worked with the General Assembly to support first-time home buyers and to help turn renters into owners.
And as we approach the new year, I will be working closely with the Maryland legislature to think about how we can tackle other challenges that stand in the way of Black ownership.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. But I refuse to be silent on this issue. Because this isn’t just political for me. It’s deeply, deeply personal.
My grandfather was born in the south.
When he was just a toddler, the Klu Klux Clan ran our family out of the states. They fled to Jamaica – and many pledged to never return to the United States. But my grandfather did.
When he moved from Jamaica back to the U.S., he brought his faith and his family with him – and became the first Black minister in the history of the Dutch Reformed Church.
He became a pillar of the community – and is the most patriotic man I’ve ever met.
When he passed away, he left a remarkable legacy. But he also died with nothing to pass down to his children.
If there’s anyone who had earned the right to age in dignity and hand something down to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, it was him. But he didn’t.
It’s not because he didn’t work hard enough. It’s not because he didn’t dig deep enough.
It’s because he chose to serve a society that wasn’t built to serve him.
We’ve got to be better.
We’ve got to make the racial wealth gap history. We’ve got to build an ownership society.
Maryland will lead that work. And other states will join us.
We inherited these problems, but we will fix them.
And when we do, we are going to build a society that those who came before us hoped for and
That those who come after us deserve.
Thank you all for inviting me to speak – thank you for your time – and God bless you all.