WINTER PARK​, Fla. — Systemic racism and institutional racism are the buzzwords thrown out a lot lately as the country examines racial disparities in America and efforts to ensure Justice For All. 

Rachel Allen, the director of the Peace and Justice Institute at Valencia College, says they're the same.

What You Need To Know

  • System racism and institutional racism are same, expert at Valencia says

  • Labels, prejudices from past perpetuate themselves, expert says

  • George Floyd's death brought some groups together to commit to action

  • Community leaders can learn from each other to resolve issues

To explain, Allen pointed to a sentiment that she's heard time and time again —  why are so many Black people poor?

“And if we're not taught the history, we might be led to believe, well, people are just lazy,” Allen said. “They have just not worked hard enough.” 

Allen said that conclusion comes from the shared understanding that, in America, if you work hard, you'll get ahead, but it isn't necessarily that simple for everyone. She said it's important to look back at the past 150 years of federal laws that systematically suppressed Blacks, such as the Jim Crow laws of segregation.

As an example, she cited the way cities historically have been divided up and used 1935 as a reference point.

"A map of the city would be laid out and we would say this part of the city is good, and it was given one color,” Allen explained. “And this part of the neighborhood is compromised, and we'll call it yellow. But this part of the city, we're going to redline it. We're going to put it in red. But what we know is those parts of the communities that were redlined were communities of color, where the Black families lived, and there was very little value in the homes there and the values just decreased." 

In many cases, the costs of the same house in a different area of town would be drastically different, Allen said.

Ten years later, in 1945, little had improved, even though a federal effort could have helped.

"One of the ways in this country to accrue wealth is to own a home, and after World War II, when the soldiers came home and they passed the GI Bill, mortgages were handed out freely to soldiers coming home from the war,” Allen said. “But 98 percent of those mortgages were given to white families, and they were denied to black families."

That discrepancy shut the door on more than 1 million Black veterans who served their country in segregated ranks. The chance to build equity and hand down generational wealth became nearly impossible.

Although redlining is now illegal, economic inequality in many of those same neighborhoods persists, a generation later, according to a recent study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC).

"That redlining process systematically, over time, robbed communities of their wealth,"Allen said.

Redlining has affected access to credit, home mortgages, small business loans, and wealth-building for Black Americans, according to the NCRC study.

“In order to change these systems, we’re going to have to be intentional and look for them,” Allen said.

The Peace and Justice Institute facilitates and encourages difficult discussions about race. The group’s leaders have held workshops with the Orlando police, the City of Orlando, the Osceola County School District, local churches, and neighborhood associations.

Allen said she's seen people come together and commit to take action. When protesters took to the streets of Central Florida and across the world earlier this year to protest the killing of George Floyd, many people also called for economic justice.

“We are inherently independent. What happens to you impacts me,” Allen said. “What happens in our community, even if it’s across town and I’m not directly impacted, it will impact me — poverty in a community, violence in a community, oppression of groups. It is in our best interest to lift each other up…level the playing field, and make sure our community is thriving in all areas and in all ways.”

One way to take a step toward reaching that goal is to sign up for special workshops and training events like those offered by the Peace and Justice Institute of Valencia College. The training can be customized for groups and can be held virtually.