Attending the PERC planning meeting in Selma are (L-R) Mikeya Griffin (Saint Paul), Mayor Melvin Carter (Saint Paul), Evelyn Burnett (Cleveland), Kimberly Smitherman (Selma), Alyssa Hernandez (Mayor Bib Rep/Cleveland), Mayor Elaine M. O'Neal (Durham), Susan Thomas, Esther Shin, Dawn Taylor (Selma), Mayor James Perkins Jr. (Selma), Joanne Bland (Selma) and Kevin Price (Durham). Photo by Michael B. Thomas

Selma will receive $5 million over the next three years from a new philanthropic organization committed to advancing racial equity and justice. 

Selma is one of four cities working with Partnership for Equitable and Resilient Communities (PERC) to bring investments into their communities. Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr., Kimberly Smitherman and Joanne Bland of Foot Soldiers Park met with officials and grassroots leaders from Cleveland, Ohio, Durham, N.C. and Saint Paul, Minn., at PERC’s first strategy meeting at Selma’s Arts Revive on Tuesday. 

According to a brief provided by PERC, the organization “aims to undo decades of under-investment in communities of color, and advance racial equity and justice by shifting power and resources to Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a/x people living in low wealth, under-resourced communities.”

“PERC will do this by ensuring communities have decision-making power in how federal, state and local investment dollars are spent,” according to the statement. 

Selma, Durham, Cleveland and Saint Paul are the first PERC sites. Susan Thomas, president of the Melville Charitable Trust, one of PERC’s founding organizations, said PERC wanted to help small to midsize cities that had racial, health and wealth disparities. PERC also wanted cities that had mayors and community organizations who were working to close those gaps. 

Selma, the smallest of the four cities selected to receive PERC’s help, was also chosen because of its history and its contributions to the civil rights movement, Thomas said. 

Thomas said her visit to Selma convinced her PERC made the right choice. “Everyone is so friendly and so generous. And the weather is amazing. It’s lovely,” Thomas said during a break in the meeting at Arts Revive. “But when we see the challenges and the infrastructure and the need for commercial development, it’s reinforced why we chose Selma as one of the four.” 

Selma will receive $5 million over the next three years, with Foot Soldiers Park and its founder, Joanne Bland who applied for the grant, as the custodian of the funds, Thomas said. Foot Soldiers Park staff will host meetings with representatives of the community, business and local government to develop plans to use the PERC money as a springboard to go after more federal and philanthropic dollars. 

Esther Shin, president of Urban Strategies, Inc., another of PERC’s founding organizations, called the PERC approach “a transformative initiative.” She said federal monies are available through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the inflation reduction act and the American Rescue Plan, but you have to know how to go after them. Urban Strategies, Inc. will provide a local staff member to help “coach” the city on how to find and apply for federal and philanthropic dollars, Shin said.

PERC describes itself as a “results-driven partnership between community, philanthropy and government that advances racial equity and justice.” Program and funding support for PERC comes from Arnold Ventures, George Gund Foundation, The JPB Foundation, Funders for Housing and Opportunity, Marguerite Casey Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Melville Charitable Trust, Partnership for Public Service, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, Urban Strategies, Inc., Urban Institute and Amalgamated Foundation.

Along with Perkins, Bland and Smitherman, attending Tuesday’s briefing were: 

  • Alyssa Hernandez, director of Community Development for Cleveland
    Mayor Justin Bibb
  • Evelyn Burnett, co-founder and CEO of ThirdSpace Action Lab, Cleveland
  • Elaine M. O'Neal, mayor of Durham
  • Kevin Price, president and CEO Institute of Minority Economic
    Development, Durham
  • Melvin Carter, mayor of Saint Paul
  • Mikeya Griffin, Executive Director Rondo Community Land Trust, Saint
  • Esther Shin, president of Urban Strategies, Inc.
  • Susan Thomas, president of the Melville Charitable Trust.

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