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Advancing Economic Justice for Black Communities with Monterey County Black Caucus

Rosalyn Green

Rosalyn Green, Black Power-Building and Justice Reinvestment Director of Monterey County Black Caucus

In honor of Black History and Futures Month, we are excited to spotlight the valuable work of Monterey County Black Caucus (MCBC), a grantee-partner of Irvine’s Priority Communities initiative. We spoke to Rosalyn Green, MCBC’s Black Power-Building and Justice Reinvestment Director, about the organization’s mission, the community priorities identified through their listening sessions, the importance of Black healing spaces, and how funders can better support MCBC.  

We hope the work of MCBC and the insights shared by Rosalyn will serve as lessons on how to put the needs and priorities of the Black community at the center, and how to better support Black-led and -serving organizations. Responses were edited for length and clarity.  

Tell us about the work of Monterey County Black Caucus. What do you do and why? 

Our mission is to heal and empower the Black community by cultivating leadership. We aim to advocate for equity and inspire Black culture through arts and community development, now with a focused lens on economic development. We provide a safe space for Black residents to unpack, reflect, learn, and share what the needs are in the community. These Black healing spaces allow us to discuss our experiences, break bread, get grounded, bring fun activities, and provide training on issues, such as housing and sustainable-wage jobs. We also talk about Black exhaustion, allowing us to lean on each other and acknowledge not just the work we do in the community but also honor, appreciate, and uplift the humane part of who we are, because the work is heavy lifting and never-ending.  

Why do we do it? MCBC was birthed to anchor Black leadership and Black power-building to address structural racism and the economic inequities deeply ingrained in that structure. Personally, I’ve lived through redlining in neighboring cities, and being pushed into one small area known as City of Seaside. After being confined to Seaside, I also lived through the time when Black folks were being pushed out and experiencing Black erasure in Monterey County. At one point, Seaside was predominantly Black. Now that it’s more diverse, there’s not a lot of remnants of our history and how Seaside was created on the backs of Black people.  

Photo credit: Monterey County Black Caucus

What’s one lesson you have learned about what it takes to advance economic justice for Black communities in the Central Coast? How did this lesson influence your approach? 

One lesson I’ve learned is the absolute necessity of having a seat at the table and being represented — representing Black voices, feelings, experiences, and most importantly, Black needs. This has influenced my approach. I ensure that the Black community is always included, that we are part of the decision-making process and the implementation of the end goal, not just an afterthought. If we’re not a part of these conversations, we won’t have the awareness or access to the necessary resources we need not just to survive but to thrive. 

We also ensure that we join efforts with other organizations to increase alignment across all the communities. Black residents in various cities in Monterey County are experiencing inequities and the needs in each city are different. So, we make sure that all voices and needs are heard. That’s the beauty of the Monterey County Black Caucus. 

What are some of the community priorities you have identified through your work?  

Some of the main priorities we identified through our listening sessions are housing (one of the biggest priorities), sustainable jobs, support for small businesses, childcare, the power of voting, and safety for seniors.  

One huge priority in the Black community that we don’t always mention is the reintegration from reincarceration. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Black community experienced Reaganomics, the War on Drugs, and mass incarceration across California and the nation, so reintegration from reincarceration is a big priority. Another thing we don’t always touch on is bringing back the influence and inclusion of Black churches. This is crucial because Black churches have been a safety net and a safe space for Black fellowship and conversations throughout the years. A lot of our political education came out of the churches. They’re the originators of organizing.   

What makes you hopeful or optimistic about this work?  

Receiving funding. The funding from Irvine has really given us a lot of hope. MCBC already fosters a culture of reflection, evaluation, and learning to strengthen or pivot strategies, and to deeply understand the infrastructure and what’s needed to sustain economic growth. The investment from Irvine can serve as a catalyst for economic growth for Black communities across the county, and help us do storytelling and shift narratives about Black people, such as the dominant narrative that depicts Black people as lazy.  

We’re so excited about the $1 million grant we received because it allowed us to create a regranting process to pour back into the Black community. It also helped us have the necessary autonomy we need to center and uplift the Black community, entrepreneurs, and leaders, and give them an equitable opportunity to exist and thrive. Another thing that makes me hopeful and optimistic is the growth of our team through the addition of an Economic Justice Organizer, Black Caucus Coordinator, and a Community Health Worker. This is important because these are the moving pieces that will help us put the Black community in the center. 

How can funders better support your work and/or the Black community?   

They should continue providing funding, understanding the needs of the communities, and recognizing that one-time funding is not a cure-all. It’s important that funders dive deep into the proposals, listen to stories beyond those proposals, and take the time to come out and connect with the organizations and communities they support to see how funds are being used.  

Highlighting our work in philanthropic spaces is also important so that other funders can catch the fire and say, “We want to be part of that too.” But what’s really essential is supporting the work on the ground and being a funder. I really appreciate the connections we have with Irvine. For me, the experience is fairly new, but having this experience with Irvine has prepared me to really insist that this is the experience I should have with all funders.  

What does Black History and Futures Month mean to you?  

Black history is more than a month. We celebrate this month to honor those whose shoulders we stand on. We do everything possible to keep the torch lit to pass it from generation to generation. Some of the ways we do that is by celebrating and empowering the Black community through workshops, trainings, listening sessions, Black healing spaces and circles, and events like the annual MLK Day march and Black history programs throughout the county and colleges. We also collaborate with the Black churches, sororities, fraternities, and other Black-led and -serving organizations and agencies.  

Juneteenth is also one of our biggest celebrations — where we started in 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. From that, we developed Black August and are now looking at the whole month being the Black Business Month and how that ties into economic development. All of these intersect with economic development and making sure that Black voices are heard and are part of the engine that drives the economic vehicle. In this economic development work, it’s going to be awesome to see restoration in hopes of reparations. 

Masthead photo credit: Monterey County Black Caucus