Dangerous History: What the Story of Black Economic Cooperation Means for Us Today

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Keane Bhatt
Yes! Magazine
October 7, 2015

Keane Bhatt, The Next System Project: Thank you for speaking with us. I was really excited to talk to you, because it seems that your intellectual and scholarly trajectory maps toward system change. Could you tell us a bit more about that trajectory, and how you began to tackle system-level questions?

Jessica Gordon Nembhard: I came from a family that was dedicated to social justice—a family that was very involved in trying to make social and economic change. And I felt like people didn’t know enough about economics, and that the economists that were out there had a kind of tyranny over the standard models and weren’t allowing other models to come out. So I decided that I was going to study economics and figure out where the inroads were to make economics liberating, as opposed to being constraining and exploitative.

So as I started studying economics, I became interested in international development and finance capital, because I realized that finance was one of the major areas contributing to inequality and supporting the current system. And that was my specialty coming out of my Ph.D. But then I started looking at domestic economic development, and economic development in black communities. I started looking into actual alternatives, particularly for community economic development. That’s when I focused my work on how to do real, community-based economic development that meant community-owned, community-initiated, real grassroots democracy, and prosperity for all—democratic community economies.

That’s also where I came across cooperatives as a model, and discovered that they have actually been used throughout all centuries, and by all kinds of groups. It wasn’t really just a European thing or what European immigrants did in the U.S., but was something that all groups have practiced and worked on, sometimes just for survival, but sometimes also with a larger vision in mind for how they could really change society and bring prosperity to the whole group.

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