Aug 11, 2022 27 min read

Getting to Better in My Hometown

"It's not going to get better on it's own. We actually have to do something to help us get to better." - Rev. Stacey Mills

Episode 29, 47 min listen

In this episode, we will learn how leaders in Greenville, SC have come together to make a difference in racial equity and economic mobility. We'll hear how the murder of George Floyd  served to inspire and motivate a strong group of leaders to take action and work towards lasting change across the community.    



If you're interested in more interviews from the Greenville area, check out these recent episodes:

Organizing the Interfaith Community for Equity and Justice - In this episode we speak with Reverend Kendra Plating and Rabbi Sam Rose from the Greenville County Interfaith Justice Network.

Eco-Justice - Justice for Whom? In this episode we talk with conservationist, Rebecca Bolich-Wade, about how we can use eco-justice, environmental justice, and the community commons to build more inclusive and equitable communities.

And nearby, in Columbia, S.C.:

More Justice - Learn how powerful an ally the interfaith community can be in the fight for justice and equity as we discover how More Justice is working to transform the Midlands of South Carolina.

Learn more about Greenville's Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission HERE.

See the United Way of Greenville's Racial Equity Index HERE.

Learn more about Economic Mobility and see how your community stacks up at Opportunity Insights.

Partner Organizations in REEM GVL:


Stacey D. Mills is the Executive Director of Greenville’s Race Equity and Economic Mobility Commission and  has served as Senior Pastor to the historic Mountain View Baptist Church in Downtown Greenville, South Carolina for the past 25 years. The third pastor in the 114 year history of Mountain View, Mills is a bridge-builder within his multigenerational and multiethnic congregation, as well as a vehicle to community development, partnerships and growth. Reverend Mills served as Assistant Pastor at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina prior to being called to lead the Mountain View Baptist Church in Greenville.

Pastor Mills has been bi-vocational for eighteen of his twenty-five years in the pastorate, a fact that he values and sees as an extension of his ministry. In this way, he taught students who were at risk for dropping out of high school in the Jobs for America’s Graduates, a program of the South Carolina Department of Commerce at Woodmont International Baccalaureate High School, from 2004 to 2009. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (English and Secondary Education) from the University of South Carolina Spartanburg (USC Upstate) in 1996.

Mills returned to USC Upstate in July 2009 as the assistant director of Student Life responsible for Multicultural Student Services, Leadership Programs, Non-Traditional Student Services, and NPHC Greek Life. In April 2016 he was named Vice Chancellor for Regional Engagement and Executive Director of USC Upstate Greenville Campuses, leading the USC Upstate Greenville team in an effort to adapt academic programs to the needs of the area’s workforce.

In addition to serving Mountain View and REEMGVL, Pastor Mills represents in several community initiatives to include the United Way of Greenville County; chairman of the Urban League of the Upstate Board of Directors, Boy Scouts of America Blue Ridge Council Board of Directors; the Rotary Club of Greenville; graduate of Leadership Greenville Class 40 and the Riley Institute at Furman’s South Carolina Diversity Leaders Initiative.

Reverend Mills is married to the former Jacqueline Burton of Johnston, South Carolina and together, with their children, Harrison, Kiersten and Zion, have made Greenville their home.



Reverend Stacey Mills  00:00

He says, “Dad, we really do live in a good community.” And I pushed a little bit and I said, “Do you mean our neighborhood? Do you think we live in a good neighborhood?” He said, “Greenville. I think we live in a good community.” For a young Black high school student who has twisted braids in his head, who plays football, who was in honors classes at Greenville High, I have to wake up every day and think we’ve got to live that promise and make good on what his expectation is. Not only Zion Mills at now 16, but all other 16-year-old kids who are looking for the adults to behave in a way that they can max out on their hometown lived experience

Ame Sanders  00:56

So today, we’re happy to welcome Reverend Stacey Mills, the Executive Director of the Greenville Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission–we call it REEM–in Greenville, South Carolina. Welcome, Reverend Mills; I’m so pleased to have you on the podcast.

Reverend Stacey Mills  01:11

Thanks so much, Ame. Appreciate this opportunity to be able to share with you and your listeners the work of REEM in Greenville.

-About Rev. Mills

Ame Sanders  01:20

Before we get started talking about what REEM does, what I’d really like to understand is just a little bit more about you. This is a particularly challenging role. It’s not an easy, typical job to take on. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to this work?

Reverend Stacey Mills  01:38

Certainly. Thank you for that, that question and the opportunity to be able to share in that way. You’re exactly right. This is brand new. This month three for me in this role. This work started–as far as the commission is concerned–June 1 of 2020. Previously, I have worked in the realm of education, particularly higher education, the last 14 years. For five years prior to that it was public education in K-12 and I’ve pastored a church for 25 years in downtown Greenville, a church that’s 114 years old this year. I happen to be the third pastor in that history and have seen a lot of growing up in this process.

I always like to say I grew up physically in Spartanburg. I born in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in Spartanburg where both sides of my family hail from Spartanburg County. But I grew up professionally in Greenville and specifically on the southern side of town where Mountain View Baptist Church exists and have just learned a lot about our community and about that neighborhood and the demographic that we’re going to speak about today prevalently from that side of town, in what is known as West Greenville.

-Racial Equity and Economic Mobility Commission

Ame Sanders  03:02

Maybe you can tell us just a little bit about the work that REEM is doing. How do you define the ambition that you have for REEM?

Reverend Stacey Mills  03:12

Ambition is a terrific word to lead into this. Because it is ambitious to think that we can address the issues that really have characterized the Black community experience in not only Greenville but as you mentioned other metropolitan areas across our country to now be able to marry this data that is true across lots of fronts to a programmatic action-oriented medium that really helps us get to better in the community. For me, Greenville has seen so much growth, but the Black demographic lags behind in so many areas: homeownership in particular, graduation rates, creation of wealth, all of those areas, health equity, the ability to access health. All of those demographics suggests to us that the gap is getting wider in Greenville in particular. Black household’s income is 56% of white household income in Greenville. That average is worse than the state and the United States national averages and that trend tends to continue to widen.

The REEM Commission formed after George Floyd’s death and in 2020 35 commissioners from very high-level policy engagement in our city and county came together to talk about how is it that the Black community is faring in Greenville. So, what’s difficult, Ame, is approaching a very emotional time in the nation, a very emotional time in our community, to really factor out the data and work with the facts, but at the same time have commitment towards people having a better experience at Greenville, South Carolina.

For me, it’s what I preach every Sunday on Sunday mornings to a congregation of working-class people whose experiences vary from the first African American to enroll at Furman University and graduate to Lillian Fleming who’s the first female to enroll and graduate from Furman University to historically the first Black magistrate judge in our church, to folks who have supported themselves domestically by working in other people’s homes. It’s just a wide chasm and multigenerational people, and a nice slice of our everyday Main Street community. These are folks I see every day that really should have a fair shot at the quality of life that Greenville offers. Why not? Why does this demographic fair less or in a difficult way, and several studies that have been conducted really do inform why I believe personally, that this is worthwhile, that we should be able to experience better in our community, and that everybody, regardless of race, should be able to access what we think is so great in our community, and have that show up as far as lived experiences are concerned.

Ame Sanders  07:15

There’s just so much to unpack in what you said, so I’m gonna go back and revisit a few points to kind of dig into them a little bit deeper. So first, you told us that this sort of came together after George Floyd’s death, and the community’s will (or leaders in the community’s will) to see something happen more positively in Greenville for our Black community. You also told us, though, that here things are inequitable and that there are a lot of disparities and they’re not getting better. Without attention and without focus they seem to be continuing to get worse. It is clearly an emotional and challenging subject.

You also shared with us a little bit about your background, which means that you are very well connected with the breadth of the community at all different levels in the community. And that’s really helpful because this is very broad and deep work that has to happen to make this change in our community. Several times you mentioned data, and I happen to be kind of a data nerd. Can you talk a little bit about how you guys looked at the data of this–step away from the emotion for a moment, we’ll come back to that–but the data of this and what you learned and how you tackle that? Because that’s pretty hard for communities to think about how to do that.

-Starting with data: Race Equity Index

Reverend Stacey Mills  08:42

Absolutely. So, the United Way commissioned a race equity index or a race equity study. Kathleen Brady led that work for the United Way. That’s where we get these figures from, that 56% of the wealth in Greenville is that of white households, and that Black households are lagging behind. That data really caused us to pause and the Race Equity Institute out of Durham, North Carolina, builds their work on a philosophy that if you pass by a lake or a river, and there’s a fish that’s out on the banks or floating on the water, and you see it and you think, “Well, what’s wrong with that fish?” But if you pass by that same body of water and there are several fish on the bank or on the floating on top, then you ask, “What’s wrong with the water?”

So, bearing that in mind, looking at our water, if you will, what is wrong with this landscape that impairs Black families or Black individuals from being able to progress at the rate is equal to their peers in this community? So, the race equity index really digs into the disparities in education, health and wellness, criminal justice, as well as income and wealth. When we think about that aggregation of information, you’re exactly right, we extract from it emotion, and really dig into what are the practices? What are the policies? We also realize that in neighborhoods dating back to the early 1900s, there were racially restrictive covenants for neighborhoods that didn’t allow Black families to purchase homes, redlining, as far as mortgage loans from banks that did not lend to people of color or for certain neighborhoods.

So those are all factors from the data that says, “There is something that we need to think about.” You’re exactly right. Left alone, it’s not going to get better on its own. We actually have to do something to help us get to better, and REEM is seeing itself as part of that solution to getting to better. The grassroots folks, the end users, if you will, I think are a part of this equation as well. So, that data is much about those folks that are at the end on the other side of the policies. I look forward to engaging that segment of our community in this work as well. So, holding a respectful tension between data and policy and folks who are surviving every day under the scenarios that we’re talking about.

Ame Sanders  11:50

So, I really liked what you shared from Raleigh about the question of seeing a lot of fish on the bank and asking what’s wrong with the water? What does it mean when so many people are not able to reach their potential in our community? And what does that say about our community, not the individuals, but our community. So, I think that’s a really powerful image. What is it that gives you hope for the work that you’re doing that it’s going to make a difference?

Reverend Stacey Mills  12:16

When I look around the room at the commissioners that represent such a diverse demographic, in terms of disciplines and areas specific to this work, we’ve got folks who are in industry, folks who are working in banking, folks who are working in the criminal justice system, our sheriff was at the table, our chief of police at the table, our mayor, the chairman of the county council, all of these folks, when you read that list of 35 commissioners, we’re not going at it alone. These are folks who have committed themselves for two years. In addition to their professional work, they took on the challenge of looking at where we are in our community as it relates to race equity and economic mobility. So, that’s encouraging.

The other side of that is the willingness of so many folks to come to the table and be engaged and who are interested. Folks like yourself that want to help get the information out to the public. That’s really encouraging. I honestly think, Ame, that we have a moment where this data is available to us and folks like Kathleen and like universities that are in our area that are so committed to picking up the challenge and participating with their expertise and the level of commitment that they have whether it’s Clemson University, Furman University, USC, Upstate, Anderson University, Greenville Technical College, all of these schools have participated at some level in this work. Whether it’s lending us the expertise of faculty and administration to dig a little bit deeper into this concept of town and gown that universities exist in their communities to not only provide the Baccalaureate education for their students, but to help lift the standard in the communities in which they exist. So, they’re not just absorbing the resources, huge geographic footprint, but they are helping in the cerebral context to lift the lived experience for those folks who are a part of that community.

I am so encouraged by the moment in time where we are and the ability of us to come to the table and bring all of what is good as far as those resources are concerned, that typically have been siloed but at this point it’s a conglomeration. It is a true togetherness. Yes, we’ve had the hard, emotional discussions. We’ve had moments of tears. We’ve had sessions where we’ve talked about our own upbringing, our childhoods, our childhood experiences across the board. I think we have an incredible cross section of professional individuals who have been committed to sharing, but also forging ahead, how do we get better.

We admit that we don’t know all of the answers, so that we make room for others to come to the table to help us get there. It is a genuine approach. So that, for me is inspirational and encouraging. Encouraging enough to walk away from 18 years of public education to start something that’s very brand new in our communities. So, fingers crossed for successful navigation of this landscape.

-Grass Tops and Grassroots

Ame Sanders  16:06

You’ve talked about the breadth of folks who’ve come around this subject. One of the things that you mentioned to me in an earlier discussion we had you talked about grass tops and grassroots. Could we talk a minute about the folks in the community that this work is intended to serve? How do you bring them to the table? How do you share in the power of decision making? How do we make them part of the solution and changing the community?

Reverend Stacey Mills  16:38

Really, when we think about everyday people in our community–folks who are holding down more than one job to have a livable wage, those households where children live, whose parents are parenting and sending them to school, relying on the education system to educate but protect and take care of children while they go work those multiple jobs, which means that parent isn’t showing up for a 10am PTA meeting–we have to think about how to engage families who aren’t in the traditional mode of the experiences that families have been accustomed to. If we want them at the table, we’ve got to think about how to create spaces to welcome them for their feedback. Not all families have computer access. If you have a computer, do you have WiFi? So, we have to think about those things. We have to think about people who depend on Medicaid for health care in our state. These are the folks who are using the emergency room as their primary care physician’s office for things that could be taken care of in a doctor’s office. These are the people that these policies and this data really paints the picture for.

One study says to us that a child born in poverty in Greenville is in the 94th percentile of the likelihood of being able to get out of that poverty. Overlay that statistic with race and make it Black and gender (Black male) and it makes it even worse than a 94th percentile of getting out of poverty. In a very vibrant thriving community such as Greenville, South Carolina. When we look at homeownership rates, whites occupy 83% of owner-occupied housing in Greenville. 56% of the homeless population in Greenville is Black. 22.5% of Black children live in areas of concentrated poverty, while only 4.8% of white children do so.

This is illustrative of the grassroots that really need some of this watering that the grasstops get so often. We work at the grass tops so often it’s what we see. Our vision, our line of sight is typically where we live and where we work, but if you don’t drive off the beaten path, you don’t know that there are children living in concentrated poverty. 22.5 percent. You don’t know that there are neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores within a reasonable distance to their homes. And so, when we think about this work, it’s really pulling back the layers that are between the tops and the roots and figuring out how to bridge that. So, this data is so important. It is the material that constructs the bridge for us to navigate into places that we have and to also hopefully bring some people up from those grass roots that really have been inhibited by lack of resources.

I don’t mean resources always as money. When we think about our networks, when there are issues, we can pick up the phone and call somebody and get an answer or get assistance to get something done. We cannot assume that others in our community have that resource within reach. So, I’m excited about creating an information network that will help people expand their network and the resources that they have access to.

In addition to that, really bring the experts into the community to have some discussions, gloves off, and invite people to the table. I’m so excited about creating town hall moments where we can go into the neighborhoods and talk about these five areas. We haven’t gotten to them yet in this discussion, but to take each of them and bring the data and translate so that people can understand what we’ve been talking about for two years in our meetings, policy wise and how that translates into action where people can touch it, feel it, experience change, enjoy living in this community and feel like they belong in the community that they’ve merely existed in. There is a difference between a surviving household and a thriving household and this work really creates an energy for me in hopefulness that more families can thrive rather than just survive.

-Five Areas of Focus

Ame Sanders  22:08

Several of the things that you just talked about I want to bring them up to the surface again and revisit them for a second. One is the idea that the data is a bridge or is really helpful, but it is always representing real people who live in our community, real people who struggle to thrive as you’re saying in our community, and we can’t ever lose sight of that.

The other thing that you mentioned reminds me that for a lot of folks, particularly who are like me, perhaps who are privileged, who have not really struggled a lot, you have to hold two things in your head (probably lots more than that) but at least these two things in your head at the same time. Greenville is a beautiful and thriving community, but it is not a beautiful and thriving community for everyone. There still are significant, significant disparities that you shared a lot of statistics about the differences that we see in our community and they’re real. Maybe it’s a good time now to talk about the areas of work that what you’re doing.

Reverend Stacey Mills  23:17

Absolutely. There are five areas that the Commission believed were important for us to look at and there was a subcommittee for each of these focus areas with co-chairs that worked with experts in each of these fields to bring the data and also help examine policy for each of them.

So, income and wealth, health and wellness, education, criminal justice, and community-wide learning. These are the focus areas. If some of your listeners’ areas of importance and their priorities didn’t make this list, it doesn’t mean that it’s not important. It doesn’t mean that those issues don’t exist around those particular topics. But, we believe that these were broad topics, and base enough that everybody in our community is impacted by each of these.

Income and wealth, everybody’s somehow involved with spending and economically participating in our society and how you live and where you live is important.

If the pandemic showed us anything, it showed us the disparities between communities and how impacted they are by a foreign health issue that only exacerbates existing health conditions that were already disparate in demographic communities.

When we look at education, 69% of white students meet or exceed the third grade reading standard, where only 31% of Black students exceed or meet the third grade reading standard. So, education is important if we see that as a pathway out of poverty or a pathway up the ladder to economic success.

Criminal justice, we’ve seen negative correlations between graduation rates and rates of incarceration. Why is that? Why is the demographic of Black incarcerated young people so much higher than that of others?

Then community wide learning. What are the spaces? How do we tap into our learning resources? Where do we get our information from? So, we are grateful for the opportunity to unpack but as you said earlier, and I will agree, it is a lot of work. So, we’re trying to untie some of those knots and invite people to the platform that wouldn’t ordinarily come out, wouldn’t ordinarily speak about their experiences, and figure out how we can merge those folks who are professionals who work in those spaces, and folks who are benefiting from the work that’s being done.

Ame Sanders  26:40

Just practically, you’ve prioritized these five areas, you used a lot of data, but also a lot of expertise to prioritize these five. You have teams that are focused on each of these individual areas. You are working to bridge and bring together professionals and experts in this space with folks who live some of the disparities that we’re seeing every day so that those conversations can take place and the solutions that come out of that can be realistic and practical and achievable.

So, I think that’s really important for anybody who’s thinking about organizing an initiative like this, that they are able to tackle such a big breadth of work, they’re able to divide it up, share the responsibility across teams. It sounds like at least in Greenville, there have been a lot of people who’ve been willing to come to the table to make that happen and to contribute which is really, really important. So, you have a you have a pretty big army out there working on this.

Reverend Stacey Mills  27:49

Yeah. Listening to you summarize it and bring it back to me, I’m like, “Wow. This is a lot. This is a lot of work.” But, it absolutely is. I’m also grateful for the reminder in your summary about who all is at the table. Thinking about Megan Barp at United Way and Carlos Phillips at our Chamber of Commerce, and Gail Wilson Awan at the Urban League, those three organizations that have come together to give the framework of this work, and Sean Dogan who was involved with it moral code, a retired judge in our community who co-chaired  along with David Lominack, President of the TD Bank in Greenville, all of whom are trusted, respected leaders in our community who came together who did not have to come together, but did to begin to thread this needle on the work that needs to be done.

So, with that leadership at the top, and then the commissioners themselves, who represent such a vast part of our community, we can’t do this in isolation. And to have this level of support at this moment in time suggests to me that we can get some early wins out of this work.

Ame Sanders  28:41

It certainly sounds like you benefit from being sponsored by and supported by these organizations that are themselves already used to working across the community in a very big way. And so that helps to set the tone for the work that is yet to be done and that needs to be done. And it also helps to marshal the resources that you will need in order to achieve it.

So, I think it’s really fortunate and something for folks who are listening to reflect on is where you attach this work really can color the nature of the work that you’re able to take on. So, building these coalitions of people who already work at a very broad level in the community and who have a breadth of connections that make this kind of change possible seems really important.

-How You Start is Everything to How You End

Reverend Stacey Mills  30:09

Sure. How you start is everything to how you end and having the kind of support that we have at the beginning, it certainly drew my attention to the work. You’re right, when we think about the organizations that are involved in laying the foundation, and their breadth of collaborative partners–you think about the chamber and all of the businesses that network through the chamber in Greenville–that alone just really suggests a very broad spectrum of involvement, or at least audience that we can reach with the message from a business perspective. From a community of helps and services the United Way, I mean, what better partner than the United Way with all of the resources, the wraparound services, the connections to organizations in our community that both looked to the United Way for support, but also have resources for people who are in the trenches that need help. The same with the Urban League with education leading as it’s one of its top priorities. We know early on from a national perspective, the level of commitment in communities that the Urban League brings. So, with those three alone we see hope and we see a well-defined structure of communicating across organizations to help the community be better.

Ame Sanders  31:48

So, you talked about how you start affects how you end. So, let’s talk about how you see the finish line? How will you measure your milestones along the way?

-Goals Along the Way

Reverend Stacey Mills  32:01

Ame, I don’t know that I can see the finish line. I can see goals along the path. I am so honored that our community would give me this opportunity to think about in context of community, the community that I’ve learned over the last 25 years, there are some early wins. These town halls help us to engage people who feel isolated, that feel like they have not been invited to the table or had an opportunity to participate at the table. We oftentimes speak about the same subject, but use different language to speak about that subject.

So, there is an in-community language that we get to use to talk about the topics that have been at times evasive to the community, although I’ve often heard and ascribe to this theory, that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the table. So, those discussions often include those households that may not be in the room. So, for me, that’s an early win. We also have the opportunity to engage folks, as you said, many of us have lived privileged lives and privilege doesn’t know race. So, there are other folks in community who don’t have any idea how people are living on the other side of the tracks. So, bringing us all together, being able to unpack the data, those early wins. To have folks in the room who have those epiphany moments where they say, “I didn’t realize that,” but are not shutting down and dismissive of other people’s real lived experiences and giving those folks an opportunity to exhale and share the truth of what they’ve experienced and talk about how do we get there.

Generational wealth typically is created through homeownership in our country and in our community. For those families that have not had the opportunity to own, they then have not had the opportunity to create or pass down wealth. So, the language about wealth has to be in terms that people where wealth has evaded them can understand what that means and to be able to share with the next generations opportunities to thrive and not just survive.

Ame Sanders  34:40

I’m very encouraged by the picture that you paint and the future that you see and the work that you’re doing. I guess I’m going to ask you, where do you draw your inspiration?

-Drawing Inspiration

Reverend Stacey Mills  34:51

So, I’ll start in my house, Ame. Honestly, I just am privileged to be a husband and a father. My wife teaches biological sciences in Greenville County schools, public K-12. She’s been at the same high school for 21 years–Eastside High School. The stories that I hear from her, some of the celebrations, but also some of the challenges. When we think about those learned moments, or those moments of exchanging learning in an education setting, it really turns the light on for me. The gleam in her eye about her students, or if we’re out in public and somebody comes up to her. This is a true-life story, Ame: we’re in the hospital with our own daughter and one of the attending physicians for my daughter recognizes my wife and stops what she’s doing and tells all of the other folks in the room that this was my biology teacher that inspired me to go to med school and I can’t believe I get to see her today. That kind of real-life story in a community that we live in and where we raise our children.

My daughter just graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, graduated from J.L. Mann High School, (as did her brother, who is a senior cadet at West Point, the US Military Academy in New York) these folks inspire me in ways that I can’t even imagine with just their experiences, how vast they are. I certainly can’t leave out my now 16-year-old.

I serve on several boards and during the pandemic, most of our meetings have been virtual. I’m on a particular board, we were having a meeting early morning, I’m driving him to school, and he mutes the zoom in the car, and he says, “Dad, we really do live in a good community.” And I pushed a little bit and I said, ‘Do you mean our neighborhood? Do you think we live in a good neighborhood?” Now he said, “Greenville. I think we live in a good community.” And for a young Black high school student who has twisted braids in his head, who plays football, who was in honors classes at Greenville High, I have to wake up every day and think we’ve got to live that promise and make good on what his expectation is. Not only Zion Mills at now 16, but all other 16-year-old kids who are looking for the adults to behave in a way that they can max out on their hometown lived experience.

Whether that’s a baseball game at the Drive stadium, or football in Sirrine stadium or any other fourteen high schools we have in our community, not to mention the homeschool athletic programs. We really do have a incredible, diverse, vibrant community that should be accessible for everybody. That’s where I get my immediate inspiration from.

But, when I drive around town, I’m in board meetings, I chair the Greenville Health Authority Board of Trustees, I’m on the United Way’s board. I’m on the Urban League’s Board of Trustees. I’m on the Piedmont Health Foundation’s Board of Trustees. All of this work that’s going on in our community is definitely inspirational. I get to interact up close with mental health providers who are not shutting their eyes or turning their back on people who are struggling in our community and every day trying to come up with solutions to how to get to better. I get to visit Welcome Elementary School and see programs that are in operation by the Communities in Schools program or these programs that are helping teachers not only turn the light on for their students and education, but address some of the issues that are barriers to that learning that happens in those classrooms. Senior citizens in our community. Greenlink Transportation that is expanding its ridership and increasing its hours to help people navigate the transportation barrier to getting jobs and getting across town and folks that live in inner city Greenville getting out to Simpsonville to experience the town of Simpsonville. That happens when we connect people to the resources that make that happen.

So, I am inspired by what is happening on Main Street. I’m inspired by our civic and municipal leaders who are committed. I’m inspired by teachers who are doing the work. Our superintendent and other administrators who are working, our law enforcement personnel who are willing to come to the table and roll up their sleeves and say, “You know what, we can stand to look at how we do business in a different way and let’s take measured steps to get there.”

For some who are listening, we might not be moving fast enough. But, I would say to them and to others, we’re thankful we are moving. As we move, then we can learn the pace that is right for a city and a county like Greenville, South Carolina. We can do that by bringing others to the table. I’m grateful that while there may be criticism, there really are more people at work trying to get to positive solution. And that is what I wake up with the privilege of going to work every day, to engage people in those spaces to help that work be achievable.

Ame Sanders  41:00

I particularly love the fact that you started with being inspired at home, by the people in your own family, because it reminds us all that we can draw inspiration from those around us. I also like the way that you expressed that it makes you feel more accountable to live the promise that that inspiration gives you. So, thank you for sharing that with us.

Reverend Stacey Mills  41:27

Sure, I’d love to also just talk about how inspirational my own faith community has been in this process for me. The folks that I get to interact with and see who are just from varying walks of life, how that’s been impactful in my life. So, one of the things that I would suggest now that we are cautiously back out in spaces is to go get involved. Go to some of these communal spaces, like the library, the parks and green spaces that are in Greenville.

We are so fortunate to have so many amenities. I just want to encourage people to go out and about, say hello to somebody that you don’t know. Start in your own neighborhood who your neighbors are, knowing who they are but getting to know and genuinely inquiring about people’s wellbeing.

I think that one of the threads in our community is community itself. What does that look like? Own your community in terms of the connections that you have. Be proud of that. I think that we can celebrate that without infringing on other people’s sources of pride and happiness as well. That we can make space. One of the things that I often say about Greenville is it’s evident to me from the art culture, the theater culture, the food and cuisine options that we have are so vast. We have a world-class community, and I say that and will take anybody to task on that. You can hear so many languages spoken in places in public in downtown Greenville. Whether it’s tourist or new residents, but we are lacking world-class systems.

REEM and other organizations in our community like it are tackling the tough policies to help build systems that undergird this world-class community that we’ve built, and that we envision. That will only grow. More and more people are choosing this community and we should help those who have been here and who have helped build the community enjoy what the community has to offer to so many. Opening these doors and these lines of communication certainly is a start to getting to better in our community. I’m so thankful for this opportunity to share that with you and with your listeners and to go to work every day to work on this.

Ame Sanders  44:10

Well, Reverend Mills, thank you for the work you do in the community where I live. And thank you for the advice that you’ve shared with our audience. We certainly wish you the best in the work that you’re doing and thanks for taking time to be on the podcast today.

Reverend Stacey Mills  44:24

Thank you, Ame.


Ame Sanders  44:27

Let’s take a minute and reflect on a few of the things that we heard in our discussion with Reverend Mills. So Reverend Mills reminded us that when we see one fish on the bank, we think to ourselves, “What’s wrong with that fish?” But when we see a lot of fish on the bank, we think to ourselves, “What’s wrong with that water?”

The Racial Equity and Economic Mobility work in Greenville is taking a hard look at the water or the systems and policies that have led to so many inequities. Their work has been solidly grounded in data and understanding the community. He reminded us that where we began has everything to where we end. Greenville is starting from a well-placed coalition of partners, like the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Urban League, partners who are accustomed to working across complex and broad community issues. They bring to this work their own rich set of connections and resources. Reverend Mills also reminded us that in doing this work, it is so critical to bridge what he called the grasstops and the grassroots. He said that they were leveraging data to build bridges between the grasstops and the grassroots.

He reminded us that they’re bringing policymakers together with those who have lived experience, and they’re using in-community language to discuss the challenges that people face every day in Greenville. They’re helping to develop shared solutions along the way and open the eyes of those who may not even realize how their neighbors are being impacted and how they’re living every day. Finally, he reminded us, we can draw inspiration from those closest to us, our family, our faith community, those around us every day, and that we can progress when we let the expectations of those around us inspire us, but also help us to build accountability in the work ahead. I was excited to speak with Reverend Mills and share the work REEM is doing to get to better in my hometown. Maybe this discussion in this podcast will help you on your journey to get to better in your hometown.


Guest: Rev. Stacey Mills

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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