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Twenty Years Of Building An Economic Alternative To Capitalism In The US

The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives recently turned twenty years old. Clearing the FOG speaks with Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, a professor and author of “Collective Courage: A History of African-American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice,” and a charter member of the USFWC, about the work to create a national cooperative organization and the rise of the cooperative economy in the United States. She spoke about the role that cooperatives have played in advancing social and economic justice, the benefits of cooperatives not only to the individual but also more broadly to their communities, and the history of cooperatives that preceded the rise of capitalism and also how cooperative economies offer a better alternative to capitalism.

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Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhard is Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College, of the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City, USA, where she is also Director of the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. She is an affiliate scholar at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, where she is co-investigator for the “Measuring the Impact of Credit Unions,” Community and University Research Partnerships (CURA) project; and an affiliate scholar with the Economics Department’s Center on Race and Wealth at Howard University.

Dr. Gordon Nembhard is a political economist specializing in community economics, Black Political Economy and popular economic literacy. Her research and publications explore problematics and alternative solutions in cooperative economic development and worker ownership, community economic development, wealth inequality and community-based asset building, and community-based approaches to justice. She has recently completed a book on Black cooperatives: Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice (2014 The Pennsylvania State University Press). Collective Courage was a finalist for the University of Memphis Benjamin L. Hicks National Book Award for 2014.

Gordon Nembhard’s publications include: “Understanding and Measuring the Benefits and Impacts of Co-operatives” (2015 in Co-operatives for Sustainable Communities: Tools to Measure Co-operative Impact and Performance St. Mary’s University Halifax); “Community-Based Asset Building and Community Wealth” (2014 Review of Black Political Economy); “Community Development Credit Unions: Securing and Protecting Assets in Black Communities” (2013 Review of Black Political Economy); Wealth Accumulation and Communities of Color in the US (2006, co-edited with Ngina Chiteji); “Micro Enterprise and Cooperative Development in Economically Marginalized Communities in the U.S.” (In Enterprise, Social Exclusion and Sustainable Communities, 2011); “Theorizing and Practicing Democratic Community Economics: Engaged Scholarship, Economic Justice, and the Academy” (In Engaging Contradictions, 2008); “Cooperative Ownership in the Struggle for African American Economic Empowerment” (2004 Humanity & Society); and “Educating Black Youth for Economic Empowerment: Democratic Economic Participation and School Reform Practices and Policies” (in Handbook of African American Education, 2008).

Dr. Gordon Nembhard is the 2014 recipient of the “ONI Award” from the International Black Women’s Congress, and the 2011 recipient of the “Cooperative Advocacy and Research” Award from the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy. She is a member of the Shared Leadership Team of Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) DC, and member of the board of directors of the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE), Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter (and Ecological Democracy Institute of North America Vice President), the CEJJES Institute (past President and current Treasurer); and former board member of the National Economic Association (past President and past Treasurer) and founding board member of the Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (currently on the advisory board). She is a co-founder of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network; the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy; and the Democracy Collaborative (at the University of Maryland). In addition, she is a charter member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives; a member of The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, and a member of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project.

Dr. Gordon Nembhard was a visiting scholar in the Economics Department at Howard University (2008-09), and was Master Teacher (July 2007 and 2009) at its Center on Race and Wealth’s Summer Institute for Research on Race and Wealth. She was previously Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park; Research Director of the Preamble Center (Washington, DC); Senior Economist at the Institute for Urban Research, Morgan State University; and Acting Deputy Director and Economic Development Analyst for the Black Community Crusade for Children at the Children’s Defense Fund. She is the recipient of a Henry C. Welcome Fellowship Grant from the Maryland Higher Education Commission (2001-2004). She received a 2008 USDA grant on the economic impact of cooperatives (distributed through the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives) to study wealth accumulation through cooperative ownership. She began her appointment to the Black Enterprise Board of Economists in October 1999.

Jessica Gordon Nembhard earned a Ph.D. and an M.A. in economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1992 and 1989, respectively). She earned her B.A. degree, magna cum laude, in Literature and African American Studies from Yale University (1978); and an M.A.T. in Elementary Curriculum and Teaching from Howard University (1982).  She is the proud mother of two children (Stephen and Susan) and two grandsons (Stephon and Hugo Nembhard).

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