Charleston, SC, the future needs diversity and inclusion in the economy


Jennie L. Stephens has been the Executive Director of the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation since its inception in 2005. At the center, she is responsible for overall strategic planning, revenue generation, financial management, organizational development, management program staff and operations. .


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Most of the estate of the heirs in the Lowcountry is land acquired by African Americans after emancipation.

Much of this land has been passed down from generation to generation without a will, so that the land belongs “in common” to several heirs. This unstable form of ownership exposes this land to a high risk of loss, as any heir can sell his property right to another who can force the sale of the entire property in court.

Ownership matters to people.

It’s more than just a piece of land. It can be a window into the past that tells the story of a family, community or way of life.

Knowing the history and culture of your family creates a sense of belonging and belonging.

The loss of the property of the heirs has an impact on the community, not just on a family.

A bright future for Charleston should include everyone, together, and it obviously hasn’t always been so.

To look to the future, we cannot forget the past. Diversity and inclusion should be at the forefront of our planning and preparation.

Overcoming past mistrust will be the key to any progress.

This is where the Center for the Preservation of Heir Property comes in.

The centre’s mission from day one has been to protect the property of heirs and promote the sustainable use of land to provide increased economic benefits to historically underserved families through education and legal and forestry services.

At the heart of the Centre’s work is building trust in the African American community where mistrust and fear of authority and the legal system is still pervasive.

Once trust is established, these communities are open to receiving the education that the center offers.

Through this bridge of trust, the center saw first-hand how knowledge increases confidence, self-determination, better decision-making and an ability to act to positively change the situation of a family.

We have been very successful in our mission not only here in Charleston, but in the 22 counties we serve in South Carolina.

Vulnerable, underserved landowners unwittingly lost their homestead due to contested claims, unaffordable high transaction costs, forced sales to speculators, and outright fraud.

Preserving intergenerational family wealth is essential to help bridge the racial wealth gap.

Whether rural or urban, most of the family’s wealth rests on its biggest asset, its home. The ownership of heirs disproportionately affects people of color, in part because of racial differences in estate planning that transcend education.

Poor people don’t sit around the kitchen table and talk about estate planning.

It is unfortunate, but nonetheless true. Inheritance and land use can be a difficult conversation to have. Often these people have been exploited.

So often in our work we hear people say that they are tired of working for their land.

We knew that once these families were given clear title to their properties, we had to rescind that declaration, so that the land could finally work for them.

Our forestry program, and our efforts to help make the land work for the families who own it, have helped create a landowner movement that has the power to unleash the cultural and natural resources of the land in these marginalized communities that creates a generational family wealth as well as ecological restoration.

It is the mission and call of the Center for Heir’s Property Preservation to help families learn to care for their land and property.

It’s about history, family dynamics, the opportunity to help people and their communities now, as well as future generations.

The continuing juggernaut of development in Charleston, combined with a system of archaic property laws, not to mention the looming threat of climate change, has cruelly stacked the odds against the underserved.

They pay a higher price for all these problems and more.

The rules of the game must be balanced to propel Charleston into a future we can all be proud of and share together.

Dr. Jennie L. Stephens directs the Center for Heir’s Property Preservation.

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