The climate described in the early chapters of Back to Dixie is strikingly similar to today’s America. In fact, the book mirrored our reality up until early 2021 when the first draft was completed. Consequently, the characters in Back to Dixie also experienced the rash of civil rights offenses and the meaningless deaths of so many innocent Black people—many by the hands of someone in a position of authority. They witnessed or participated in the marches and protests, as we did. They also waited for verdicts and sentencings, hoping that justice would prevail, but expecting the worse.
In the book, many were as fed up with the degree by which Black lives were devalued, as they were by the hesitance of the country’s leaders to acknowledge that systemic racism existed. So, it wasn’t a surprise that when democratic Pennsylvania Governor, Jim Weldon, announced his candidacy for president, vowing to purposefully address systemic racism, the Black community rallied behind him. In fact, if not for their overwhelming support, Weldon would have lost the 2020 elections to the incumbent Republican president. When the Democratic majority in the House grew in the 2022 elections, Weldon had the necessary support to pass the SCALE Act, signing it into law in February 2023. It became the single most impactful law for Black people since the Voting Rights in 1965.
Here is a summary of the key provisions of the SCALE Act of 2023:
Employment and Income
- Employers must adhere to strict compliance ranges for hiring, promotion, and compensation data across racial and gender lines.
- Employers reporting ‘out-of-range’ data for two consecutive quarters were subject to substantial tax penalties.
- A one-time interest-free loan of $50,000 was available to each Black or impoverished citizen. Repayment may be deferred orforgiven based on income.
- Universities and professional schools could no longer require the use of standardized test scores for admission or placement purposes.
- Schools must report diversity data for admission, student retention, and graduation rates and ensure additional resources be made available to higher risk students. Schools reporting ‘out-of-range’ for extended periods no longer qualified for federal financial aid.
- New education grants covered all expenses for qualified full-time students from underrepresented groups, including those in graduate and professional schools.
- Zero-interest mortgages were available to applicants from underrepresented groups. In the case of hardship, loan payments may be paused indefinitely without penalty.
- Housing subsidies representing up to $2,000 per month were paid to those citizens that decided to rent instead of owning a home. Amounts depended on family size and cost of living.
- The cases of nonviolent offenders were reviewed for transfer to newly funded and built rehabilitation and job training centers.
- Independent peer reviews were completed for all sentencing decisions involving prison.
- Funding for mentorship, job placement, and counseling programs for newly released inmates was earmarked.
- Medical students from underrepresented groups became eligible for a $50,000 annual stipend in exchange for committing to work five years in the community after graduating.
- Doctors working in underrepresented communities also received a $50,000 annual stipend. Registered nurses and other medical professionals in these areas received a $25,000 payment.
- Hospitals and clinics in these communities were eligible for subsidized purchase of medical equipment and supplies.
- Universal affordable health care
In Back to Dixie, SCALE was received well by many people, as the nation was called into action against systemic racism, and most people and businesses committed to supporting the substantial change that SCALE promised. Of course, there were also many detractors, mostly across party lines. Most of the opposition to the laws felt that the cost was too high, while some never believed that there was ever an issue with systemic racism in the first place. Nevertheless, the changes had the desired impact. In the five years after the law went into effect, gaps between whites and Blacks in employment, income, education, home ownership, and arrests were closed more substantively than during any similar period in the country’s history.
A surprising and unexpected development was that the law had a net positive impact on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), with the economy fueled by the increased spending of the newly gainfully employed. More Black students were attending college and pursuing professional degrees than ever before, which directly increased the nation’s talent pool and intellectual property. More trained minds were working on the world’s problems like climate change and clean energy. By all objective assessments, the SCALE Act was a resounding success.
Could SCALE work just as well for real?