The Financial Activist Playbook for Supporting Black Lives
This article is a precursor to the upcoming book, “The Financial Activist Playbook: A Guide to Strategies Big & Small for Moving Money for Racial Justice.” To follow the development of the playbook and secure your free copy today, you can donate any amount to the production here.
It’s time we demystify your money’s role in racial (in)justice.
The US system of finance has long been a system of exploitation, and lack of access to capital continues to be the largest contributor of chronic racial inequality that reinforces the myth (and violent consequences) of white supremacy. Regardless of your personal relationship to finance, you’re already using money to support or undercut your values each day. Wealth holders and capital directors use the language of “liabilities” and “assets” to ensure that economics remains in the realm of limited accessibility. But here is some plain English for you: where you bank, how you spend, and what you invest in matters for Black lives.
I am sitting with three truths: The first is the collective grief of George Floyd’s killing, compounded by the countless told and untold state-sanctioned murders of Black men, women, and non-binary individuals in my country. The second is the heart-swelling that comes with bearing witness to renewed collective energy around mass racial injustice. The third is my clear-as-day responsibility in the movement for Black lives. As a mixed South Asian-American, like so many others I owe my place in America to the struggles of Black people. I’m a financially secure 20-something — born in Long Island’s modern day racial stratification and residing in Oakland’s resilient community, trained in Peace & Conflict studies and the Solidarity Economy, and working for an impact investing company directing capital to Black & Brown businesses — which means my role right now is to leverage access to financial strategies for movement-building. An important note: I’m not here to shame individuals for being complicit in a financial system that was designed for complicity. But I am here to help people know better and do better.
This is an introductory list to economic resistance and power-building actions. We refuse to be paralyzed by a fear that this current unrest — that (make no mistake) is made visible by those who took to the streets demanding to be seen in the midst of a global pandemic — is just a fad. We’re building a sustained fight for a better future that either you’re against or for.
If you I.D. with the latter, here’s what you should know for putting your money where your mouth is for Black power-building.
Step 1: Know the enemy.
Questions to ask yourself: Who around me is profiting from the continued devaluation of Black lives? Who’s taking economic advantage of Black pain, and am I supporting them?
Racial disparity, particularly the economic subjugation of Black communities, continues because it is profitable for a few at the cost of the many. It’s what we’ll call the US’s real looting.
Here are just a few examples of these financial looters to help get you oriented:
- Wealth hoarders reaping the tax benefits of programs designed to help small businesses.
- Investment Firms capitalizing on real estate, including Blackstone Group, Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, and Starwood Capital Group. “I’ve seen more deals in the past week that were worth looking at than I did in the entire prior year,” said Sanford D. Sigal chief executive of NewMark Merrill, which develops shopping centers, on May 26th as cities continued to burn. Not unlike 2008, investors are preparing to snatch up commercial real estate at rock-bottom prices, which funds gentrification and the upheaval of historically Black communities.
- Big Banks that are — in addition to funding industries from mass incarceration and environmental damage in Black communities — involved in predatory lending practices to Black businesses and homeowners.
- Private prison operators and ancillary companies whose business models rely on people being locked up.
Step 2: Know your allies.
Questions to ask yourself: What’s my positionality in the racial equity movement and personal scope of influence? Who are my people and potential co-conspirators I can build with?
I’m assuming you’re reading through this toolkit because you identify with or are interested in being a part of a sustained movement. Strength is not just in numbers but also in diversity of gifts. Determine which role(s) sound most like you, that you want to lean into, and help your friends determine theirs in this moment. Hold each other accountable, and spend time determining how your strengths are utilized for anti-racism. For example, my friend Nigeria is always a “Visionary,” imagining and plotting a more loving, more beautiful, and more just world for Black people. I’m attempting to leverage my strength as a “Builder” in service of that vision — hence using my capacity to create this resource.
Finance is a game of power mapping: you have money in the bank — maybe not much, but did you go to college? How much is in your alma mater’s endowment? Is your friend a part of a union? a teacher’s pension fund? We’re all connected to at least $1B one way or another. In addition, we can collectively demonstrate the value-add of tools that capitalism has historically undervalued; creativity, caregiving, community, and so much more.
In other words: you don’t have to have money to move money.
Step 3: Know your power.
Questions to ask yourself: What are the ways in which my money is currently misaligned with my values? What capital can I attempt to influence right now?
Here are eight strategies that the “enemies” in step one don’t want you to know about. Take what resonates, build a capital plan, and stay accountable (with the help of the allies you identified in step 2). Note that capital is not only financial: it’s assets like relationships, it’s the ability to assign value, and it’s where you commit your time and mutual aid. Have at it.
1 Own your taxpayer status — know what’s on the ballot in upcoming local elections, design a People’s Budget, and make sure your representatives are listening to the reforms that Black people are calling for.
Here’s what Movement 4 Black Lives called for this week:
“We call on localities and elected officials across the country to divest resources away from policing in local budgets and reallocate those resources to the healthcare, housing and education our people deserve. More officers, guns, jails and prisons are not a solution to longstanding problems of racial disparities, injustice and police violence. We demand police free schools across the country and an end to the use of police officers in public universities. All public Institutions designed to serve the people, must cut ties with the police in the interest of public safety.”
National change often begins locally. In a similar vein: Are you a person of color? Have you filled out the census? I’ll wait for you to get back if you haven’t …
… Thank you! It’s critical that we own our power, get COUNTED when our governments allocate funding, and demand that taxpayers’ dollars are moved away from the police state, in accordance with what’s being called for by Black community leaders.
Get to know your local representatives and their platforms for concretely addressing Black inequity in your community. Is there a district attorney election coming up that will impact the disproportionate rate of Black criminalization in your neighborhood? Are police departments set up to receive more of your money?
People are organizing fast. For example, a toolkit for defunding the city of Charlotte’s police department can be found here. And thanks to Instagram and long distance friends, here’s an example from Los Angeles this week of how to know what’s in your community’s budget and how you can reimagine it with a People’s Budget:
Though the proposal did not pass, even with the accompanying public outcry, a Councilmen spokesperson noted that the budget is not final and proposed amendments will be voted on in June. You can keep the pressure on in support of the budget by sending this pre-formatted email to the LA mayor.
Note that voting is just one piece of the puzzle of our current system — many of our undocumented and formerly incarcerated brothers and sisters don’t legally have this individual right. For this reason, collective visioning sessions (and offering safe outreach methods like phone calling) that represent the entirety of a community are critical.
Here’s another from Nashville, inviting community members to virtually come together and brainstorm — “what could we do with $496m for our community’s safety?”:
We’re talking about our money. Let’s act like it.
2 Break up with your bank — switch to a Black-owned bank or open an account at a community institution that’s investing in Black wellbeing.
To echo my colleague Morgan Simon: “When you put your money in the bank — it’s not just sitting in the back somewhere.” It’s being actively loaned out to fund projects, which can range from helping build affordable housing or helping lock people up. Your job is to analyze your banking partners and make sure the latter isn’t a potential route for your money. Is your bank one of the few that’s still funding private prisons and immigrant detention? The destruction of Indigenous land? What would it look like to switch to a community bank that actively supports Black communities?
Additionally, in 2016 we saw the #moveyourmoney campaign and a surge of applicants moving to Black-owned banks in protest of police brutality. Black-owned banks are also referred to as MDI (Minority Deposit Institutions). Note — sometimes they will only take people who reside in their footprint (so if the bank is based in CA, they might not bank some in NY). You can find the full list here.
3 Buy Black — know your dollar matters. Seek out and support the Black businesses that make lives more full.
If you’re in the Bay Area, the Shea’d app is there to make navigating the Black business ecosystem easy. Your town likely has one, too. Nationwide, the EatOkra app is your guide to Black-owned restaurants.
Your personal spending is just a fraction of the buying decisions you can likely influence on a weekly basis. Can your business switch to Black vendors? Do you have an upcoming family event in need of catering? Can your company’s design team buy illustration packs that don’t just feature Black people, but are actually made by Black people? (P.S. Black Illustrations just released another free graphics pack to download in support of BLM, so add some art to your corporate powerpoints as a small act of resistance).
4 Divest — screen out companies that cause harm to Black communities from your investment portfolio, or influence the divestment process for an institution you’re connected to.
The first step is knowing what’s in your financial portfolio and helping it grow behind closed doors. This can be about your personal investments or, more commonly, your investments tied to your place of employment (what’s in your 401(k) or pension fund?), your institution of higher learning (what’s your endowment funding?), or place of worship.
You’ll want to identify public equities in your portfolio whose business models rely on, for example, the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. Transparently ask your investment manager, “Are we currently invested in private prisons? How about the publicly traded companies that provide ancillary services, like ankle monitoring and surveillance technology?”
Divestment campaigns have a long and powerful history of moving major money, from schools divesting their billion dollar endowments, from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa, to pension funds and big name banks ending ties with the companies behind immigrant detention. Asking, and then knowing what you own, is the first step.
Let’s face it — if you look at the S&P 500 list, it’s not exactly full of companies that love Black people. But if we want to invest, that means sometimes investing in companies that aren’t causing active harm, but that we don’t totally love. That’s where Strategy 5 comes in: using our power as owners of companies to encourage them to do better.
5 Own your shareholder status — lead or participate in filing a shareholder proposal, for a company whose policies don’t prioritize Black wellbeing.
In some cases, our investment portfolios (again — think about the institutions you’re connected to) are tied to companies via a manager or a mutual fund and immediate divestment is out of your control. But whenever you own stock in a company, know that you’re a part-owner of the company. And with ownership comes influence.
If your institution has at least $2,000 worth of shares in a company whose practices aren’t aligned actively supporting Black lives, you’re able to file or co-file what’s called a shareholder resolution, or an up to 500-word note, for the company leaders to respond to and make a decision on. For annual shareholder meetings, or AGMs, shareholders can delegate advocates to vote in their place, aka proxy voting. The more support you rally, the more likely leaders won’t be able to ignore the grievance. Check out As You Sow or ICCR on how to get involved. This tactic has led to major victories, like when Swarthmore College students got Lockheed Martin to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.
6 Donate — don’t let the sheer size of the need overwhelm you. Pick some organizations that are supporting immediate needs of the movement and donate.
There are so many organizations that support Black people every day that aren’t getting as much visibility this week. For example, the National Domestic Workers Alliance supports nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers — regardless of citizenship status — who are facing financial challenges. This Atlanta homeless Black Trans women fund is getting close to its $1m goal. DC’s UndocuBlack community is always looking for support in providing resources from mental health services to “know your rights” training.
Paradox of choice? No problem. Split a donation between 70+ community bail funds, mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizers here.
Beyond personal giving capacity, I cannot stress this enough: proximity to wealth is a resource in itself. This week students at Rice called on their institution and larger community to support Black activists with their dollars. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from organizing is that nothing can stop you from using your two hands to do what you want to do. That is power,” said one student activist Summar McGee. “You might not have institutional power, you might not have power over bureaucratic structures, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing… The illusion of rules is just that, an illusion.”
If you have no disposable income, there’s creative ways to support for FREE: like watching this video, where 100% of ad revenue will be donated. If you have tons of disposable income, Junteenth is coming up. This is satire but also not a bad idea. Thanks, Reductress.
You can help leverage what’s called “blended capital” by donating to support investment projects. The Runway Project, for example, aims to help close the “friends and family” seed funding round for Black entrepreneurs. “Pew Research Center has found that whites in the US have access to $142k and that African Americans have access to merely $11k from this common funding path. According to the census bureau, $30k is the capital starting point to get a startup off the ground, which leaves African American startups at a significant disadvantage.” Which leads us to my favorite section …
7 Invest — seek out companies and funds that empower Black communities for your investment portfolio, or influence the investment process for an institution you’re connected to.
I’ll touch on just two investment classes in this section: private equity (using your money to buy part-ownership in something, so as the company grows, your return grows); and private debt (using your money to give someone else a loan, with the expectation that it’ll get paid back to you in a certain amount of time with interest). However, I would be remiss to not begin this section with a reminder that the fight for reparations, “The idea of economic amends for past injustices and persistent disparities,” continues.s. What would it mean for the prosperity of all Americans if we collectively reinvested in Black communities, many of which continue to suffer from decades of financial harm? (Keep an eye on Evanston, IL).
Investing is a powerful tool for building community wealth. Take Collab Capital, an Atlanta-based VC fund. Last month they teamed up with QuarantineCon (a digital community helping people learn, partner and connect from the comfort of their homes during this global pandemic) and Color of Change to host a pitch competition for Black-led companies. Over 400 Black entrepreneurs applied in one week and the top ten companies were awarded non-dilutive capital, summing up to roughly $60k, support out of Collab Studio, and investment consideration. The winner of the $25k grand prize? Cherry Blossom Intimates, a Blackwomen-owned accredited medical facility within a lingerie boutique atmosphere, helping breast cancer survivors to find the best post-mastectomy bra and breast form (offering prostheses in 36 different skin tones). This is the future we should all want to live in.
If you’re an accredited investor (over $1m in the bank):
There’s no shortage of Black-led social impact companies and funds to invest in. Note that the same way that you convinced your company / foundation / college / institution to divest in strategy four, you can also influence the “invest” side of the equation. At Candide Group, our portfolio includes Black-led companies and funds that are laser focused on helping their communities, like:
- Mayvenn: enabling Stylists to sell products directly to their clients without the upfront costs and burdens of holding inventory.
- MACRO: a leading disruptive media company focused on the multicultural market.
- Illumen Capital: The world’s only PE fund of funds firm focused on reducing implicit bias to unlock impact and returns.
- MaC Venture Capital: A merger between Cross Culture and M Ventures, MaC is an early stage venture capital firm focused on finding ideas, technology, and products that can become infectious.
- Impact America Fund: an investment company that funds market opportunities which use technology to enhance the lives of all Americans.
- Red Bay Coffee: at the forefront of “the fourth wave of coffee” — a firm commitment to ensure coffee production is not only high quality and sustainable, but a vehicle for diversity, inclusion, social and economic restoration, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability
- Liberty & Justice: Africa’s first fair-trade certified apparel manufacturer, creating jobs in Liberia and Ghana.
- Up Community Fund: providing flexible loans and technical support to entrepreneurs of color with small business.
- Lendstreet: a lending platform for debt restructuring and refinancing.
So if you’ve started a portfolio and are having trouble finding diverse entrepreneurs — I got you. There’s no excuse in 2020.
If you’re a non accredited investor (i.e. the rest of us still working towards our first mil):
- Equity crowdfunding platforms allow you to make investments into startups you’re excited about. Black Enterprise shares an example of equity crowdfunding: “PartPic, a black-owned business in Atlanta, used an equity crowdfunding campaign on SeedInvest to jump-start a $1.5 million seed round of funding, grow the business, and was acquired by Amazon.”
- Individuals can invest directly in entrepreneurs using the social justice oriented platform, CNote. “With CNote’s Flagship Fund you earn 2.75% and 100% of your dollars are directed to community lenders that fund loans for small businesses, affordable housing, helping to bring sustainable economic growth to communities across America. CNote’s non-profit partners have been around for decades and have not lost a single investor dollar. Ever.”
- Also, be sure to see if there’s local community land ownership groups in your neighborhood that are building a more equitable today: like East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative and Boston Ujima project. Supporting just land ownership is paramount. “Stewarding our own land, growing our own food, educating our own youth, participating in our own healthcare and justice systems,” says, author, activist, and farmer Leah Penniman, “this is the source of real power and dignity.”
Investing is all about your personal needs, so take this list as a starting place and talk to an advisor to get grounded in your goals.
8 More than money — mutual aid and anti-racist financial education can be a daily practice. Invite your people to spend this valuable time with you.
In 1946 Malcolm X declared, “the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Today is unquestionably that day.
I’ll just link to — and won’t repeat — the plethora of incredible book recommendations on addressing internalized and systemic racism (that have been circulating on social media and filling up people’s online shopping carts), but I will point to particular finance-related strategies and ways of thinking that I’m still exploring, and encouraging others to as well. For example, you can invest some time learning about “restorative economics,” from Nwamaka Agbo, reading up on “futurism” from Trista Harris (download her free ebook “FutureGood” that I can’t stop geeking out about), decolonizing wealth and leaning on indigenous wisdom with Edgar Villaneuva, or following the journey of Village Financial and their vision of a Black funding renaissance. At Real Money Moves, a campaign we co-launched to help people move their money away from immigrant detention and private prisons, we’re committed to making free financial activist education accessible whenever possible. If after reading this list there’s particular financial strategies you want to learn more about and leverage for the movement, just reach out. Let’s fund the revolution — and communities that love Black people for the long run — together.
Thank you to a number of incredible people, who took time out of this critical organizing moment to review the toolkit before publication. To my Candide Group team, Nigeria Talley, Maya Minhas, Chris Pendergast, Chase Wheeler, Tre’von Hill, and Sandrine Demathieu: you guys are the truth.
The content herein has been provided for information purposes only, and is not intended to serve as investment advice or as a recommendation for the purchase or sale of any security. The strategies and/or investments referenced are not suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Disclosures related to my work can be found here.