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‘Rebuilding Black Wall Street for Us All’: Panel examines actions and policy changes needed to level the playing field for entrepreneurs

From SXSW 2022: "Rebuilding Black Wall Street for Us All"
Watch: "From SXSW 2022: "Rebuilding Black Wall Street for Us All"" | 1:07:00

The Kauffman Foundation-hosted panel discussed how increased access to opportunity, funding, knowledge, and support can help rebuild Black Wall Street and create a more inclusive future for us all.

We couldn’t leave this not-to-be-missed conversation in Austin.

On site and in-person at South by Southwest 2022 in Austin, Texas, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation hosted the panel, “Rebuilding Black Wall Street for Us All” with our own Philip Gaskin, vice president of Entrepreneurship; along with Melissa Harris-Perry, Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University; Karen Freeman-Wilson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League; and Nehemiah Frank, founder and editor of The Black Wall Street Times.

By means of the transcript below or the video, dive into this conversation, facilitated by Frank, where they discussed how people – and policies – can help rebuild Black Wall Street and create a more inclusive future for all.

Nehemiah Frank: I’m Nehemiah Frank, I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is my pleasure to moderate this panel today. So, thank you all for coming out on a Sunday morning at 10 o’clock. Hopefully you guys got good rest with one hour of less sleep. Yes, and the significance about me founding The Black Wall Street Times is I am a descendant of two families that actually survived the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Because of their resilience, I am here sitting on this panel today. And, so, let’s start at the end, I will go ahead and let my panelists introduce themselves.

Karen Freeman-Wilson: Good morning. I am Karen Freeman-Wilson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, former mayor of Gary, Indiana, and pleased to be on the Kauffman Mayors’ Council and to join you here at today.

Philip Gaskin: Good morning, everyone. Philip Gaskin, the vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. We’re in Kansas City, Missouri, and we’re the largest private foundation that focuses on entrepreneurship. And thank you for having us and everyone here today. This work for me is quite personal and the story we’re going to be talking about today is quite personal. When I look back to, when I grew up in Los Angeles, we lived one zip code away, literally one block away from a zip code that had a better reputation than the one that I lived in. And I think back to my dad, starting in fifth grade, my dad always used to pick me up from the school and about three or four times a month he’d pick me up and we’d go to a bank. We’d always go to a bank. And I finally said, “Dad, why do we go to so many banks?” He said, “I’ll tell you when you get older.”

The reason was, was that he was trying to get that first loan, which took him four years, that first loan for a convenience store that he wanted to open in South Central Los Angeles. And the problem was, the barrier was skin color and zip code. And those same type of things are happening today. And he didn’t know that banks literally drew a line on a map, which is what they were doing. And there’s too many entrepreneurs today and too many people with ideas that are having those same type of barriers. And he had good credit. He didn’t have credit experience. So the credit score was always a few points too low or some other reason why.

And when we look at that and I think about entrepreneurs here today, how many good entrepreneurs are budding today that are going through these same types of barriers, that can’t get these types of opportunities, and how do we remove those barriers for people as much as possible, and where it all started are what we’re going to talk about today. So, a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Hi, I’m Melissa Harris-Perry. I’m the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, where I teach in the departments of Politics and the department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. I am also the host and managing editor of The Takeaway, which is a national public radio show. We’re on Monday through Friday. We’re on in about 300 different public radio stations. We’re also available as a podcast, so download today. So, and from 2012 to 2016 I hosted Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. So my work has long straddled the intersections of the academy and media. And we’ve in both spaces, both in my academic scholarly work and in my work in media, I try to focus around questions of justice, questions of race, the intersections of race and justice and place. And I often describe the center that I direct, the Anna Julia Cooper Center, as the intersections of race, gender, and place. And all of those questions of gender, race and place will be critical to the conversation that we’re going to have today. And I’m really honored to be part of this. Thank you.

Freeman-Wilson: So when I think about Black Wall Street, obviously all eyes were on Tulsa and have been for some time, because of the significance of a massacre, right? But I think about my hometown of Gary, Indiana. I think about Chicago, Illinois, where I now live and work. And I think about how those Black business districts were grown and created out of discrimination and segregation. There were no other choices in terms of professional services, in terms of retail, in terms of even banking opportunities, because there were such a significant number of Black banks, even in the city of Chicago. But something happened. Capital, access to capital. As Philip talked about earlier, the reduction, I’m not going to say the elimination of discrimination because we know that still exists, but at least you were able to go to other stores. And when you had choices about restaurants, about clothing stores, about other things that cause Black businesses to thrive. Because it was new and shiny, for many of us, we chose to, we opted away from Black businesses and those businesses then became challenged.

You look at Johnson Publishing Company and think about the fact that you made it when you were in Jet or Ebony. It wasn’t about Times or Newsweek, or you know? No one really cared about that in the Black community. When your grandmother or your aunt saw you in those publications, it mattered. And then all of a sudden it didn’t. And so now Johnson Publishing Company doesn’t exist in that. So, when I think about Tulsa, I think about all of the other communities around the country and how they weren’t necessarily, they didn’t experience a massacre like you did in Tulsa. There was still a disruption.

Gaskin: Yeah, thank you. And I’d say that, what also got cut off was access to language, access to belief, access to a hope, access to a lot of different things. When I look at, it took me 34 years until I heard the word entrepreneur. And my dad was one. He didn’t have the language either. So language got cut off. A number of different things got cut off that didn’t give us the access into. I talked about the zip code divide before, right? The kids on the other zip code, they knew what all about that was. And it wasn’t until – it was actually – it was at my dad’s funeral service. And a man came up to me. He said, “Your dad was a really good man. He was a really good entrepreneur.” I looked at him like I had no idea what he was talking about.

And so, when you don’t have the language, when you aren’t equipped with a number of different things. And so, the episodes that happen just took us down a different path, and it took too long. So, at the Foundation we’re working to – how do people in their jobs or careers have economic stability, mobility, and prosperity? And it’s based on these fundamental system destructions that happened.

Freeman-Wilson: Because I do a daily news show, the past two weeks have been particularly painful. And I’m sure that many of you all are experiencing it as well. I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is check the news. Go to bed at night, sometimes don’t go to bed at night, watching what is burning in Ukraine? What is happening? We are being able to watch it each moment. Social media is feeding this to us. And the utter unfairness and agony of it, the idea of waking up one morning and being under fire. And I think the outrage that the world is rightly feeling and responding to, that at the same time that’s happening you’re having other folks talking about other contemporary moments, right? “So, wait a minute, isn’t this what we did in Baghdad? Wait a minute, isn’t this also what happened when Syrian families one morning woke up and were under fire? Wait a minute, why aren’t we appalled? Why aren’t we sickened with the number of Palestinian children who have been killed by shelling from a government?”

So, Ukraine is giving us this opportunity to reflect on the contemporary immoralities of massacre. What I have not heard, but this moment as we’ve been preparing for this panel is that this is also what happened in Tulsa. That a community that lived inside of and was adjacent to was simply destroyed because the more powerful armed community around it decided to, full stop. If we can see the level of evil and madness and destruction that is Putin’s decision to enter into Ukraine, if we can and weep for that, then we absolutely, and we can see that there is an international, because I think we’ll come back to this. There’s a global responsibility related to the evil that is occurring right now. There is a global international responsibility that cannot, that we cannot look away from. So, it is why all of these various decisions are being made.

I think if we can try to center Tulsa in a similar understanding, I think it starts to move us towards understanding the depth of the crisis that occurred there. We look at black and white pictures of charred human bodies, especially Black ones. And we think, “Well, that’s what happens to Black people.” Right? I mean, Black bodies are meant to be hung and burned and harmed, Black homes are meant to be … Black mothers are supposed to cry because their sons die before they reach adulthood. That’s an expectation that we have been given for the suffering that Black people around the world and in our own communities are supposed to suffer.

If we can understand that what is happening in Ukraine is not just about businesses and dollars, that what’s happening in Ukraine is about the fight for democracy and freedom and the capacity to self-determine, how much more so was that true in Tulsa?

— Karen Freeman-Wilson
President and CEO, Chicago Urban League

But I want us to just think around the level of destruction we’re seeing in Ukraine and to realize that that happened here, it happened right here, and it kept happening. I just want to also flag that what it meant to be able to move in that space, in those blocks, that if we talk about it, certainly we should talk about it as wealth and we should think about the wealth piece. But I think we also have to talk about freedom, that if the willingness to defend and fight back, which is also what happened in Tulsa. To take up arms, to fight back, to push back against a far more powerful militarized force.

If we can understand that what is happening in Ukraine is not just about businesses and dollars, that what’s happening in Ukraine is about the fight for democracy and freedom and the capacity to self-determine, how much more so was that true in Tulsa? And the loss we can measure in part in dollars, we can begin to come up with what those numbers are. But maybe there’s no way to ever account for what is lost in terms of the capacity for democracy, freedom, the ability to tell our own stories and to be a people.

Frank: So, we’re talking about democracy right now. We have Ukraine, we have Russia invading Ukraine, invading the sovereignty of this nation. There are other places across the country that experience these types of widespread massacres, Durham, North Carolina, I believe had an all Black town. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Harris-Perry: So, I’d say the multiple massacres?

Frank: Yeah, multiple massacres.

Harris-Perry: So, right. So when we were, so Wilmington, North Carolina is where we saw the coup, right? So this sort of came up a fair bit this January, or I guess a year ago, January 6th, obviously, as we were talking about this possibility of a coup. And again, because our memory can be short and because we sometimes forget that Black people are Americans, we sometimes don’t tell Black stories as American stories. So, we’ll tell the story that there’s never been a coup. That’s simply not true. There was a whole full-on coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, duly elected government that was, actually, interracial. This is post-civil War and white folks simply came in, murdered the folks who were there, deposed the duly elected democratic leaders and took over the town, just full stop. That’s just what happened. So, it was a fully realized coup.

But if you go west of Wilmington, North Carolina, so Wilmington is on the coast. If you come west to Durham, the Hayti community is a Black Wall Street, right? So, Durham’s Black Hayti community, the founding of North Carolina Mutual, the banks, all the things. So, there’s no massacre or coup, instead there’s a highway built directly through Hayti. You come a little bit farther west to Winston-Salem, again there’s a thriving Black middle-class community. And again, there’s a highway. So, we know the stories over and over and over again of highways that were used also as instruments of economic terror.

And in every single case the instruments of economic terror are made possible by, they always give lie to the one piece that Booker T. didn’t have right. Booker T. Washington understood the necessity for economic growth, and he understood the necessity for building one’s own. I think he underestimated the power of white supremacist violence to destroy that which was built, right? So, Booker T. Washington got that part right. But he missed the, he thought that you could maintain it without political equality. Because I think he underestimated the willingness of white supremacist violence to simply remove all that was built. And, so, it’s that constant reminder that we must have both economic and political power.

Freeman-Wilson: You talk about the challenges connected with generational wealth. And I think that part of the answer is in the void that you just described. Philip talked about language earlier, right? We’re not talking to our kids, or our parents weren’t talking to us, about starting a business. They were talking to us about what? Going to college.

Gaskin: Going to college.

Freeman-Wilson: Getting a job. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But you have to have both conversations, because ultimately you grow well through generations by passing things down. So, I had a law firm. But because I didn’t have this entrepreneurial experience, when I ran for mayor, I didn’t pass it to anyone. It just died. And that’s the challenge that we have. And it goes back to systemic change, right? Not just access to capital, but access to knowledge, access to understanding one, the importance of business, the ability to generate wealth through a business, the know-how that comes with having a business, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s the use of technology, whether it’s the use of, it’s not just knowing how to cook or having a good recipe. It’s not just understanding the practice of law and being a good lawyer. There’s a business side of all of these things. It’s not just being a good doctor.

And the things that we have to – the seeds that we have to – sow early in our community is that there is a way of doing business, of employing other Black people that is good and necessary. When my daughter came to me and said that she wanted to start a business, I’m like, “Well, I’m not sending, I’m really not sending you to school for…” Even for me.

The seeds we have to sow early in our community is that there is a way of doing business, of employing other Black people that is good and necessary.

— Karen Freeman-Wilson
President and CEO, Chicago Urban League

Gaskin: Correct.

Freeman-Wilson: And I know better. “I’m sending you to school to get a good job.” So, I mean, we have to change that conversation and that mindset.

Gaskin: That mindset.

Freeman-Wilson: Because it really is a mindset. And we have, once we recognize that, we have to talk about that mindset in our, not in a workshop, we’ve got to talk about it in church, in sorority meeting, in fraternity meeting.

Frank: Barber shop.

Freeman-Wilson: In the barber shop.

Gaskin: So yeah, growth mindset, entrepreneurial mindset. Dad didn’t have the language; didn’t know he was an entrepreneur. I didn’t know he was an entrepreneur. Opened one convenience store, then a second, based on the, he was able to get a loan from a Black-owned bank, Broadway Federal, thank goodness, in LA. But going past that, never thought he could. So back to the highways just for a second. So, and if you ever fly into Los Angeles International Airport, if you ever come out of that airport and you’re going to go to Downtown LA, chances are you’re going to take the 105 Freeway and then go up the 110 Harbor Freeway into Downtown. The 105 Freeway was an example, was the LA example of that. Bulldozed houses all the way down Imperial Highway, including cousins of mine, house got displaced. And it sat for 10 years before they even built the freeway.

This is what happens. And so how do communities recover from that? How do you? Because you’re basically told, “I can bulldoze you and you’re not worth replacing.” And so that brought that up, for me is a real live example, but how other ways that it plays out was just the wealth disparity between Black families and white families right now, just look at it, see what. And so, an on-the-court example from an entrepreneur: so you’ve got a really great idea for a business, and there’s an accelerator and an incubator or something across town. And you want to go to that class, but you can’t because you’re a Black, single mom and you cannot get childcare because of the cost of it. Or somehow you do, and you want to start a business and you’ve got good credit, just not enough experience, so your credit score is seven points too low. So you’re not getting the debt financing.

Venture capital is not paying attention to you because they don’t think your idea is bright enough. And oh, by the way, most venture capital goes to five geographic locations, 75% or more goes to these five geographic locations, and women are invested in the 2%, Black Americans, 1%. So, you can’t get the venture capital. You say you do somehow start that business. You can’t grow it. You can’t hire people because the cost of healthcare and hiring people is too much.

So, these, and let’s say you were going to go across town to that event, but the train that you used to take doesn’t run anymore. So now you have to take the number five bus, which takes two hours, and you can’t get there in time. So, it’s these, all systems of support right now are simultaneously fractured or broken for too many Black Americans and more. And, so, when we look back, how much of the massacre has changed? What is truly different? And I just want to ask, have everyone ask that question of looking back when in today, and yes, we’re seeing what’s happening around the world. Look in our own communities. We see a lot of things happening right here as well.

Harris-Perry: All right. So, I think Black folks already know entrepreneurship, we just don’t necessarily call it that. I’ve never really seen people’s entrepreneurial as Black people are. I like to say if it starts raining – you, standing on the street corner in Chicago – starts raining. Some brother will come outside with some umbrellas to sell them to you. I mean, just within moments. You’re just like, “Where did you even, how did that happen?” And if it stops raining and all of a sudden the sun comes up, the same brother will have some water bottles and be like, “Would you like a water bottle instead?” I just, I don’t think we have any problem with being entrepreneurial. I mean, we may not use the word entrepreneurship always, but everybody I know has a side hustle. Everybody I know has multiple gigs.

All folks I know who are surviving, who are living near, at, or below the poverty line are way harder working than everyone I know who’s living and surviving, who’s well above it, right? Because they do, they will take the bus. Like taking your kid to school is no big deal when you get in your car that is your private car and you drive to your school that’s got a really nice line set up for you to drop your kid off. Getting your kid to school is a whole other situation when you’re trying to do it in the context of a bus system. In particular, I would like to say to my students, “Think about all those water fountains and city buses that we were working to integrate.” And I dare you to go catch a bus in Montgomery now. Just catching a bus is such a hard thing to do, because the South massively disinvested.

We cannot earn our way out of the wealth gap.

Melissa Harris-Perry
Maya Angelou Presidential Chair, Wake Forest University

So, on the one hand, I do want to think about the ways that we can see the talent in our communities and call it what it already is. And then I want to go back to the politics thing for a moment, because the point about wealth and income is so critical. We cannot earn our way out of the wealth gap. I’m going to say it again. We cannot earn our way out of the wealth gap. There is no possible way on income alone for you to earn your way. Maybe one individual can, but you can’t earn a whole community out of the wealth gap, because wealth and income are two entirely different things. And wealth among white folks did not mostly and still does not mostly come from businesses, just to be clear. It mostly comes from your house. Which is why they burned down not just the businesses, but the houses and the churches, and they leveled them.

And then went after the insurance companies. Called it a race riot for 92 years so that insurance companies didn’t have to pay. Because if it was a massacre, then they had to pay. But if it’s a riot, they don’t have to pay. So they couldn’t even get their insurance payouts from it. So, I just want us to remember that when the federal government made an extraordinary choice after World War II to invest in the building of a middle class, it’s a moment that happens. People, the government says through the people, “This greatest generation has made these sacrifices. We’re going to invest in human capital. How? The G.I. Bill. We’re going to invest in housing capital through the FHA. And we’re going to build these highways through these Black communities to make your suburban houses connected back to jobs in the central city, so that you can move out to where there are good, re white public schools.”

Domestic workers and agricultural workers were left out of all of the fair labor practices acts that were passed in the 1930s. So, you could not get into social security if you’re a domestic worker, you could not get into social security if you’re an agricultural worker. Guess who all of the domestic and agricultural workers were? So, here’s why you can’t earn your way out of the wealth gap. Just let me bring it to this moment. You go your little fancy self to college. Maybe you’re first gen, maybe you’re not even first gen, maybe you’re second gen, but you go, and you make that six figure that no one in your family has ever made. Or maybe they made it, but then they burned it down. So now you got your six figures and you’re like, “I got this. I am doing my life.”

And then you go to buy a house, and maybe you’re actually able to buy one, hell yeah, good job. You’re going to build a little wealth. But as soon as your Black behind, even with your fancy degree, moves into the neighborhood, you are making it less valuable. And you damn sure don’t tell your friends that you’re moving into this neighborhood, and they all start coming and moving in there too. Because then you end up with some tipping point, right? So, our homes don’t increase in value. And if we want to live in this community, if we want to live safely and freely where our children can walk around and not be shot, where they won’t. If we want to live with other Black people, then our investment will be worth less, not worthless, but will be worth less and will compound less over time, simply because of us, because we exist. Not because we’ve done something, because we exist in our Black bodies.

Now, let your mama get old. Now your mama’s gotten old, and your mama was a domestic worker, like my grandmother. She don’t have social security. So now your little $100,000 that you’ve invested in your house, it’s great, it’s great. But you want to live among Black folks, so it’s not going to go up as high or as quickly. And now your mama’s old. Okay, so what you’re going to do with your little $100,000? You’re going to reach back and help your mama. You have to. You know why? One of the reasons you have to, because she ain’t got no social security, right? She’s not in that system. So, you’re going to help your mama out. And then the thing is, because you had to buy in this because you’re trying to live around some Black people so your children will know something about themselves, your public schools might be less of whatever it is you want.

So, then you’re going to buy-in into private schools or maybe you’re not going to buy into private schools. But when your baby comes time to go to college, because your house hasn’t appreciated as much, your baby’s now going to take loans. It turns out that there is an actual negative effect for wealth creation for Black women when we go to college. Now we should go to college. Please be clear. It is not a result of college going. It is a result of student loans.

So, the thing is, while we’re doing all this reaching back and reaching forward and reaching sideways and having fewer opportunities to compound our wealth, while all of that is happening, the folks who got to buy in the 1930s, regular people, I’m not talking about rich people. I’m talking about regular white folks living. My white grandfather drove a Wonder Bread truck. They were so white, he drove a Wonder Bread truck. Never went one day to college, right? He graduated from high school as did his wife. They raised five children. My white grandmother never worked. They owned a home. They drove cars, each of them, they sent all five children to college. And when my grandfather passed, he passed the home to my grandmother. My grandmother passed, it was a little something to sell the house for everybody. Not a lot, but a little something for everybody.

That was because they got to get in the game in 1928, in 1935, in 1942. So, while we are still forward, backward trying. So, I’m going to say, yes, we have to do all these things in community. And we have to demand global and national responsibility for public policy that actively builds Black wealth. Not all boats rising, we’re already underwater, that builds Black wealth in a reparative way that says that we must undergird Black education through the forgiveness of student loans, through free and reduced tuitions for people of color. We should not be limiting affirmative action. We should actually be expanding the opportunities for college education. We should be making loans at lower interest rates, and we should be undergirding and supporting all the things that make housing values stable and rise without creating gentrification that eliminates us.

Frank: Y’all can clap. So, I often get asked, “What do you think Tulsa would be like had the 1921 Tulsa race massacre not take place?” And I always tell them, I’m like, “Oh, it’d be like Atlanta. Or it’d be like Wakanda or something like that.” But what are your thoughts, if there weren’t these massacres or these barriers, these even as far as policies that are preventing Black folks from rising, what do you think the American economy would be like?

Freeman-Wilson: So you would have a thriving Black middle class. And as Melissa was sort of laying out this conundrum that most Black folks have, I’m like, “She’s describing my life. But not just my life, the life of my friends.” And you think that, what would it be like? And it is the house, because when you get the house, and we’ve been doing this study at the Chicago Urban League about the disparity between home values in different parts of Chicago that gives you the opportunity to educate your children, to start a business. And, so, when you talk about the investments that didn’t occur in Tulsa, in Chicago, in Atlanta, in LA, in Gary, or the reduced investments that we saw, that is what has given rise to the wealth gap. I mean, that’s how it was created. And so how do you fix that? I’m just going to call it reparations.

But you think about what has gone on in Tulsa in terms of trying to get what is old. I mean, you can connect the dots that so many of us can’t, and it hasn’t happened in the way that it should. So then, how do you rectify that? Not just for Tulsa, but for every other community. And I think it go goes back to the policies, because people are comfortable changing policies, they don’t want to write you a check. But they’ll create better policies, but we all have to almost be in concert.

The… paradigm shift into understanding that Black folks are not as risky as you may think, are more brilliant than you may think: that is an asset framing that needs to happen…

— Philip Gaskin
Vice President of Entrepreneurship, Kauffman Foundation

This is the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the 1972 convention, Black political convention that occurred in Gary. And what happened as a result of that was that people were in lockstep relative to political movement in communities. And, so, as a consequence, you not only had Richard Hatcher and Carl Stokes, but then you got Black mayors in cities all over the country, major metropolitan areas. And so that’s not a novelty anymore. It’s a given that that’s possible, even when there’s not a Black majority. But I don’t know that we have seen the lockstep around reparations and just around policy change around the country. And it’s almost like as Black people we don’t feel like we deserve it. And, so, we’ve not demanded it in the way that we’ve demanded and gravitated towards that political power.

Gaskin: Thank you. And I think about things in terms of economies and envisioning something different. So, with our entrepreneurial nature, or whatever we call the word, because we get stuff done. Imagine Apple, Microsoft, LinkedIn, others, all being created, led by Black people. See, it’s looking at, turning it completely upside down and getting into the “what could it have been.” And, so, when I spent some time down in South Africa, when it took me four days to adjust to the fact that I was seeing a little bit of an upside down than what we see here. And that type of visioning about what can happen, what could have happened, and what still can happen, I think is in part of the asset framing that has to happen when we’re talking about policy change and when we’re talking to policy makers about change.

Because the asset framing and the paradigm shift into understanding that Black folks are not as risky as you may think, are more brilliant than you may think. That is an asset framing that needs to happen across. And, so, when I look at, we have a four-part policy platform, research-vetted platform called, America’s New Business Plan, and it’s got four pillars to it. And it is a platform for policy makers to make change. Now we don’t, we can’t lobby, but we have a coalition of over 200 entrepreneurial support organizations that are out there lobbying to local state and federal officials to make changes, got four pillars.

Start Us Up: America's New Business Plan

Comprised of four pillars (Opportunity, Funding, Knowledge, and Support), America’s New Business Plan is a bipartisan plan for policymakers focused on creating new jobs and rebuilding a more equitable economy.

Learn more about the Plan >

The first is equitable access to opportunity. Everyone should have opportunity to start a business. And that can be really, really simple things like, can you please change the process that it takes to apply for a business to get a business permit? I mean, it’s still onerous. It’s just simple things like that. Access to funding, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. Equitable access to capital everywhere for anyone, for anyone who needs it. Access to equitable support. Trying to start a business is like being on a high wire and you have no safety net between you, between the buildings that you’re going over. So, support networks. And then knowledge, and you talked about knowledge earlier, and we talked about language. Having the knowledge and the know-how and the real-world learning experiences to take that risk and to do what’s needed. And so I vision, I think of economies, but when it comes to the policy part, I do believe that the conversation and bringing to life an experience or a possibility that folks may not have ever seen before or believed is very key.

Harris-Perry: I love this question. I think it’s critical to do the visioning. I think, and it’s interesting. I think this is part of why Tulsa features so prominently in Lovecraft Country, right? It’s, they have to, they can’t do Afrofuturism without doing Tulsa. And in certain ways, Tulsa Greenwood is emblematic of what a … Greenwood is the Sankofa, part of what it could be is what it was. Good, bad, and otherwise. So, I do take Dr. King at his, that would be the Martin Luther King Jr., I take that Dr. King at his word it in what he tells us in his last public speech where he says that “God took him to the mountaintop and he looked over and he saw the promised land.”

I presume that Dr. King in fact was taken by God to the mountaintop and looked over and saw the promised land. And both in general, because I think Dr. King was typically telling us the truth, even if he was doing it in poetic ways. But, also, because he does what people who see into the future often do, he doesn’t tell us what it is. For all of the ways that Dr. King really mapped out many very specific ways for us to understand things, he says, “I’ve seen the promise land. Don’t worry, we’ll get there together.” But he does not tell us what it looks like. So, I do, it’s a practice I like to spend time with, that I often spend time with when we’re doing team building or community building is to pause and to ask about that. So, what is it, what does it look like?

What would your promised land be? Where are we going? It’s really easy on the day-to-day just to be doing the day-to-day, but where are we going, and why? I guess part of what I’d say is, one of the things we’ll have to be really honest about is if, had there not been, it’s sort of like emancipation proclamation and then you get the end of white supremacy. Or if Black folks have been allowed to get here on our own time, rather than brought here. So, people, “Oh, you got here?” Well, we would have gotten here. Everybody else got here, we’d have gotten here in our own time at our own pace.

Or if the white folks had been made to leave when they got here, then things would be different in so many different ways. And one of those things is not just that Black folks would have more. And this is, I think, important. A lot of the things that white folks have and that even we as Black folks may have, we might not have. And that would be okay. So when we do indigenous land acknowledgements, which is a good and right thing to do, also give it back. I mean, just to be clear, we’re like, “Oh, when we took this land from you.” All right let’s have our panel. And it’s like, so. I mean, I appreciate that you acknowledge that, that’s an important step towards justice, but it is just a step.

What would your promised land be? Where are we going? It’s really easy on the day-to-day just to be doing the day-to-day, but where are we going, and why?

— Melissa Harris-Perry
Maya Angelou Presidential Chair, Wake Forest University

So, I love the question, because I do think we should think really carefully about what would it be like. My husband and I were just talking about, what is the world like if we, if rape, if there is no rape, if you don’t even have to think about it. If you don’t use any part of your brain energy, what else gets unleashed for you as a woman if you never have to think about sexual violence? How do you live your life differently? How do you move differently? What happens if you never have to think about whether or not your young person is coming home, whether or not that, like if you’re speeding and you know you were speeding, but there’s the cop, but you don’t think, if you never have to even encounter the possibility that this might be a deadly encounter.

Like you just going to, you’re like, “Oh, shit, I got to pay this ticket.” But that’s all you’re going to have to do. You’re not going to have to pay with your life. How many things get unleashed? And it is rather extraordinary that we exist, and it is rather extraordinary how much we do. And it is rather extraordinary how resilient we are, but I don’t think we can even, we’re not at one tenth of one quarter of 1% of the possibility if white supremacy and patriarchy and then the indigenous land grab and homophobia and transphobia. If those, I think about these trans kids in this state who are 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-years-old, having to be activists for their own existence. I mean, it is really hard to found LinkedIn when you have to prove that you should be able to go to the bathroom where you want to go.

So I do think some people who have a lot of power would have less, and I think that the capacities would be unleashed in ways that could be extraordinary. But more than anything, I am really bought in to a particular version of the American dream. And it’s, actually, articulated in our founding document: all persons, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. And among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I am bought in, not that that’s who we are, but that that aspiration is a truly worthy one. And that the project in self-governance is an extraordinary one. And that the experiment in working it out with your fellow citizens, some of whom are terribly whacked and really awful. And the people are always much easier to love in theory than like the… Like I was like, “Have you met the actual people?” So had there been no Tulsa, there’d be inequality. Had there been no Tulsa, excuse me, had there been no race massacre in Greenwood, would there be inequality? Sure.

Would there be some bougie Black folks who thought they were better than others? Oh yeah. Fo sho. Would I want to link arms with all Black brothers and sisters? No, of course not. That’s not life. But would we have moved much closer to a truly worthy aspiration of democratic self-governance? Yes. And just spending the kind of Octavia Butler time of having Afrofuturistic dreams about who we could be I think is in and of itself a political project.

I am really bought in to a particular version of the American dream. And it’s, actually, articulated in our founding document: all persons, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. And among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I am bought in, not that that’s who we are, but that that aspiration is a truly worthy one.

Frank: All right. So, it is time for questions and answers. There is a mic here in a middle of the floor if anyone has a question that they would like to ask any of our panelists.

Mandi Mitchell: Thank you very much. Mandi Mitchell, president CEO of Lafayette, Louisiana Economic Development Authority. Hi, Kauffman Foundation. So, we have an opportunity I believe, and I hope it’s a real opportunity to level the playing field for minority entrepreneurs with the State Small Business Credit Initiative, $10 billion coming from the federal government. I think Louisiana’s going to get about 113 million. And of course, for my community, my area I’m going to fight for as much as I can in my area and a significant portion of it, we want to steer towards venture capital, which we know in our community is something that’s not very popular. We’re more accustomed to loans and grants, et cetera.

So, I really wanted to ask of this panel, since you all are just superstars, phenomenal, I wish I could bottle all of you up and bring it back to Louisiana. I was just talking to my friend here, James Perry from college, whose dad taught me African American history. Hey. But I want to hear from you all, would like to hear from you all, any recommendations you have that people in positions to steer the funds, to be architects of how the funds will be deployed. How can we ensure that Black and brown people have access to those funds to start and grow a business?

Gaskin: And I’ll start. And, so, we’re talking to the investors here, or the investors. And so, a couple of stats. So, 83% of entrepreneurs do not access a bank loan, traditional capital, a bank loan of venture capital at the time of starting a business. Of the $69.1 trillion in global assets under the four major asset classes. That’s trillion with the T. Less than 1.3% goes to Black folks, women, and other people of color. So, you see that large disparity. And, so, there’s investing, lending practices, lender education, a number of different things. So, from a philanthropic perspective, I mean, I’ve said, “Look, if the system is broken, try to find another way to fix it.” So we’ve been testing out, it’s called our Capital Access Lab, and it’s testing new and innovative financing that is being done by fund managers who are funding in that 83%. Melissa Bradley’s 1863 in Washington, D.C. Jewel Burks Solomon’s Collab Capital down in Atlanta. Capacity Capital down in Chattanooga, and others. There’s six funds.

Of our $3 million that went into investment into these, over $25 million has now been invested across 40 companies and a $177 million has now been invested in those companies and entrepreneurs by catalyzing just off our little 3% of a test. And thank you. And we’re doing that as a model to show, not only how philanthropists think differently, test two models, you got to play different, but all also for investors that go back to the asset framing, again. That these entrepreneurs first, these fund managers and the entrepreneurs are investible. They will make you money. The last great untapped asset class in America is hiding in plain sight and it’s exactly who you’re talking about. And so, I think it’s the institutions understanding that there’s this whole asset class out there. And help with money flow, right? Because can that be modeled for, we’ve got a whole bunch of cities that are getting these dollars right now, and the money’s coming in and folks are going, “How do we deploy this?”

And so what we’re trying to do as well through our America’s New Business Plan and other things is get that exposure and be that type of advocate. But it takes creative thinking and people understanding how to change the system of distributing the capital.

Freeman-Wilson: I absolutely agree with that. I think at the ground level it’s stacking. So, you’re talking about the state business credit. Go to the mayor’s office. I mean, here’s the thing about mayors, county, commissioners, or advisors, whatever you call them in your community, or parish, because I’ve got some Louisiana roots, and they have an unprecedented amount of money. And so you talk to the state, you talk to the city, you talk to the parish and then you go to philanthropy and say, “We want to create a fund for our local businesses.” And they’re doing similar things all over. So, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take a look at the CAST US fund created by Liz and Don Thompson, the Black fund created by Ariel Capital.

And while it is not necessarily done with the same dollars, because those are largely private entities, get some private money that have a nexus with Lafayette or even with the state of Louisiana. And then get your local urban league involved or other organizations that are similarly situated and think along those same lines. And then all of these folks who made these announcements, Wells Fargo, they’re in trouble again, they’ll stay in. Bank of America, they’re in big trouble right around now. You say, whatever your local bank or your regional bank is, go to those folks. And then you have a million dollars that you can deploy in your community.

Ngozi I Ahanotu-Anorue: Hi, my name is Ngozi I Ahanotu-Anorue and I’m the founder and CEO of hiihat. And hiihat’s like a search engine, not a direct to your marketplace. It’s a search engine that makes the search for all things Black more accessible, equal, easy. So, basically, it just came from currently it takes about six steps for someone to see a Black business online and, actually, make a purchase. But with the search engine, the goal is to take them to make a purchase within three steps. But, basically, my question really is, our goal is to really answer the question for people, “What would it take for you to transition your life to Black-owned day-to-day?” So not just your handbag or what it is, your toothbrush, your toothpaste, your kitchen spray, where you go get gas. I know there’s not a Black-owned gas station everywhere. And I personally like RaceTrac ice, but those things, right?

So, I ask, my question is more so, in your understanding and knowledge, when people make the statement, in fact, the Black dollar circulates six times and stuff like that, do you find that to be true? I personally don’t find it to be true. I find it, and when I talk to people, I hear that they, actually, don’t understand the difficulty in transitioning to Black-owned. They just say, “Oh yes, we’re Black-owned.” And it’s like, “No, but it’s a transition.” So, and it’s not easy, certain amount of money that’s required.

So, my question is, with that fact, do you think it’s possible for us to even get to 50% or 80% Black-owned in everything we do? Your plumber, your electrician, your landscaper. Me personally, I’m like 30%, but 30%. I don’t have anything Black on today, but that’s just my question. I hope it’s something you understand and can answer.

Frank: Wow, I’ll go ahead and start. So, in Tulsa, in Oklahoma, we’re 7%, Black people are 7% of the population. Before the massacre, lots of Black folks. Once the massacre takes place, a lot of Black people left, they didn’t come back. And so that was the first part of, I guess, the economic death of circling the dollar. Back in the day the Black dollar used to circle in our community 19 times before it would leave. It’s impossible for that to happen now because there aren’t enough Black doctors, there aren’t enough Black businesses in order to be able to continue to circle that dollar. So, we have to go outside of our community in order to get what we need.

Recently, and I hate to say this, because I have a friend from Tulsa that’s in the room who’s trying to recruit people to Tulsa. Please go to Tulsa. Tulsa’s, actually, a really great city. But me and my spouse, we moved to Atlanta, the Atlanta, Georgia area. And let me tell you, it’s the first time in my life where I live in a majority Black neighborhood, I would call it middle class, maybe upper middle class. I go to the grocery store. It’s a Publix, so it’s not Black-owned, but everyone that’s there is Black, everyone that’s working. So, in a sense that dollar is still going back to them. Of course, like when I go to the barber shop and get my beard trimmed up, he’s Black. But my doctor’s Black, my dog’s doctor, the vet is Black. I’ve never thought in my life that that would happen. My eye doctor’s Black.

How do we reimagine Black Wall Street in the modern era?

— Nehemiah Frank
Founder and Editor, The Black Wall Street Times

And when I go to my doctor, it’s refreshing to be able to say, “Hey, this is happening to me.” And for them to know, to have that racial experience of being a Black person and knowing exactly what I need. But yeah, so it is completely different. I think that it can happen. But I think it also goes to like, how do we reimagine Black Wall Street in the modern era? A lot of people will say, “Oh, we need to rebuild Black Wall Street. We need to get back.” I’m sure you probably hear that from time to time, being in Tulsa, but it’s just impossible. We live in an integrated, a fully integrated society. So, we have to reimagine what that looks like in a 21st century, how we can support Black business owners.

Harris-Perry: I bet you live in a Black middle income neighborhood. I’d be surprised if in Atlanta you live in a Black middle class neighborhood. And I just want to say that again, just as a reminder, that income and wealth are separate. And that you very much may be working and living around people who have high incomes, but scratch that surface. Because we, and I only say this, I’m not, I mean, I could rag on Atlanta all day. I could just, it’s like my joy, is to talk bad about Atlanta. I really, it is how we represent in New Orleans is we just don’t let y’all forget how whack you are at all points.

But in this case, it’s not just a mocking of the thing that is Atlanta. It is also just what we know about the numbers. So, about the, again, housing prices and about mortgage and wealth and all of that. So let me just, just a couple of others. So, I would agree. I don’t think that we should be thinking about rebuilding this particular version of Black Wall Street, but I also want us to remember that Wall Street is Black Wall Street. Those of us who are Southerners will sometimes catch the, especially from folks who aren’t Southerners, they’ll come, “Oh my God, how can, woo, I can feel the slavery around me.” And especially like, because you know, Louisiana has the Spanish moss and the trees and stuff, which is always lovely and a Hollywood movie, so, it gets represented that that’s what slavery looks like.

And I’m always like, “Well, when you’re like, when you’re out on actual Wall Street in New York, do you feel the slavery all around you?” Because larger slave market on that Wall Street. And so part of what I think, and this goes to the point around, “Oh, I’m so glad you reminded me about Gary 1972.” It’s just like, we’re like, “Oh sorry, we took your land.” That’s their land. Those are our dollars. Philanthropic dollars, that’s ours. That’s ours, it’s our money. Now, we can’t just go take it back that’s not going… We can’t just go take it. But that’s our money. And we should ask for it in the way that we’re asking for it is our money. Because that’s ours. We made that. We created, we generated, the additional wealth.

So, Black labor, unpaid Black labor for generations created that wealth that was then accumulated in a few hands, which is then given out like a Mardi Gras float. Like, “Oh, here, take these blooms.” That’s our stuff. Now again, we can’t just go take it back. We can organize around it. But there’s a few things we can do. One, don’t lose sight of land. Yes, open businesses, but also own land. So fine to own a house, but also just own some land. One of the stunning things that happens is just as Black civil rights increase, so just as we pass ’64 Civil Rights Act, ’65 Voting Rights Act, ’68 National Fair Housing Act. The ownership of Black land plummets at that same time, not just farmland, but all Black land just plummets. So, buy land.

I mean, think about what land is worth right now with all the people doing. So, buy land, after you buy land, do death planning. Don’t leave your land or your home or any of your assets alone without a good, clear death plan. You are going to die. You’re going to die. You’re going to die. You’re going to die. It’s the only thing that’s definitely going to happen is that you are someday going to die. So, so much of the Black land was lost through the massacre of heir’s property problems. If you die, your land, your property often just goes to everybody, and y’all have been to your own family reunions and you know that’s not going to work out.

So, make sure that you have a process for sending down what you do have. When you hear smart, young people say they want to start a nonprofit, tell them no. Say there are lots of nonprofits. There’s plenty of 501(c)(3)s. You don’t want to answer to a board. Let’s talk about how to start an LLC. Let’s talk about how to start. I just think what young people mean when they say it is, “I want to do something good for the world.” Great, do something good. Let’s talk about how to do it under a different tax designation.

And then the last thing I will say is, when you’re thinking about these dollars, I love that my father-in-law was one of your teachers. Jim Perry is my favorite. But when you’re thinking about these dollars, part of how traditional philanthropy and part of how even government resources often work is they put us in competition. So, all these Black communities near and around each other got to fight each other for the one little dollar, which is already our damn dollar. So, one thing to think about is how you can create, and it takes more time and it’s full of effort, but it may also be a nice way to switch it. If you can’t individually buy land, buy land collectively. Don’t compete for the dollars, get together, and collaborate for the dollars.

So, look, Lafayette’s a mess, so is, you know, there’s no community that doesn’t need it. There’s no community that doesn’t need it. And so rather than being set up to compete for one another for these dollars, which are already ours, instead think about ways that you can collaborate for the big dollars. And then make those divisions on the other side when you all are the decision makers, not someone on the outside being the decision maker.

And then the last thing I’ll say is accountability, accountability, accountability. Everybody should be accountable, not just the grantees, the philanthropy should be accountable. You should ask what their mechanism is for feedback so the grantees can tell them whether or not they’re doing a good job. With this money coming down through elected officials, accountability, accountability, account. Even if it sounds like no one is listening, make sure that you are asking, “This is how much money our state got. City council person, how much did you get for us? Member of the state house? How much did you get for us?”

I mean, simple shit. Make a flyer with all the names of all the members of the state house and state senate and put it, mail it to the people and be like, “These are the people who work for you. Ask them where the 113 million is.” Like just literally people, ordinary people don’t know if 113 million, they don’t know that Amber Joe is their representative and they can go ask Amber Joe where the hell their 113 million is. And if Amber Joe keeps getting asked, she may have to send some of it to our constituents.

Frank: Oh, wow, we are wrapping up. Any final thoughts? One minute.

Freeman-Wilson: I’ll close by just where I started almost, mindset. And that goes even to the last question. We have to value Black things. There’s a line out of the Gucci store in every mall in America. Now I’ve been in them, so I’m going to be fully transparent.

Gaskin: Are you first in line?

Freeman-Wilson: But there is a line, but is there a line out of your local Black retail shop? I’ve been in that line too. So, I mean, we’ve got to think about and be intentional about our actions.

Gaskin: When it feels lonely, which it can, as an entrepreneur, as someone with an idea, we can call it whatever name. You’re not alone. You’re the most courageous people on earth. There’s more like you, they’re in your communities, go to your community leaders and ask them to put town halls together, start organizing around entrepreneurship. The old community organizer is always going to come out in me. And, so, if you’re an entrepreneur support organization, make sure you’re doing those connections for those entrepreneurs. If you’re an investor, understand what the communities need and the people in those communities need, it relates to capital. It’s a team sport. Economies are local, people of the new economies, understand your power in that, if you’re trying to start a business or grow one.

Harris-Perry: Take a nap every once in a while, drink more water than you think you need. Look, I do occasionally take naps, but take a nap, drink more water than you think you need. Try to remain as healthy as you can. When we think about the things we buy, what are the things we buy all the time? Food, right? Look for sourcing your food from Black folks as well, even if that’s your own backyard. Might have to build up and put it in a planter because the soil is often lead, not lead-abated in our communities. But I’m just saying, remember that to be the best entrepreneur or community organizer or anything else you’re going to be, you just, you also have to be you. So don’t work yourself to actual death.

And just a reminder that many of the best minds, many of the most entrepreneurial people in our communities are in jail. And if they’re not incarcerated, they’re still living out their incarceration afterward. They can’t be barbers. They can’t own a business. They can’t get a bank loan. They can’t live in certain kinds of housing. They can’t ever sell cannabis legally because they sold it illegally. And, so, I also want us to remember that those who are incarcerated today who were our neighbors yesterday, they’re going to be our neighbors tomorrow. It behooves us to do work on behalf of those who are incarcerated to ensure that those who are or were incarcerated, have an opportunity to vote, to live lives of dignity, and to take their entrepreneurial capacity and build, not just be shut away for it.

Frank: All right, want to thank our panelists, The Kauffman Foundation and South by Southwest for allowing us to have this panel. Have a good day.

This conversation was filmed March 13 at South by Southwest 2022 in Austin, Texas.

This piece is part of the Foundation’s “Uncommon Voices” series, which features viewpoints from those working hard on issues that reduce racial inequity and support economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.