What Happens When the Rich Invest in Racial Equity

Meet the young 1 percenters who decided to invest their wealth in places that long experienced exploitation.
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Illustration by Kate Poole.

In 2013, Kate Poole was at a conference for young people who wanted to put their vast wealth to good use. She had opportunities to invest in green technology and local food, but she felt that even well-intentioned investing often extracted interest from communities.

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“As a wealthy White person, I don’t need to keep looking to grow my return,” Poole said. “That’s not going to redistribute wealth.”

Instead, Poole joined seven peers to form Regenerative Finance, an organization made up of young people with access to wealth. They wanted to use their unique financial leverage to show what “non-extractive” investing could look like — putting wealth back into places that long experienced exploitation.

Member Leah Fury said that growing up wealthy, they felt a dissonance between valuing equity and justice and what they identify as their “settler privilege.” By putting their money into non-extractive projects, they hope to reconcile that disconnect. “There are some things that I’m absolutely giving up, and other ways I’m getting access to connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Fury said.

Soon after forming, the group was approached by the Renaissance Community Co-op, a fledgling grocery store in Greensboro, North Carolina, that needed funding. At the time, the city’s Northeast neighborhood, which has a large African American population, was considered unprofitable by large grocery stores and had been without one for 18 years. The neighbors who founded RCC needed loans to build one there.

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“A lot of us are from the Northeast [region], mostly White inheritors,” Poole said of the group. “There was this clear connection between this money that our families had amassed and extraction from the Black South.” So they rallied 28 investors to raise $253,000 for a loan to RCC. But rather than pay the interest to wealthy investors, RCC will put that money into the Southern Reparations Loan Fund, a community-operated fund that reinvests in other Southern co-ops, particularly those that benefit African Americans and people in poverty. It can then be reinvested in other ventures.

“There are lots and lots of different ways White supremacy is active in building White wealth,” Poole said. Growing up, she came to understand that her family’s money came from owning and selling stolen land, and from stock in companies with histories of racial and environmental exploitation.

At times in the past, she’d felt she had to hide her privilege. But not anymore: “The more I’ve been able to share resources and the more I’ve been able to be honest about who I am and who my family is, [the more it] has allowed me to show up more as myself.”