As a child growing up in Baptist churches in Louisiana, I would hear older folks say “Prayer changes things.” Throughout tough periods over the years, my father would routinely question me about my prayer life. I would complain about something and my father would ask, “Have you prayed about it?” Oftentimes, I might roll my eyes in frustration because I couldn’t understand how talking to God was going to immediately change my situation for the better.
Well, decades later, I understand that praying is not about directly changing one’s immediate circumstances. Rather, prayer is about changing yourself, so that you can effectively navigate your situation. I have discovered that being prayerful promotes change because it changes how I personally behave and react to life’s challenges.
In a similar vein, I have discovered that change as a values-aligned investor comes from being open and honest about the societal challenges we face, recognizing that personal and professional growth requires discomfort. For me, the discomfort becomes tolerable and the path to greater enlightenment visible when I am in constant dialogue with people who care about these issues to the same degree that I do.
At my current firm, NorthStar Asset Management, our CEO constantly reminds us that there are no perfect companies, and I would also say there are no perfect investments. If you believe that a portfolio of financial investments is the gateway to meaningful and positive impact in life, then I have some prime swamp land in Louisiana I would like to sell you. Stated differently: investing money isn’t sufficient.
My approach to “owning what I own” is not simple or straightforward given who I am and my experience as a Black woman in this country. I could rattle off a list of assets invested in public market securities and private market initiatives, but that would not speak to the essence of what I believe it means to be a values-aligned investor. I would reframe the question and ask, “Given that I am a values–aligned investor, how does the notion of owning what I own show up in how I live my life?”
I believe in paying taxes so that we can have a healthy functioning federal government. I know that most investors balk at paying taxes, and the stock market relishes corporate tax cuts, but a healthy functioning federal government has been essential to ensuring Black people’s freedom and our ability to exercise rights guaranteed by the constitution. The greatest economic gains that Black people have achieved have come out of the Civil Rights Legislation, and there is a role for the federal government to play in mitigating the harmful effects of systemic racism such as voter suppression. I am the first generation in my family who was born with the expectation of being able to fully participate in our democracy, despite the fact that the institution of slavery ended over 150 years ago. The fight to participate in our democracy and to force our country to live up to its ideals continues, and I know that this fight will intensify over the next decade due to white resentment over the country becoming more brown. It is incumbent upon all of us to INVEST in our democracy.
I believe we should all INVEST in Black-led organizations that empower Black and Brown people. In the past, I only supported my alma mater, Spelman College, but going forward I will support other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). They play a vital yet poorly understood role in educating and caring for Black students, particularly those who are the descendants of enslaved people. HBCUs produce almost 20% of all African American graduates and 25% of African American graduates in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Matriculating at an HBCU increases the chances of a Black student being able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and gives Black students a respite from dealing with systemic racism so that they can focus on getting an education. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the African diaspora and the role our ancestors played in building this country from professors who genuinely care and understand the importance of imparting this knowledge. It was in college that I really started to appreciate why Southerners made it illegal for enslaved people in forced labor camps (also known as plantations) to read.
We have to fight for and INVEST in a more inclusive financial system, where shareholders can hold corporations accountable. At NorthStar, a portion of every employee’s salary goes into the firm’s retirement plan, which is used to file shareholder proposals. We are active equity mangers, and we believe that it is our fiduciary duty to hold corporations accountable through bold shareholder proposals that are designed to address issues of systemic racism, gender and sexual identity discrimination, environmental justice, employee rights, and other social issues. We cannot in good conscious separate our investing selves from our values.
Time has become one of my most precious assets, and I am mindful of INVESTING my time with people who love and support me. To this end, I communicate with my immediate family on a daily basis, and I try to spend as much time as possible with family and friends. In my work, I try make myself available to other professionals who look like me. Navigating the financial world as a Black female is a unique and challenging experience that is not generally acknowledged or well understood. To remain healthy and happy, I believe it is important to spend time in the company of people who validate and acknowledge my lived experiences.
I am INVESTING in becoming a better person. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. At best, being a values-aligned investor means that one should be willing to have a constant dialogue about what you value and how it is showing up in your life before even considering how it shows up in your portfolio. I often think about what it means to be a Black person investing in a capitalistic system that was built on the backs of my ancestors who were never compensated and whose work in laying the foundation for this country’s ascension to the world stage has never been acknowledged. Being a values-aligned investor is about being able to sit with and tolerate discomfort. I am proud to work at a firm where I am not alone and where we open the door for our clients to sit alongside us in this discomfort.
Ivy Jack is head of equity research at NorthStar Asset Management.
Thanks to Confluence Philanthropy for sharing Ivy Jack’s post.