The Reconstruction | May 3, 2021

The Reconstruction: Accelerating Black entrepreneurship to build wealth across generations

Monique Aiken and Anjali Deshmukh
Guest Author

Monique Aiken

Guest Author

Anjali Deshmukh

ImpactAlpha, May 3, 2021 – Inheritance is not only about the wealth we pass down from grandparents to parents to children. It is also an expression of how systems and structures perpetuate inequities by blocking access to wealth accumulation. 

“Approaching generational wealth strictly in monetary terms… isn’t the panacea that we probably think it is, if future generations keep inheriting inequitable conditions, and systematic racism as well,” says Kelli Saulny, in the latest conversation on The Reconstruction, ImpactAlpha’s podcast series about moving capital toward justice. 

To pave the path for a new Reconstruction, impact investors must go beyond atomized programs to support systems-change and behavioral change, says Saulny, director of strategic partnerships at Camelback Ventures. The New Orleans-based nonprofit, which provides coaching, investment opportunities, and community connections to BIPOC entrepreneurs. 

The time for a massive collective intervention is long overdue. On the current trajectory, the median wealth of Black households will hit zero by 2053, according to the Institute for Policy Studies

Generational inheritance 

By building a supportive ecosystem for and with entrepreneurs, investors, and supporters, Camelback believes that it can be a part of the solution to the racial wealth gap. 

Saulny has launched the Generational Inheritance Initiative, a social media campaign to spark a dialogue around intergenerational wealth and systemic change. Rooted in anti-racism, the campaign examines inheritance in the context of injustices faced by Black communities who have lived through centuries of what author Ta-Nehisi Coates calls racist kleptocracy

Dozens of life-changing policies benefited white people while robbing Black people of wealth, access to education, and more. The 1944 GI Bill excluded Black veterans from access to tuition assistance, home and business loans. The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded whole categories of work, disproportionately made up of people of color, from retirement benefits and unemployment insurance. Redlining deliberately denied home loans in neighborhoods where people of color lived.

Today’s racist tactics are more insidious in extracting a “Black tax.” Some exclusionary practices deploy proxies, such as geography, to carry out racist policies or actions. Predatory lending, modern-day redlining, credit steering, real estate steering, and redistricting are examples of the  ways in which racism has gone underground to continue extracting wealth.

“The Black tax that we’re paying is certainly a result of an inheritance of racism that’s been passed down… generation after generation,” says Saulny. “We have to be honest about the caste system that exists in America.”

The practice of hope is necessary to build new narratives. “We have to start with our vision as well as our disciplines on how to remain hopeful, especially because we know particularly in American history,…[that] any opportunity or attempt to advance racial and economic justice is always… met with resistance.”

Camelback’s narrative change campaign is focused on sustaining wealth and just systems across multiple generations. 

(For more on the transformational power of narrative change, listen to conversations in The Reconstruction series with Tiffany Manuel and Rey Ramsey.)

Cooperative power

Camelback’s Generational Inheritance Initiative seeks to foster a culture of collective and place-based community support for BIPOC entrepreneurs. That’s in distinction to a culture that demands that individuals or families bear the burden of creating wealth — and resisting systems — on their own. 

“This is an ongoing movement with the aim to emphasize the value of cooperative power and resources,” says Saulny. “Our goal is to move us away from the current focus of generational wealth, which… places the responsibility of wealth creation on the individual, to a new framework that… focuses on the inputs that enable wealth accumulation.”

In addition to her work with Camelback, Saulny is the campaign manager for Campaign for Equity New Orleans, or CENO, which conducts workshops and other community-building activities to create a more equitable New Orleans. 

The workshops draw on the Groundwater Approach, an analytical framework for understanding systemic racism. The campaign’s race-based analysis illuminates how the city’s history of economic development perpetuates inequity, 15 years after Hurricane Katrina. 

“If you got to think about a newborn that was born the year of Katrina, that child is 15 years old now,” says Saulny. “So what is the inheritance that they received in New Orleans?”  How we choose to recover from COVID is the biggest inheritance that we are going to leave to the next generation, she says.

“All of this has to be with an extraordinary, extraordinary amount of intentionality around sustainability,” she says. “I want to get to a point where… every generation isn’t starting over because of reinvented racism.”

This podcast is part of ImpactAlpha’s new podcast series, The Reconstruction. Host: Monique Aiken. Editor: David Bank. Producer: Isaac Silk. Special thanks to Lyneka Little and Cesar Chavez.

Find episodes of The Reconstruction podcast, and all of ImpactAlpha’s coverage of racial justice and inclusive prosperity, on The Reconstruction landing page.