The Reconstruction | February 1, 2021

The Reconstruction: Learning from history to create opportunities for equitable wealth-building now

David Bank
ImpactAlpha Editor

David Bank

ImpactAlpha, Feb. 1 – Talk about a signal. The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 kicked off the period of systemic reform, multi-racial progress and shared prosperity we know as Reconstruction.

Sending her own signal, Melissa Bradley founded 1863 Ventures to accelerate and invest in Black and Brown founders and to demonstrate entrepreneurship as a viable pathway. Contributing editor Monique Aiken invited Bradley to be the first guest on ImpactAlpha’s new podcast series, The Reconstruction.

“We wanted to signal and reclaim our opportunity as Black and Brown folks to create wealth,” says Bradley. “It was a great way to reclaim our power as a community of color and to signal to the world that we are clear about what we can contribute.”

The Reconstruction

The Reconstruction series will engage investors, entrepreneurs, activists and academics in the U.S. and around the world, as Aiken puts it, “to inspire us as we move capital toward justice.” The Rev. William Barber, among other leaders and scholars, has suggested the current period represents a third Reconstruction (the second one encompassing the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s). 

“That first Reconstruction was a time of great promise and extraordinary achievement by newly free Black people in all dimensions of life, including politics and business,” Aiken says in her introduction to the series. “That was followed by a backlash that sought to dismantle that success and destroy its leaders.”

“The backlash is often what’s remembered, another legacy of those that strove to control the historical narrative,” says Aiken, who is also managing director of The Investment Integration Project. “But we resonate with the possibilities, and the possibility that this time the outcome will be different.”

The backlash to our own Reconstruction was evident in last month’s violent siege of the U.S. Capitol, which took place after the podcast was recorded. President Biden sent his own signal about what is at stake in his inaugural address. “A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us,” Biden said, calling out “white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”

Common purpose

Bradley is a veteran of both finance and public policymaking who was earlier featured in ImpactAlpha’s New Revivalist series. She says her historical perspective is informed both by her 92-year-old mother and her 13-year-old twins.

“People need to understand history – in some cases so we don’t repeat where it’s been bad, but in other cases, to understand the progress we’ve made, so we’re starting from the same starting point about what’s the next opportunity, the next leapfrog,” Bradley says.

“It’s important that people understand history to know what laws have been created to allow for equal opportunity, what barriers still exist, and where have we found opportunities of coexistence and equitable wealth building and wealth creation in communities. Because we have seen it.”

Bradley says she has been impressed by the vulnerability shown by many white investors who have tried to educate themselves about racism and racial justice, especially after the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd last summer. 

“While I’ve been a little annoyed by the thousand calls I’ve gotten post-George Floyd, I’ve been impressed by the collective action of people saying, ‘We want to do better, we want to do more,’” she says. “It’s annoying sometimes, but I respect the vulnerability it takes to call me, when it’s pretty clear how I feel about these issues.”

Vulnerability, she says, experienced daily by people of color, creates possibilities for common purpose.

“We fight because we believe it’s actually possible,” Bradley says. “If people would share in the possibilities, though the dreams look different, that we have a shared vision for a greater America…if people would stop assuming we’re fighting for the takeover and just realize we’re fighting for everybody to have equal access to the American dream, I would like to believe that would create a level of understanding, mutual respect and a little bit of vulnerability, so we could advance our current conversations.”

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.