I am a Black fund manager. There are not many of us: Less than 2% of AUM are managed by diverse-owned firms. I work for Living Cities, where we seek to leverage capital and other strategies to close racial wealth gaps in America’s cities. A lofty and seemingly arduous task given the history of America, but if not us, then who?
This mission is massive. It’s bigger than me, and it resonates deeply in my soul. For the first time in my investment career, I have found myself in the position to be a participant in something professionally that endeavors to leave the world better than the point at which I met it. This work has been rewarding in ways in which I never could have imagined. But yet this work has challenged me and while I remain committed, I would be remiss if I suggested this commitment was steadfast.
I write this (finally) at the behest of friends, family, colleagues, thought partners, and dare I say, with incredibly mixed emotions. While I have truly enjoyed this work, I have also struggled with it. I have questioned my strength and resolve countless times. This work has been, in a word, difficult.
Existing in the duality of attempting to do good for my BIPOC community, while so much is seemingly stacked in favor of the opposite is challenging. The barriers to accessing and deploying capital for BIPOC fund managers and business owners are massive and sometimes, seemingly insurmountable. Furthermore, the realization that this is not only my work, but also my day-to-day life, has been rapaciously taxing and easily the greatest challenge of my career to date.
In my capacity as Fund Manager for the Living Cities Catalyst Family of Funds, I am charged with managing the investment activities of Living Cities, which has more recently been focused on diverse fund managers and entrepreneurs. This is an investment thesis which resonates greatly with me both professionally and personally. A perfect alignment, one might suggest, so why has it been so challenging?
The reality is that push for improving racial equity and inclusion is occurring against the backdrop of the continued civil unrest in America. While helping lead the cheer for social progress, I too have experienced these traumas as a Black man. One day, I am closing an investment into a BIPOC-led investment fund with a lens of changing the landscape and moving society forward. The next, yet another unarmed Black man is murdered by law enforcement. I watch as a pandemic further widens the racial wealth gap upon the realization that communities of color would bear the brunt of COVID-related issues given unequal access to the most basic of human needs. Another day, I am in meetings with potential investors for our new investment vehicle focused on diverse fund managers and founders, when a man walks into a grocery store and visits an utter atrocity upon shoppers in Buffalo, N.Y. for nothing more than the fact they look like me.
I ask myself, “am I really making a difference; or is this all for naught?” How easy it is to become disenfranchised with it all and reduce to the notion that nothing you do truly matters and despite the best efforts of the best and brightest among us; racial inequities will persist because the systems set up to allow their permanence to remain unchanged. I am beyond exhausted, and it is incredibly difficult to remain steadfast and unfazed by such events amongst other challenges in this space.
See, the problem is I don’t have the luxury of putting on the “racial equity” suit when I come to do this work only to remove it once I “clock out.” I do this gratifying investment work, then I walk out of my office to live my life as a Black man in America, which comes with its own set of challenges.
Is the “work” ever truly done? How do I maintain my own sense of self-awareness?
I began to lose sight of my own humanity, specifically the value of it, in juxtaposition of my work and these events; downtrodden, discouraged and frustrated. I pondered quitting this space countless times because I couldn’t handle what it was taking from me.
Space to heal
Only through a deep meditation practice and a fierce liberatory search inward was I able to anchor myself and heal. I learned that I needed activities to force me to slow down and actually allow myself to process. I got into rock climbing, I committed to exploring the natural world, I started baking sourdough bread at home. All of these things brought me great joy, but most importantly taught me to pause and allowed me to begin to heal.
Even in the face of the countless assaults on the very humanity of my people, we have been able to persevere. I too draw on that strength. Normally an extremely private person, I write this not for self-indulgence, but in the hopes that revealing the points of weakness in my own journey can provide a light to another soul who may find themselves where I have been and often still am.
To those of you working alongside people like me in the space, take time to connect and check in with your BIPOC colleagues. The gravity of the mass we carry is immense and the perceived strength we are showing you in times like this may not often be real and certainly isn’t unshakable. To those of you like me working in this space, please take time to pause and process the raw emotions. More importantly, please take time to heal. This work takes from us in ways and often more disproportionately than it gives. There remains great work to be done, but we must always make time for self-care. Despite the illusions of grandeur we in the investment world often allow ourselves, we are not superheroes, and it is OK to not be OK.
Thaddeus Fair is assistant director, fund manager for the Living Cities Blended Catalyst Fund