Harnessing Privilege for Justice

I have learned firsthand from my participation in social justice  movements that privileged people in isolation cannot end wealth inequality or the close the racial wealth divide. As a wealthy white person in this country, however, that wasn’t what I was taught. When I was a student at Princeton University, I was told that poverty and climate change were problems that we, as intelligent individuals, could solve with technical innovation and social entrepreneurship. What I learned outside the classroom is that poor people are the experts on poverty; black activists are the experts on anti-black racism; and any attempt to solve a social problem must be shaped and guided by those who are most impacted.

When I first met Tiffany Brown in 2013, she was working with Resource Generation, an organization that organizes wealthy young people to become leaders in the movement for a more equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power. After a decade of working with Be Present, an organization focused on internal and interpersonal transformation, she was skilled at bringing her perspective as a Black, mixed race woman from a working-class background to her work for systemic change. I was just beginning my own journey of reckoning with my wealth, which would eventually lead me to organize other inheritors to invest in wealth redistribution and reparations loan funds. By the time our paths crossed again, when we were both selected as fellows in the inaugural year of RSF Social Finance Integrated Capital Fellowship, Tiffany was working in finance. As we worked together, our eyes opened to the powerful possibility of our partnership.

Through our work with each other and with our clients, we have observed that the most viable strategies and the deepest transformations emerge from relationships across race and class. These boundary-crossing relationships can also be the most challenging—but to disengage out of fear or discomfort is to miss out on huge opportunities for systemic change.

It has been exhilarating to map out a partnership structure to embody our values. How would our politics affect how we split revenue? How would we handle meetings if the attention was just  landing on me, the white inheritor, and not honoring the collaborative nature of our work? As Tiffany wrote in our founding documents:

“We have a shared commitment to multiracial, cross-class leadership. The racial wealth divide, racism, and classism have created a chasm in our country. As we fracture along these lines of identity, we disconnect from the reality that it will take a diversity of perspectives to restore balance. We need each other and are stronger together.”

Our approach is to move financial advising relationships out of isolation and into community in order to transform the entrenched, unjust financial practices of our current system. We are currently bringing together a small group of inheritors to decode their investments, reflect on their histories, transform familial financial patterns, and work with innovative financial activists to experiment with emergent investment strategies. Working collectively breaks down patterns of isolation, perfectionism, and individualism, while building shared analysis and practices.

As we mapped out our cohort and investment advising offerings, we knew we wanted to join a values-aligned investment advisory firm. With its commitment to local and alternative investing, Natural Investments is an excellent fit for us. When we traveled to meet the Natural Investments team, we shared some of our experiences from working with millennial activists and guided the team through a timeline activity to trace how racial injustice, discriminatory government programs, and white supremacy in this country have shaped who has access to wealth. We were struck by the open heartedness and kindness of the Natural Investments team, as well as their deep commitment to justice. As we strive to embody new ways of investing in racial and economic justice, Tiffany and I are excited to join the Natural Investments team.

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