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Three Themes for Advancing Wealth Building and Racial Equity

A series of listening sessions with leaders committed to building wealth highlight the importance of resilience, opportunity, and systems change.

As we work to shape the next phase of Barr’s Racial Wealth Equity Initiative, we knew we wanted to start by listening. Following an open invitation in June, we held 65 conversations with community leaders working in a variety of ways to build the wealth of people of color in Greater Boston.

In each of our conversations, we asked three questions:

  • What does “wealth” and “racial wealth equity” mean to you, your organization, your community?
  • What is an exciting, impactful strategy you believe will have systematic change around the issue of racial wealth equity?
  • What advice do you have for funders, such as Barr Foundation, seeking to partner in this area?

We collaborated with Project Evident to help synthesize what we heard. Here are three ideas that stood out to us:

1. Wealth means opportunity, agency, and stability.

When we asked leaders to define wealth they talked about the possibilities and resiliency that wealth building allows for themselves, their families, and their communities. Their reflections revealed a more expansive definition of wealth – while financial assets are critical, the ability to build wealth represents so much more. Wealth represents the freedom to choose life paths, such as education and career, that are fulfilling. It is having the security of knowing that you can weather an unexpected economic storm and still be on solid footing. People spoke to the important connection between wealth and health. Finally, wealth means communities have choices and control over their own assets.

2. Achieving racial wealth equity requires supporting networks, infrastructure, and systems change.

Throughout the listening sessions, leaders discussed a wide variety of approaches that contribute to building wealth among people of color. A few generated a lot of attention and interest - housing affordability, small businesses, quality education, and careers. Yet, in the sheer variety of promising approaches, we understand that there is no silver bullet to magically erase a widening divide. Durable progress requires systems change.

Leaders emphasized that achieving racial wealth equity will require strengthening networks of organizations to break down silos across strategies and to foster collaboration. They uplifted the importance of these networks in building power across communities as a means of influencing change at the systems level.

To transform systems, they also connected power building approaches with the need to shift narratives and dismantle harmful myths - like just “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” despite the legacy of discriminatory systems and policies. By acknowledging and centering the lived experiences of communities of color in our narratives, leaders believe we can change hearts and minds resulting in more equitable policies and systems.

3. Solutions need to build wealth across generations and for whole communities.

The listening sessions revealed for us that building intergenerational and community wealth is critical to developing economic resiliency now and fostering long-term systems change for the future. We heard that supporting community wealth building strategies is an opportunity to model ways of generating wealth that more equitable distribute resources. When asked to expand on the role that community wealth plays in achieving racial wealth equity, leaders explained the importance of community ownership over physical and financial assets. They elaborated that approaches like cooperative ownership and community land trust models are critical in protecting against market forces, especially in conversations around homeownership and entrepreneurship. Community ownership allows for magnifying benefits of long-term wealth generation to stay within a community and to be passed down from generation to generation rather than to be extracted from a place. These reflections reinforce the idea that community wealth building also builds power to influence systems level change.

Gratitude and a commitment to keep listening

Barr launched the Racial Wealth Equity Initiative strategy in 2022 and has so far distributed $25 million to 21 organizations that aim to build wealth for communities of color across Greater Boston. With a dedicated team now in place and an opportunity to build on this foundation in coming years, we knew we wanted to start with listening. We are so grateful for all of those who were willing to spend time with us to share their ideas and aspirations. These key themes are informing our approach for the work ahead. We look forward to sharing what’s next for the Initiative early in the New Year. And we commit to continuing to listen as we move forward.

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Lisette Le

Director, Racial Wealth Equity Initiative

John Dello Russo

Program Associate, Special Initiatives