Advancing Opportunities through Racial Equity Investing

June 24, 2020

We are in the throes of a major racial justice crisis, the likes of which we have not seen in the United States for more than half a century. 

The global coronavirus pandemic has merely magnified the realities of racial inequality in US society. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on low-income communities of color, with higher death rates among Blacks than Whites. And as the US economy struggles toward a post-coronavirus recovery, Black unemployment has continued to rise, officially to nearly 17 percent, while unemployment among White workers is rapidly falling. 

We thus find ourselves in a maddening moment of collective mourning about the unceasing tragedy of racism in the United States, and after months of staying at home and sheltering in place, the revival of protest politics is an understandable response. We naturally stand in solidarity with all those who are clamoring for a reversal of racial injustice.

But it’s not enough to say or write #BlackLivesMatter. 

Words are meaningless without deeds, and collectively, we must put our money where our mouth is. As a nonprofit research organization committed to harnessing the power of investment for social good and ecological resilience, Croatan Institute views racial equity as a central criterion to be considered in the way that assets are managed. Since the earliest days of our launch, we have been working internally on an initiative on Racial Equity, Economics, Finance, and Sustainability (REEFS), which aims to tackle structures of systemic racism within financial services and to reframe racial equity as an explicit factor for sustainable, responsible, and impact investors to integrate within their investment decisions and engagement strategies.

From this perspective, racial justice requires calls not simply for an end to visible acts of police brutality and White vigilantism but also for fundamental changes in the way that economic opportunity is envisioned and assets are allocated. We need intentional actions that engage with Black communities to reimagine real opportunities for shifting economic power and to ensure they are embedded in the frameworks of accountability that monitor badly needed changes. As even some businesses begin to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter, corporations need to be held accountable — for the diversity of their workforce, leadership, and boards, and for the impacts of their activities along value chains and in communities of color. Our allies and partners in the environmental justice movement have long highlighted the nefarious ways in which corporations have repeatedly viewed low-income communities of color as dumping grounds for their “externalities.” 

It will therefore take a conscientious reallocation of capital and resources to rebalance the long-standing assault on the economic empowerment of communities of color. The Emancipation-era promise of land and assets for families formerly enslaved has never been fulfilled. Instead, the racist backlash against the first Reconstruction undermined the most basic efforts at Black wealth building, literally, setting Black Wall Street ablaze, erecting Confederate monuments on the ashes of the South’s defeat, and building America’s own variety of economic Apartheid. Policy reinforced this racialized power dynamic. The Pigford settlement with the US Department of Agriculture revealed what Black farmers in the rural South had known for decades: that the US government was systematically excluding them from the financial opportunities that subsidized the livelihoods of White farmers and their families. These legacies and the racist resentments that fuel them will not easily evaporate. Although Whiteness may seem “fragile” to some, the systems of White power are durable and difficult to dismantle. Those of us who are people of color continue to encounter them when we go to the bank, apply for a job or a loan, or simply take a walk through the woods.

In this moment of crisis, we therefore invite you to join us in a collaborative, constructive engagement to integrate racial equity explicitly and deeply into our collective work. Internally as an early-stage nonprofit organization, we are on a journey to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into how we operate, make decisions, partner with others, and govern ourselves. We have been fortunate to have thoughtful advisers on this journey, and we are creating policies, practices, and platforms that give even fuller expression to the imperatives of racial justice. Externally, we are tackling the problems of racism in finance, investment, economic development, and the environmental movement and exploring asset-based approaches to investing in racial equity, on one hand, while building financial wealth and health in Black businesses and low-income households and communities of color, on the other. 

Please join us on this journey, by reaching out about collaboration in projects such as REEFS or donating to the Fern B. Jones Memorial Fellowship, to support a new generation of leadership working on the front lines of finance and fairness.

In cooperation,

Sharlene Brown
Senior Fellow and Director, REEFS

Christi Electris
Co-Founder and Fellow

John Fenderson

Josh Humphreys
President and Senior Fellow

Abraham Jones

For more information about Croatan Institute’s initiative on Racial Equity, Economics, Finance, and Sustainability (REEFS), email