Black Star Fund’s Kwame Anku and His Revolutionary Vision

Audio Description

How do we protect and multiply the transformative strides occurring in Black wealth creation today? Kwame Anku, CEO and Chairman of the Black Star Fund joins James Thompson and his new co-host Maci Philitas for a robust discussion. 


00:05 - 00:43

This is Changing the Trajectory, and I'm your host, James Seth Thompson, Bernstein's head of diverse market strategy. I'm happy to announce that today I'm joined by the brilliant Maci Philitas, who is actually one of my first external guests of the show. Early in 2020, she joined me to discuss Black female investors and her own fearless entrepreneurial journey. Life has come full circle now. My former friend is still my friend, but also my colleague here at Bernstein. We actually have our own entrepreneur now, so you'll be hearing more about the evolution of the show. But Maci, I'm still happy that you can join me for this conversation today.

00:43 - 00:47

Thank you. James, I am so excited about joining you on this podcast.

00:47 - 01:27

And also we are joined by Kwame Anku, who is the CEO and Chairman of the Black Star Fund. It is a $12 million early-stage innovation venture fund that has invested in 15 companies where all of the founders are Black, 50 percent are women founders, and over 70 percent of capital employed has been invested in Black women-led ventures. So Kwame, I'm really excited for you to join us today to have an engaging conversation. But as I said earlier, with respect to the full circle Maci, Maci's joining the show, has also brought us together because I first met you out in San Francisco at one of her events. Nonetheless, really happy that you are joining us today.

01:27 - 01:34

Outstanding. Thank you so much for the invitation. Great to connect with you and always great to connect with you, as well, Maci.

01:34 - 01:45

You as well, Kwame. Kwame, something that I love about your title is that you are the chief visionary officer of the Black Star Fund. So can you just tell us a little bit about what that means?

01:46 - 02:19

Sure. You know, I think sometimes people like to get caught up in these titles that make them seem important. But I take the title as a description of the role and I take that very seriously. I think in general, where we have to define, what do we mean when we say visionary? And visionary to me is very simple. It's just basically people who are able to see things and opportunities before the masses see them. And fundamentally, what you're really talking about is the ability to see new ways to solve old problems and create something new and transformative out of nothing.

02:20 - 03:00

But all of that starts with a vision of what's possible. And I think that's really my role is to be able to say this is possible. I see this vision of a fund, a venture fund that's focusing on Black entrepreneurs. We see a vision of creating a unicorn factory. We see a vision of transforming disparities with respect to allocations of venture capital. We see a vision of how actually how to do that. And then we execute on that. At the high level, it's basically sharing the vision with the team and with the ecosystem on the day-to-day. Internally, it's being able to cast a vision with the team that they can get excited about. They can aspire to and then ultimately execute, manifest.

03:00 - 03:01

That's awesome.

03:01 - 03:56

Talking about full circle, Kwame, as part of how we are all here today, what was it, Kwame, about two and a half years ago when I was living in Morocco, we were brainstorming on a marketing campaign and it was focused on empowering and inspiring Black women to start seeing themselves as investors and startups and small businesses. And we were looking at communities that we could target, and out of those series of conversations came I Look Like an Investor, or ILLI, for short. And for that first ILLI event, which James was talking about, Kwame and Black Star Fund were our major sponsor for it, and Bernstein was our partner. And so this really is a full circle conversation with all of the initial players at the table. And so to speak of you being a visionary, even on a small level, this is part of a vision that you helped create.

03:56 - 04:25

Yeah, thank you so much, Maci, for just illuminating that. Having vision as part of the process. Then the question is about execution. And I think fundamentally what we do as investors is we plant seeds. And it's really a very simple biblical principle of just you're reaping what you sow. And it's not just, you know, good seed, but it's good seed and good soil. Our process of nurturing and in our world, what is that? It's people, it's relationships. It's nurturing those relationships.

04:25 - 04:27

You know, there's something really interesting.

04:27 - 05:01

I'd love for you to touch on, Kwame, but you have a unique perspective with respect to how things socially have influenced some of the vision or some of the thinking or some of the intentionality. Right? One thing that comes to mind is, Yes, We Code. Another thing that comes to mind is, you know, what we seen post George Floyd with respect to the focus on Black Fund managers, entrepreneurs and Black wealth. I'd like the audience to hear your perspective on the importance of these efforts and these initiatives.

05:02 - 05:37

Well, James, you know, I think part of when you shared, you know, kind of that list. Yes, We Code and working with Prince and the social unrest that we saw in 2020 and the country kind of turned upside down. What that says to me and what we want to communicate to the audience is the importance of context; that the right movements and transformations don't happen, obviously in a vacuum. They don't happen in isolation. They happen within a context. And then when we add the element of time, that's when you get extraordinary opportunities for seismic shifts and see changes to happen.

05:37 - 05:59

So what do I mean by that? Meaning that it's hard to understand this tsunami of this movement in Black venture capital and Black fund managers without going back to 2013 in the wake of Trayvon Martin being killed and his murderer being acquitted because what was borne at that time was not only Yes, We Code, which was part of an extraordinary visionary organization movement by the legendary rock star Prince.

05:59 - 06:46

But also, that's when you saw really the dawn of Black Girls Code with Kimberly Bryant. That's when you saw Christina Lewis and her organization out of New York focusing on Black and brown kids learning to code and getting involved in technology. It's when Big Tech started opening its eyes and started writing checks and started partnering. Right. So Google and Facebook and all these different folks, it was where NBC Universal and Comcast started doing nationally televised hackathons. So we hadn't really heard of this idea of hackathons for young Black kids. This is something that, you know, mainstream tech had been doing for a long time, but it was in that time period you could go to Oakland and you could see 110 African American girls under the age of 15, with some of the best technology people in the country creating apps within 36 hours. And so this whole thing was happening at that early

06:46 - 07:33

And so we got involved. And hey, let's get our kids to learn how to code so they can get tech jobs. And Prince challenged us and said, Hey, we're the black Mark Zuckerbergs? So then we were like, Whoa, wait a second. It's not just about coding and getting jobs at these tech companies, it's about investing in people who create the tech companies. How does that work? Well, venture capital has been doing that for 40 years. We haven't been a part of that. And we had a choice. The choice was where did you go and put pressure on Silicon Valley to be more inclusive, or you just do the same thing in Silicon Valley did in the 70s and 80s, which is just aggregate money and find top-tier talent and invest in them and help nurture them. And then ultimately they grow and you have success and you just rinse and repeat. And so we chose to do that. So you have small angel funds, you talk about 10, $50 million funds. Some of my friends who started four or five years ago, a little further down the road than we were. They just closed hundred million dollars Funds. And in time we'll have fund of Funds,

07:33 - 07:59

So It's an extraordinary moment that's happening right now, and I'm proud, not only to be a part of it - one of the leaders in it - but just really to be part of the peer group. Because we are literally transforming the allocation of capital, the access to it, the process of multiplying it and growing it. Which ultimately, for us, as we know, isn't just about bottom-line expansion - which is critical - it's also about transforming communities and also correcting historical injustices.

07:59 - 08:34

Maci, I want you to put down your Bernstein office badge now and put your ILLI hat back on. Kwame touched on this. It is important that we influence and inspire the aggregation of dollars, right? Black people aggregating dollars to be investors as well as entrepreneurs, because there's this idea and notion that you need capital to have power. Now people will read that many different ways. But can you touch on, Maci, the importance of that in your mind, especially with the work that you didwith ILLI?

08:34 - 09:22

Yeah, absolutely. It's no lie that pattern matching exists, right? Part of the inspiration behind ILLI was the fact that first, we acknowledge that pattern matching. But then we thought, OK, given the fact that that's there, how can we have more investors who fit the pattern of the entrepreneurs who look and feel like me? And so instead of continuing to cite the terrible data about the lack of funds that were going to Black women, I thought and along with Kwame, Hey, what if we inspired and empowered more Black women to start seeing themselves as investors and then also give them the tools to do so, so that there are more investors who fit the pattern of the entrepreneurs and vice versa.

09:22 - 10:15

To you, Kwame, point about the early days of Black startups. I think about Dave Salvant and Songe LaRon, the co-founders of Squire, and many of their early investors and supporters were Black. There was Michael Seibel from Y Combinator and they got in there. And when you look at their cap table, a lot of their investors are Black, and it's because of what Kwame was talking about. The work that was being done in the wake of Trayvon Martin that put Black investors with influence in places where we can now have Black founded companies that are worth 750 million dollars and beyond. And it's really incredible to see that the work that was done six to 10 years ago is really having an impact on the Black startup landscape and really the startup landscape in general of today.

10:15 - 10:27

How do you guys think about the wave of Black fund managers in high growth and venture? How do you think about this new ecosystem as being part of solving the wealth gap?

10:28 - 10:54

Sure, sure. I mean, look, I have been on record and I stand on this rock. I will die on this rock. I believe it is the way, James, the way to solve the wealth gap problem. Now, I've had lots of conversations with African Americans in particular who don't agree with that and who actually would challenge me on it. But the reality is, is that I'm only dealing with math and time. I'm going with math and time.

10:54 - 11:44

So let's look at examples that we've seen already. What was the market cap of Google in 1999, when Larry and Sergei got it started with a check for 100 grand? What was the market cap? It was negligible. There was no market cap. It is not where is it today, 22 years later. The question is where was it five years after it started. You know, 100,000 people that had employment at Google. You're talking about hundreds of millionaires and significant millionaires that were created, not who just worked there, but who invested early. Now you go back in that first three, four, five years of that company. How many African Americans participated in the explosive wealth growth? Almost none. Because they were kept out, because it was written in the bylaws, they couldn't participate. No, it was because they were not in the room, because they were not part of the network who got the phone call and got the text. So that's just one company.

11:45 - 12:16

So if you just do the math and look at time, to Maci's point, if there was just 10 Black unicorns. That Black investors and Black folks, even in the crowdfunding we're participating in, and those 10 black unicorns within five to seven years, each one not only was worth over a billion dollars, but they had a market cap of just $20 billion. And that's two trillion dollars of market cap with 10 companies, like what is that going to do to the wealth gap? And that can happen within five to 10 years. Mm hmm. So I think it's the driver. I think it's the

12:16 - 12:58

And another thing that's really important, James, is that we were super clear about this. It's not just about these big numbers. It's then what happens is those founders become significant institutional investors. It's one thing if you've got a Black woman, let's say, Maci, and she has a unicorn, and she can write a check for 10 million dollars investment. It's great, but the real thing is Andreessen Horowitz. Those guys made their money in Silicon Valley with exits and then created the venture capital fund. Right? See? And so that's where the opportunity is, what we're doing right now. As exciting as it is, that is preschool. I mean, once we get really going and you have significant exits and these great leaders who created these unicorns become fund managers themselves. That is when it's completely game over and there's no turning back.

12:58 - 13:29

Yeah. Kwame, I completely agree with you. And when I was fundraising for On Second Thought, I would constantly tell people, you know, how unfortunate would it be to miss out on the opportunity to invest in these Black unicorns? Because that's how we change the trajectory of not just our families, but also our society. We're the ones who are going to be reinvesting in our communities and to really see the seismic shift that we're asking, I hate to say it, the government to take care of it. It's something that's going to come from the private sector and really it's going to come from us.

13:29 - 14:12

And so to your point, Kwame, you know, not only Andreessen Horowitz, but look at Kapur capital. They had their exit. They took their firm to Oakland, where they only focus on investing in startups that support underserved communities. And they're not even Black. Yeah. But I do think that Black and brown [...] still have that same sense of responsibility. So how wonderful will it be when we do have the resources to say yes, we had, you know, our $20 billion exit, walked away with a couple hundred million, and now we're able to reinvest those dollars, not only in entrepreneurs who look and feel like us, but also in transforming our communities.

14:12 - 14:13


14:13 - 14:50

You know, the keywords there for me, Maci, and always are the keyword to me is reinvestment and intentionality. That's what builds the ecosystem. It's one thing to reap the benefits of the success of your idea, of your business. It's another thing to be intentional with how you reinvest. It's building the community and the capacity to keep it going. Vendor relationships are contractual. Vendor relationships don't last more than three, five years before they're re-evaluated, so there really is that intentionality and deliberate action that creates the ecosystem.

14:50 - 15:37

That's what really kind of resonates, Maci, when you talk through that a little bit. Not to be a skeptic or to share any fear apprehensions, but I do have a question I think it's important to discuss and it's around, Is this a point in time or is this something more, you know, post 2020 to summer 2020, George Floyd, whatever social influence you want to reference, you know, the industry as a whole has really jumped on board to really support Black this, Black that, Black empowerment, Black entrepreneurs. But do you guys have any fears and apprehensions about the authenticity behind that? You know, what do we need to do to create some accountability that this isn't just a fleeting moment in time, but that it is part of this ecosystem environment we're looking to create?

15:38 - 16:34

Part of me is really amazed by just the amount of dollars that have been dedicated and the follow-through. I look at the startup funding environment right now and I'm like, Oh my goodness, folks are raising rounds handover. This is incredible. And in many ways, you know, it's that money should have always been there, right? There's no reason why SoftBank and Andreessen Horowitz and some of these other firms shouldn't have dedicated these dollars years ago, mainly because they were able to do it overnight. And the other thing is that and there have always been startups founders who were skilled enough to manage that level of investment, right? And who knows where we would be as a society if SoftBank had allocated that money 10 years ago and where we would be because of that increased access to founders from underrepresented communities. And so I do think that it's exciting.

16:34 - 17:09

Something that makes me a little fearful and anxious is that when you look at our country's history, every time we've seen this spike in Black wealth, we've also seen some sort of event happen in backlash. We had a spike in Black wealth in the early 1800s in Tulsa and other major cities, and as a result, you saw the Black backlash of the Tulsa Race Massacre. We saw a spike in Black wealth in New York and what is now Central Park and what did we see? The razing of the community to create a park.

17:09 - 17:35

And so our history has shown that whenever Black people create wealth for themselves, American society just can't handle that. My focus is more so on how do we protect this wealth now? What can we do today to make sure that we aren't constantly starting from scratch with every generation? To share my thoughts, James, about kind of how you're couching the question?

17:35 - 18:10

First of all, this extraordinary moment in history. And I think again, I want us to make sure that we don't fall prey to the clichés, right? Because our people say, Well, it's not a moment, it's a movement. I shy away from that stuff, right? Because it goes back to the power and beauty, what you said earlier. It's about intentionality, right? Okay. This is a moment. Now, what are we intentionally doing with this moment? That's all it boils down to, not what happens when the moment passes and how are we going to keep it going? And what happens if it dissipates? And you know, these folks make commitments and then they don't follow through? And then what are we going to do? That's not the context within which we need to engage at the moment.

18:10 - 18:50

So what are we talking about the moment? Well, we have seen police killings and shootings and we've seen the violence and we've seen all this stuff before. We've seen big reactions from corporate America and from government. I've never seen $60 billion of equity capital committed within two weeks. Never seen that before. And to Maci's point, we were in a situation where you had fund and fund managers who could absorb it and you didn't have people like a Margaret and Andrew 20 years ago at Goldman Sachs, who with a small group of Black women who were called by the CEO of Goldman, by the way, to come up with this idea of a $10 billion commitment to Black women entrepreneurs over the next 10 years.

18:51 - 19:12

So you didn't have people like that in that place. And quite frankly, to their credit, you didn't have people like Mr. Solomon at Goldman Sachs who are the mindset in the wake of what was happening to pick up the phone and call Margaret. And it clicked with her colleagues and say, I want to do something real. I want to do something significant. I want to do something transformative. And no idea is too out of the box. What do we need to do?

19:13 - 19:35

Right. So there's so much that was going on. I then jump over to Bank of America, 300 million dollars just for venture, forget lending and small business loans and everything else. We've never seen anything like this on this level. And I literally just name-checked its two institutions. So now add Apple, now add Google, now add PayPal, now add...the list goes on and on and on.

19:35 - 20:31

Now that said, I want to go back to my earlier point at around, the real question is what are we going to do with this moment? What are we going to do at this moment? It's not simply about getting LP investors to write checks and wire those funds. How are we strategic? And I want to touch on Maci's point, too. I think the other thing that's different is that, you know, when you think about the fear of the backlash, I don't have a fear of the Tulsa riot. I don't have a fear of some massive backlash. But I also think it's inevitable; not the massacre, but the backlash, that's inevitable. But if we don't have a fear of it, is that part of the difference now is that it's not like this whole movement as a bunch of Black people living in some separate Black island who are going to somehow figure out a way to do all this and create all this wealth. And then it's just going to make a certain group of White people upset. The reality is we are working in partnership and in tandem with people of all different communities right now as we speak, who have a vested interest in the transformation of the country.

20:31 - 21:11

When you look at Black Star Fund, for example, it's not like Black Star Fund is a fund that only Black people have invested in. As a matter of fact, 90 percent of the LPs are not Black. So what does that mean? It means people who wrote those checks, individuals and institutions, they have a vested interest in this being successful. They're not just writing checks, they are leveraging relationships, they're mentoring, they're helping. And they also see all of us, quite frankly, at the nascent stage of the journey of fund management. So we disclose Fund 1, 12 million, we're now starting fund to 2, that's 150 million, and we're going run the course of that race and then they're going to... what's happening. We'll go to five hundred and then we'll do a fund of funds, the rest of those things in tandem with our other counterparts.

21:11 - 21:49

There's a lot of people in this country who are feeling left out. They got sold the bag of goods that the country was actually designed for them and then they realized it actually is not. And I love when Langston Hughes said America has to be the land that has never yet been, yet must be. And I think this is part of what the Black movement around this financial transformation is, is it's not just about us. We're actually leading the transformation of the country so that everybody from all different backgrounds can actually participate in this thing. It's not an experiment, and people always say America is an experiment, and I can't stand that. It's not an experiment. It's a system that was set up to do very specific things. And it does that very, very, very well.

21:49 - 22:23

Unfortunately, part of the thing that was set up to do is exploit a lot of people. And you've got a new generation of people, Black, brown, red, yellow and otherwise who do not believe in that anymore. And they understand it's not just about protesting in the streets or trying to get laws passed or trying to be able to get to school. It's about having control of your economic life and not just being able to pay your bills and save a little bit of money, but to be able to grow and aggregate capital in such a way that you can build neighborhoods and cities and technology to transform people's lives.

22:24 - 22:53

And we have to do it in the context of again, as Langston Hughes said, that we're building the country that has never yet been, yet must be. And that's how you can protect, Maci, I think, this wealth creation because reality is, we may be driving it and we're going to be the beneficiaries who take care of ourselves for the first time in 400 years. But we're actually doing it in a way that everybody is going to be able to sit at the table and feel appreciated and respected and a part of this new foundation for really the new America.

22:53 - 23:28

I really appreciate both of you talking about this idea of protection, because what we do know is with this infusion of resources over the last 18 to 20 months or so, you know, we have a lot of people who look like us who are in positions that they've never been in before, and this process requires some self-assessment and self-awareness. I need to be vulnerable enough to know that there are some gaps I need filled; this idea of "I don't know what I don't know," but it's also up to people like the three of us. Different positions,

23:28 - 23:54

but we still also have a responsibility to bring the resources of our capabilities to make sure people have what has been excluded from them for generations. But when you think about this ecosystem and the protection of the wealth creation, there has to be an equitable approach to make sure we're meeting people where they are and recognizing that your bank account might look like someone else's.

23:54 - 24:16

But your starting point is quite different. And you know, that's just a call to action that I hope people grasp as we think about this open window and the opportunities that will continue to come our way. It's up to us to make sure that we are connecting the dots what people have access to that has historically been void from their

24:16 - 24:57

What both of you hit on was the fact that this movement is inclusive. It's one where we're almost creating a new table with enough seats for everyone and when thinking about protection, because it's everybody's table, if someone comes and destroys it, there's going to be a lot of trouble, right? Because it's like, No, we built this. We're invested in this not only financially, but also from a relationship and a community standpoint. And so to your points, we're stronger this time because of the fact that everyone's invested this time, and that is really heartening and really exciting.

24:57 - 25:31

And beyond that, the other exciting part of it is that by investors like Kwame making the right investments in startups and entrepreneurs, we have an opportunity such that even if Bank of America decides to stop its programming or decides not to react, some of those companies will become unicorns, be able to fund the future Funds of Kwame and other investors. And so there really is the opportunity also for us to become self-sufficient and self-sustaining even within the inclusive economy that we're creating.

25:31 - 26:23

One of the things I can say for me in terms of my own personal experience, you know, there's a way in which there's a glamour, right, to investing in these celebrity investors and Shark Tank and even us as black VCs. I think there's kind of a romanticization of like what we do every day, especially because people see it like on TV or on some big conference or, you know, doing these podcasts with these big, important people. What do we actually do every day when there's no cameras, nobody's recording and you know, you're not doing a blog post or 80,000 reactions to it? That work, again, James, goes back to what you were saying, we are entrepreneurs and fund managers of not knowing what you don't know. And then how do you grow and become more effective if you don't know what you don't know? You do that by being in relationship with your LPs who have done this over and over and over and over and Maci, to your point, who have a vested interest in this being successful for the long term.

26:24 - 27:05

Mm hmm. So I have that in my life. I have people who have written half million-dollar checks, million-dollar checks plus. Who don't just kind of mentor me and say, Kwame, here's a couple of things you may need to think about. They invite me to their homes and introduce me to their friends. They teach me about investments that they made. They teach me mistakes that they've made. They listen nonjudgementally. When I say, I'm concerned, I'm confused. I'm not sure this is a good idea. I want to run it by you. And part of the reason why I appreciate that, when I say nonjudgmentally, is because they've made every mistake possible. And they actually lost an insane amount of money.

27:05 - 27:25

Fortunately, they made a lot more money. I see when you are playing at the highest game of investment bank, you had outrageous wins and you've had just painful losses. So to have those folks not only cheering on the sideline, but to have them literally in the corner, literally in the training gym, on a daily basis, on a text basis. This is part of the reason why I'm just so optimistic.

27:25 - 28:19

And again, it goes back to you talked about the moment that we've never been in a situation like this before. For me to have folks who own sports teams, NBA teams, who are billionaires, who have invested. It's not about a LinkedIn post. It's about those folks being able to help mentor us and teach us and get us into a network. And so you think about what is that not only for us as fund managers in our generation, but what does that mean for our kids? You know, I've got a son who just turned 13. He has literally spent the last four years ear hustling, Zoom calls, watching Shark Tank. He understands everything about equity and positions and ROI, he's learning about crypto because he's around it. You see what I mean? Multiply that, 15 fund managers, 20 fund managers, 100 fund managers, each one of them has three kids. What does that mean over the next 15, 20 years? It is very, very exciting.

28:19 - 28:56

I think a lot of that is how we protect the institution. You know, we have to recognize that we are in a different place, but there's a level of intelligence to be absorbed through our experiences, like your son. And networks like the three of us to make sure that we know how to plan well into the future, regardless of if that window stays open or closed. And I loved Maci's narrative around that table. It's like if you come to my house on Thanksgiving and you don't like my mom's turkey, you're not coming back to my house for Thanksgiving. That's not an option. You have to like my mom's turkey, right?

28:57 - 29:28

It's the intentionality in motion. You know, as a fund manager, Kwame, right, you have to make the right investments in the right companies that generate the right return, it's more than just the return. It's what does that return mean down the line for this ecosystem, you know, we've been talking about. So I really appreciate your perspectives. I lean on your insight and guidance because it is really important that we protect this institution.

29:28 - 30:10

I agree, and I feel like we could talk about this easily all day, but something that I really grabbed on to that you said, Kwame, was about how your son has hustling, right? And so all of this is going to be natural for him and his generation. But in many ways, you've also kind of been ear hustling throughout your life when thinking about just your family, everyone from your parents to your grandmother, Ambassador Scott. Some of these things are, I'm sure, that have led you to where you are, or a combination of your hustling environment, your and your family's stories. And some of it is just destiny.

30:10 - 30:12

Yeah, right?

30:12 - 30:24

It seems as though a lot of what you're doing and a lot of what your son is experiencing is a direct result of the work that previous generations in your family have already done.

30:24 - 31:14

Can you speak a little bit on that? When you talk about, Maci, kind of the date with destiny, I got a friend of mine, he's a great miner, says, You got a date with destiny, you just have to keep the appointment. It's good. Another friend of mine said, When you look back at your life, right, the dots always connect when you look backwards. So you just kind of going through stuff, not realizing it, the interconnectedness of everything until a particular moment. You know, when I think, you know, we just lost my grandmother who you referred to Ambassador Therèse Striggner Scott, and I was literally just in Ghana with my son at the funeral service and the president and the first lady of Ghana were there. And she was an extraordinary figure in the country, and she was the Ghanaian ambassador to France and Spain, the Vatican. She was a global diplomat in UNESCO and a groundbreaker. She was the first woman to ever be in the High Court in Zimbabwe. Extraordinary stuff.

31:15 - 31:40

I think a lot of it, Maci, is this. You've heard within the course of this conversation, a lot of these cliches that I just don't like, and that's because they're very restrictive. I always say that stories we tell ourselves create the realities that we live, and when we say things like you have to be twice as good to get half as much. I think that stuff is very self-defeating for kids. You can't be what you can't see. No, this is the power of visionary. If you're envisioning something in your mind, that's what we're focusing on manifesting.

31:40 - 32:26

That said, there's also a thing about normative behavior. So for me, as a kid, I was born in the projects in East Cleveland. But my father, we were there because my father didn't have any money. But we didn't have any money is because he was in early residency as a physician in the early 70s. But he came from a village with no running water and electricity in Ghana. So my dad was 17 years old before the country gained independence from the British, so this village boy from [...], his village in Ghana, comes to the States in the early 60s, in the hotbed of the racism in the Midwest, the civil rights movement, and is able to become a medical doctor going to Cornell Medical School. So when I'm born in the early 70s, he doesn't have any money, but he's at the beginning of creating a medical practice.

32:26 - 32:49

So we go from there to me being three years old and remember being in a rusted out Pinto and the foam coming out of the front seat, to me being five and sharpening the pencils at his office on the floor, where my mom took leave from her job as a fashion design instructor to be his secretary because he couldn't afford one. And I remember sharpening the pencils and having file boxes because we couldn't afford a file cabinet.

32:49 - 33:17

And then you fast forward, by the time I was 14, my mom was still there as the business manager and my dad had two offices, eight full-time employees, a million dollars worth of equipment, and nationally, a best selling book on the treatment of cancer and had an extraordinary success rate curing cancer patients in the 80s and 90s with no internet. Wow. So my point about normative behavior is that as a kid, you don't get to see her because she's in Ghana. She's in Africa. You know who she is, your grandmother, and this is what she does.

33:17 - 34:01

My grandfather, who was my grandma T's first husband, Kojo Dadzie, who my son is actually named after, he was the Ghanaian ambassador to Romania and to France, and for a quick minute, the Soviet Union. It's amazing. I had both sides, like the idea that my dad could come from a village with no running water and nothing, and then create this in the United States of all places. And then on my mom's side that you have that lineage of achievement. It wasn't that there was a huge expectation on us as kids that we had to be major players. That was normative, that you could do that and that you could have the audacity to dream to go above and beyond that. And I think this is one of the things we have to do with our kids across the board.

34:01 - 34:24

And I think that's why I like telling that story because people could say, Well, you have, Kwame, not everybody's grandparents were, you know, being ambassadors that's true. But not everybody's parents are also born in the village and no running water, no electricity, because I could see all that as a kid. Then it's like we can do anything. Is it hard? Yes. Are there obstacles? Yes. Are there systems and structures set up to prevent you from doing those things?

34:25 - 35:21

Absolutely. But does that mean we're not going to do it? No, no. Right, right? I never literally would ever [...] in my life from being a kid and the racism and failed partnerships and failed marriages and losing everything I've had, which I've actually gone through. To all of that, I've never, ever thought that I wasn't going to get to the top of Mount Everest. And I never thought I didn't deserve to be there. Yeah. So I think the mindset is really, really critical. You have to go into these things eyes wide open, understand the realities and the challenges, sure, but it's a fundamental belief that you deserve it. It's yours for the taking. And then if you have the audacity to believe that and start doing the work, the beauty is that the world kind of conspires to help you by bringing the right people into your life to help you to build and manifest that vision. And I'll be a little spiritual, you know, that God planted in your spirit and your soul to make the world a better place.

35:21 - 35:22


35:22 - 36:00

Wow. What a way to end this podcast. It's an amazing way to absorb the things that have transpired in your experience and all of our experiences that actually manifest our ability to do all of the things we've talked about doing this episode from creating that table to driving the ecosystem. I don't think people recognize enough how important experiences are and how it shapes the intentionality in your success as an individual for the three of us, us as professionals and fund managers. So I do want to thank you for that perspective. Kwame, that was really powerful.

36:00 - 36:56

It's my honor. It's really my honor. And I just want to, you know, to give thanks to both of you for creating this space for this conversation, for these conversations. Because at the end of the day, there's always going to be somebody, James, again, to your point, who's going to be inspired to action because they heard the conversation. Yeah, and quite frankly, I lived for those moments, got to be on both sides to every day of my life, to be around people that I can hear something that resonates with my spirit and changes the way that I think. So therefore, it changes the way that I act and to also be that type of servant activator, you know, because people say, Kwame, man, when you talk, you just be dropping gems and I'm like, they're not gems if you don't pick them up. The value to that what I'm sating is only manifest if you pick it up and do something with it. So thank you for creating this space. Thank you for your consistent work on this.

36:56 - 37:20

I absolutely appreciate that. And, Maci, appreciate you for now officially being joined at the hip with me to continue these courageous conversations. You know, we're 20 plus episodes in and I think you are episode three or four, to see all that you have done as an entrepreneur. Grateful for you being here and excited for all the things that you can do as our resident entrepreneur.

37:20 - 37:27

Well, thank you. It is my honor and pleasure to join and also, Kwame. Thank you for just inspiring us today.

37:28 - 37:29

I hope you enjoyed today's episode.

37:30 - 37:46

We'd love to hear from you, so please e-mail your thoughts, questions, and any feedback to Please be sure to share, subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and check us out on Twitter at BernsteinPWM.

James Thompson
Senior National Director—Diverse and Multicultural Wealth Segments

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

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