Changing the Trajectory: Best of 2021

Audio Description

As 2021 comes to a close, we're sharing our best of—a roundup of inspiring conversations and practical advice from the great minds we’ve featured this year. Thought-provoking segments with activist and survivor of police brutality Leon Ford, angel investor Lorine Pendelton, and Tanya Van Court, founder and CEO of Goalsetter, among others, include takeaways and calls to action to help us change the trajectory of our wealth, impact, and influence.


00:06 - 00:52

This is Changing the Trajectory. I'm your host, James Seth Thompson, BErnstein's Head of diverse market strategy. To mark the year's end, we are looking back and sharing our "best of." We've had inspired conversations with great thinkers and doers every month of the year. And I'm so proud of the content we've been able to bring to you. If you missed any of the episodes, be sure to check back and listen. And I'd like to say huge thanks to you, our listeners, for the enthusiasm you've shown for our guests and topics alike. On this show, we seek to provide information to help you change the trajectory of your wealth, impact and influence. Today, we're compiling some of the most powerful moments from our conversations this year, including takeaways and call to actions to catapult us into a meaningful and productive 2022.

00:53 - 01:27

Without further ado, here's the "best of." Let's kick off with one of my favorite episodes to date. My conversation with author, activist and survivor of police brutality Leon Ford was certainly a highlight for me this year. Leon is such an inspiring and motivating person. At just 19 years old, Leon was racially profiled and shot five times by Pittsburgh police, ultimately losing his ability to walk. He joined us to talk about turning a tragedy to triumph and living his life with purpose.

01:29 - 01:50

I would think about, OK, I can't change what happened to me, I'm in this wheelchair. I'm going to work my best to get out of it. But what can I do despite my physicality? What can I do to add value to the world around me? What can I do to make my life purposeful?

01:50 - 02:32

You know, just being really honest, I have instances of police brutality in my family that's near and dear to me. But to be honest, if if I were Leon in 2012, I would be one heck of an angry black man still today in 2021. So what is it, right? What did you specifically find to be your purpose? What voice did you find? You know, I had an opportunity to to connect with you and Richard with some public officials and influencers in Pittsburgh, right. Talk to us a little bit about how you're transposing what could be a lifetime of anger to a future of impact in that sense.

02:32 - 03:31

You know, early on, I realized that if I would communicate my pain to the world with violence and with that negativity and brokenness, it would only cause more brokenness. I view myself as a problem solver, one of my mentors called me a consensus builder. And so if my story, if my platform puts me in a room with people who influence systems and that could impact the way my city operates, right? Especially in regards to Black lives in my city, I think that that is my purpose, right? And I understand I wouldn't be in these rooms if I was that angry person. I'm a human being. I have a full range of emotions, and I just learned how to deal with my emotions and manage them, which helped me to really focus in on my purpose and get things done. When I consider the contributions made to Black America,

03:31 - 04:05

HBCUs top the list. For Black History Month. We focused on these historical institutions. Adrienne Lance Lucas, president of Lance Lucas and Associates, and Ronald Mason, president of the University of the District of Columbia, were amongst those who joined me for a lively virtual roundtable discussion. What is the one ask that you have of anyone and everyone listening to this episode with respect to furthering the legacy, the impact and the influence of HBCUs?

04:05 - 04:47

So let me see if I can say it this way. You know, America is still a work in progress, right? And the business model that we have today that was created, you know, even before America was America, right, really does not serve the interests of the nation, even if it was a good idea 400 years ago and necessary for America to get started, right. And so if we don't change the business model, there's a real question about whether the experiment that we call America can be a success. And by changing the business model, what I mean is living up to the words of the Declaration of Independence, which basically is that all talent is created equal.

04:47 - 05:27

So in a nutshell, you know, if you believe in America and if you believe in American institutions, right, then you have to believe in the institutions that have held America together and that offer the highest potential to help America be America, which are historically Black colleges and universities. And so, you know, if you ask me what what should happen and what the ask is, you know, it's to invest in yourself. You know, talking to Fortune 1000 companies now, you invest in yourself in your future and the future of America by investing in HBCUs. Thanks, President Mason. Adrienn, to you. Regardless of where you sit,

05:27 - 05:38

I'm going to ask that you, number one, learn something new about an HBCU; if it's a new term for you or you only heard of the top 10-20,

05:38 - 06:06

dig deeper. So that's the first thing. And the second thing is, let's get involved with social media. From the movement standpoint, and I would say, text and tell two other people what you learn about that institution and then write a check. It doesn't matter if it's a small check or a big check. But let's all start taking accountability for being a part of what we call America. And that's what I would end with.

06:08 - 06:48

We didn't stop the HBCU's conversation there, though. At the intersection of HBCUs and venture capital lies HBCUvc, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing more Black and brown investors into the venture capital ecosystem. Jaisa Miner, head of Partnerships, joined me for a conversation with the CEO of Lamar Inc. Brantly Fulton and Treasure Doll, a Spelman College student and HBCUvc fellow who had fresh insights that did me some good. That's Head of Partnerships for HBCUvc. What call to action or ask do you have of our listeners and those who are engaged in this dialogue on a regular basis?

06:48 - 07:26

I didn't have HBCUvc when I started my career, so I experienced a lot of challenges of breaking in the door, and I'm really excited to be in the position now where I can bring those issues to the surface and be able to have an active role in bringing solutions to the table. I would say reach out to us, talk to us, let's start a conversation, you know, learn how you can take on championing one of our ecosystems or how you can work directly with our investment committee or how you can contribute to the lab fund so that we can go from one million to five million to 10 million.

07:26 - 07:28

Awesome, thank you, Jaisa. Brantly?

07:28 - 07:51

I was looking at the endowment at Morehouse College. 250 million. The endowment at MIT is 18.4 billion dollars. And so, you know, in changing the narrative behind all of this, you know, my call to action is, you know, A is, I would like for, you know, HBCU alums, you know, definitely invest in your institutions.

07:52 - 08:36

But how do we grow the endowment, right, of our institutions and invest it properly, the way that schools like MIT or UCLA or Stanford are doing? You know, it's like when you look at MIT's endowment online, it's almost like a publicly traded company, right? It's like they show you charts how it increases year over year, and those kind of things. You know, we're we're just scratching the surface of that, right, inside of our institutions, like, no one talks about the endowment at Morehouse College or, you know, Hampton or, you know, Howard University. So for, you know, many of the things that we want to do, I think in terms of growing the VC space, it really starts there. Treasure, to you.

08:37 - 09:21

Yeah. So I don't know what day it is for all the people resting now or listening right now, but it's the weekend for me and I just want to tell, like all the people of color, just rest. Like I wish that somebody would've told me that. But like after years of being oppressed, all we deserve to do is rest. And I think that's the best call to action, because like, we have such a battle ahead of us. So just take a rest right now when you can. Also, my last call to action would be for the non-POC people listening. I would say the best way to eliminate bias is by eliminating pedigree. So I would just embody that with every work that you do. So pedigree, I mean, like great institutions, things like that that are attached to people that really set everyone else behind.

09:21 - 09:47

Wow, I don't even know what to say to that. I think that is some of the best bits of input and recommendations we've had on this podcast. I appreciate that. For Women's History Month, I had the great pleasure of speaking with angel investor and lead partner in Portfolia Rising America VC Fund, Lorine Pendleton, and Renee King, co-founder of Fund Black Founders.

09:52 - 10:01

What takeaway do you have specifically for women or underrepresented entrepreneurs as they think about creating their own legacy as entrepreneurs and founders?

10:02 - 10:49

So I would say, I tell this not just for founders who come to our platform, but even outside of this, build your crowd, right? Build your crowd, a diverse crowd and not just diverse in culture, but diverse in experience, diverse in their specialties. So make sure you look at your current crowd, like, look at all the people in your network, who do you talk to regularly, right? What do you talk to once a month? Think about the people you've worked with, reconnecting with the groups and organizations you're a part of. Stack your crowd so that it's nice and like built with every possible person that you could think that you may need to talk to, to provide value to them or they're going to provide value to you, just build that from the start. That would be my biggest thing because I believe social capital can get you so much further than anything else. Right.

10:49 - 10:50

Thanks. Lorine?

10:51 - 11:46

Yeah, I think, Renee, I just, you know, kind of doubling down on what she said. Definitely, you know, really build your network because I think a lot of successes is based on who you know, unfortunately in this country and actually in the world. And so really, you know, try to expand your network and go where people are that you need to connect with. And then I would say, really look at your business and make sure it's a viable business. So, you know, look at what problem are you solving? Do you have a good solution for it? Is it better than someone else's solution, cheaper? And then, is this a big enough market, that's got to be really important, how big the market is. And then, you look at yourself, can you make this happen if you don't have all of the things that you need, the pieces to make this business successful? Find people, advisors, board of directors, team members to help fill in the blanks that you may not have. And so just really be honest about what kind of business you're building and can it be something that can be successful.

11:49 - 12:10

By now, you know that Black entrepreneurship is top of mind for us. How to better support small Black businesses to help close the wealth gap is of equal importance. I spoke with Kelly Ifill, founder and CEO of Guava, about the full service digital bank working to serve small Black business owners. Suffice it to say that Guava is a game changer.

12:12 - 13:03

What we're building is a network within Guava so that you can open one app and get all of the capital, all of these resources, whether they are financial or social or knowledge. So that again, building your business is not just predicated on how much money you have or who you know, and if you don't have access to any of them, then you're just stuck by yourself. We're actively thinking about ways to ensure that businesses, yes, have the right access to capital, right access to financial products, but also have the right access to networks. And if they can build those networks, they can grow together. And then bringing in those knowledge resources of experts into that community so that they have this kind of trifecta of resources to be able to grow and build their businesses. Because for us, obviously, their success is our

13:03 - 13:49

But really thinking about wealth creation and having those sole proprietors grow their business to make their first hires, right. Like right now, of the nearly three million Black small businesses, only 125,000 are employer businesses. Only 125,000 of them employ other people. And that number is really important because one, Black people are more likely to hire other Black people. So when we can create spaces and create businesses that hire others, we're likely to have this domino effect in our communities. But it also has implications for that business owner and means your business is bigger, is more profitable, generating more revenue, and we can really be making strides with the wealth of that individual and their family.

13:53 - 14:12

I was thrilled to reconnect with Jeff Lindor, the founder of Gentlemen's Factory, on the importance of community. Jeff has built a powerful community of Black and brown men investing in one another's success. We discussed the dangers of isolation and the impact and influence of professional men who are looking to build and change the world together.

14:16 - 15:02

This is a notion that when you see another Black professional in a boardroom or even on the same floor, you're like, Yo, what's up? How did you get here? You know what I mean? Because I know what I had to do. Oh, tell me your story. And then you start to believe or think that you are an aberration. But in reality, you're not, like, there are a lot of us that are doing really great work, but we're just so isolated. So I wanted to create a space that was designed for us. In, normal spaces, we have to fit in, but there are places that, you know, is designed for us, that fits us. Society also looks at that profile of a person that he has no problems at all because he went to business school, and he should be happy with the fact that he's not being stopped by the police.

15:02 - 15:25

So it's like if your problem isn't being stopped by the police and if you're Black, then you are successful, right. If I wanted to start a VC firm, then why can't I raise a fund? If I wanted to be the CEO of Apple, why can't that be my ambition? And it should only be for me not to get killed by the police. A space like The Gentlemen's factory,

15:25 - 15:33

I would imagine everyone who participates and engages feels that this is one of those food booths, for us by us.

15:33 - 15:41

Absolutely. This is important, and proximity is important because when you're together, you start realizing the possibilities of things, right?

15:46 - 16:39

Latresa McLawhorn Ryan of the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative came by to share how her nonprofit helps people of color build wealth in a way that has a responsibility to community. So let's wrap up with how do we rewrite the narrative. So many challenges exist, the two of us are certainly committed to addressing the lack of access, the gaps that exist. We're really focused on being very equitable in how we approach, you know, kind of creating these ecosystems, advancing the opportunities for Black and brown communities. You know what's your charge for other organizations or people to participate in rewriting the narrative and creating these opportunities that may seem out of reach for some. But I think if we galvanize a lot of resources, we could make a big dent in this,

16:39 - 17:20

you know, in short order. What's really core to this work with me, thinking about community wealth building is, this is not radical. There was a time when we knew if our neighbor needed food to eat; there was a time where we kind of supported as a community, if a kid needed some extra direction or an opportunity to work at the local shopkeeper's place. And we just had a stronger sense of community instead of individual focus on our own needs. And so that would be the first charge, I would say, is to think more holistically about wealth because it's not just about making individuals wealthier, but it's also about building this healthier, thriving community.

17:20 - 17:51

Additionally, it is important to increase proximity with the people who are doing the work or who are directly impacted by those actions to a really good understanding of what will be impactful. It's also about supporting groups, organizations led by people of color to advise on what steps should be taken. It also includes hiring Black people within your organizations and companies, and not just for initiatives focused on people of color, but throughout the organization to offer that perspective through each stage of development.

17:51 - 18:35

Evaluate your investment portfolios and determining how those portfolios can impact the broader community. Taking a step beyond standard ESG screens to determine the impact of your investments in the community or looking at alternative investments that can have a greater impact on the community. And then just overall looking for systemic solutions. So taking a step beyond charity and philanthropy that can sometimes just reinvest in programs that are not dynamically moving the needle because it's not focused on a systems level change that needs to happen. For Financial Literacy Month,

18:36 - 19:06

I welcome two dynamic leaders and change agents. Karim Hill, executive director of the American College Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality, and Tanya Van Court, founder and CEO of Goalsetter, a savings and gifting platform committed to teaching children the language of money. I want to conclude by giving you both an opportunity to just, you know, what's your key takeaway or ask. And Karim, I'll start with you.

19:06 - 19:35

To me, the key ask is this: I want the financial services industry to look at this and to look at financial literacy as an impact investment. Stop looking at it as charity, stop looking at it as philanthropy, and put the same lens that they put on new product development, new market expansion and everything else they do in their business model. Use financial literacy with that type of passion and that type of energy. If that is done, it has been proven that we will succeed.

19:36 - 20:23

I love what Karim said, and I really want to build upon that and say, my ask is that we do things dramatically differently. We have spent the last hundred years having the same people trying to educate communities of color, people who don't necessarily understand what the problems are, people who don't necessarily understand the right solutions, and people who don't necessarily understand the right approaches or language or connection points. All of those things that are essential to creating a solution that works and will be impactful for the next 50, 100, 250 years.

20:23 - 20:44

And so you've got to stop pouring money into the same places that you've been pouring money that are not working and you have to start investing, to Karim's good point, investing in solutions that are brought to you by Black and brown founders and entrepreneurs and nonprofit executive directors.

20:49 - 21:07

Some of us would rather avoid the next topic altogether. But my guests assure us that we shouldn't. Tiffany McKenzie, partner at Harrison and Held, and Bernstein financial advisor Lonnell Williams came by to discuss how estate planning is critical to closing the racial wealth gap and shared insightful ways to plan for harmony when you're gone.

21:10 - 22:04

You know, I'm really, really passionate about generational planning for minorities as a means by which to assist in closing the racial wealth gap. Lately, a lot has been going on, especially in regards to equality for minorities. But today I think the wealth gap between minority families and non-minority families remains really as large as it was decades ago. I think part of it is due to a lack of estate planning. In fact, recently I read that White Americans are about 10 times more likely to receive a family inheritance than Black Americans are. So you can see how estate planning could really be important and how it is really a function of passing on generational wealth and how estate planning could rectify the generational racial wealth gap. So that's really part of what it is that I do and really why I am passionate about what it is that I do.

22:04 - 22:14

Let's wrap up with a couple of takeaways and call to actions, and I will simply say whether you've got five grand or five million, Tiffany, what are some of the specifics?

22:14 - 22:18

What are some of the things we can encourage some of our listeners to do?

22:18 - 22:23

Hopefully, they are inspired by this conversation to really take a closer look at this getting their affairs in order.

22:23 - 23:20

Absolutely. I'd say the first thing is realizing that planning is more than just a will. So think about some of the other documents or mechanisms or things that you can be doing to get your affairs in order. Meet with an attorney if you need to, meet with your advisors, if you need to. They are educated in these things and can kind of really point you in the right direction. The second is involving your family in your estate plan, making sure that the people that you are naming to be fiduciaries or agents know what's going on, that they want to even play in that role. It's a big ask and it's a big responsibility. So making sure that you're involving them in the decision making process on the front end is also really important. And also just thinking about, we've talked about this with clients too, is almost pretending like you're going to die. And let's bring everybody in the room and let's kill someone off, theoretically, and let's walk through every single step of the process.

23:20 - 24:02

Lonnell, what about you? So let see. I would say, number one, I tell everyone again, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, right? So it's about having the conversation, finding an advisor like Tiffany. I encourage everybody. Some type of an attorney that you can lean on who can really kind of guide you through this process. This is not a LegalZoom process. You need to have a real conversation with people who can really guide you because there are things that you can do to help prevent some type of taxation, right? There are things that you can do that can kind of help prevent any fighting within the family. So that's something to think about. I think really thinking about the future and what you're willing to fund. That's really important.

24:02 - 24:32

I think lastly, the most important thing of all of this is you need to speak to an advisor. You need to speak to a financial advisor who can be a partner to your other advisors, from your accountant to your attorneys to your business partners, your children, who can sit at the table from an unbiased perspective, who can give you some insight from an investment perspective, from an income perspective, from a retirement perspective, and really kind of pull the team together and have a cohesive strategy that can be passed down from generation to generation.

24:36 - 25:11

How's this for some inspiration? In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, NBA All-Star and now NBA Finals champion Jrue Holiday and his wife, two time Olympic gold medalist Lauren Holiday, pledged $5 million of Jrue's NBA bubble salary to create the Drew and Lauren Holiday Social Justice Impact Fund. They dedicated this fund to supporting Black-owned businesses. My colleagues and I were honored to help you and Lauren get the money in the hands of those most in need of a boost. Here's an excerpt from a conversation with these superstars hosted by my colleague Brian Haloossim.

25:14 - 25:57

Yeah, I think how, how we started out was, OK, how are we going to give away, you know, the $5 million that Jrue made in the bubble? And we decided we would start an application process. We narrowed it down to, you know, the cities that meant the most to us at the time, New Orleans, LA, where Jrue's from, Indianapolis, where I'm from. And we had an application system,, and people came. And I think we had over a thousand applications and Jrue and I went through each one. We had, you know, a system of going through them, and we had a team that went through all of them. But it was really cool to just hear these people's stories and see where we could help. With the pandemic

25:57 - 26:23

happening and what's happening to small businesses closing all the time and nonprofits not getting funding like they could and should, I felt like it was just really important to us to invest into the Black and brown community. We know that they're less likely to get grants, they are less likely to get loans. So I think that that was really, really important to us to be intentional.

26:23 - 26:30

So Lauren, Jrue, what's the next step? Are there future plans that are maybe different than the way that you thought about starting it off?

26:30 - 27:11

I think for us now, it's all about longevity. Like, how can we continue this? How can we keep it going? We were going to give away $5 million over three years, so we just want it to continue. Not after three years. We want people to be able to say, Hey, we love what they're doing, come beside us, and they can be as involved as they want. For Jrue and I, we want to meet the people that we give money to. We want to be a resource for them, we want to talk to them. We want to hear their stories, and we want people to join us. We think that that's so cool, and I think that really investing in people changes, changes you just as much as helps them.

27:15 - 27:49

And last but not least, November marked two significant occasions for Changing the Trajectory. First, we introduced my old friend, a new colleague, Maci Philitas. Maci will officially be joining me as co-host on the show in 2022. She and I had a terrific conversation with my final podcast guest of the year, Kwame Anku, CEO of the Black Star Fund. Kwame spoke about his role as chief visionary officer and shared his thoughts on this transformative era in Black entrepreneurship and investment.

27:49 - 27:59

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?

27:59 - 28:58

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. You know, I think in general, what we have to define, what do we mean when we say visionary. And visionary to me, it's 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. 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.

28:58 - 29:37

And then we execute on that. Not to be a skeptic or to share any fear apprehensions, but I do have a question that I think it's important to discuss, and it's it's around, is this a point in time or is this something more? You know, post 2020, the 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. 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?

29:38 - 30:02

It goes back to the power and beauty, what you said earlier. It's about intentionality. 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.

30:02 - 30:31

And I loved 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.

30:31 - 31:05

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.

31:10 - 31:13

And that's a wrap. I hope you enjoy the special year-end recap.

31:14 - 31:40

We'd love to hear from you, so please e-mail your thoughts, questions or any feedback to Be sure to share, subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts. And again, check us out on Twitter at BernsteinPWM. We have so much more in store for you in 2022 and look forward to reconnecting in January. Happy holidays and Happy New Year to all.

James Thompson
Senior National Director—Diverse and Multicultural Wealth Segments

The information presented and opinions expressed are solely the views of the podcast host commentator and their guest speaker(s). AllianceBernstein L.P. or its affiliates makes no representations or warranties concerning the accuracy of any data. There is no guarantee that any projection, forecast or opinion in this material will be realized. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The views expressed here may change at any time after the date of this podcast. This podcast is for informational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. AllianceBernstein L.P. does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. It does not take an investor’s personal investment objectives or financial situation into account; investors should discuss their individual circumstances with appropriate professionals before making any decisions. This information should not be construed as sales or marketing material or an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument, product or service sponsored by AllianceBernstein or its affiliates.

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