Rodney Foxworth is the CEO of Common Future (formerly known as BALLE), an amazing organization working to create a more inclusive and equitable economy that works for everyone. I deeply appreciated this conversation with Rodney as it opened up a dialogue about injustice. Rodney approaches these sensitive topics with grace and compassion for those who may not experience bias as much as others. Our recent conversation offered an eye-opening look into the racial wealth gap in this country, while also providing hope. He is a prime example of how compassionate leadership can level out the playing field so that everyone has the chance to pursue their dreams.
The stats that Rodney brought to my attention are startling and should be a rallying cry to all of us:
The New York Times recently reported a significant discrepancy in wealth between white and African-American households, with the median white family having 41 times more wealth and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family. And things are getting worse, not better: The proportion of black families with zero or negative wealth rose by 8.5 percent to 37 percent between 1983 and 2016. In a 2016 study, it was reported that nearly 34 percent of Native American children live in poverty (in contrast to 10 percent of white children). And according to the Economic Policy Institute, 19 percent of black households have zero or negative net worth, in comparison to just nine percent of white families. And even though the U.S. economy has produced millions of jobs since 1990, 63 percent of them have been low wage.
Rodney was raised in Baltimore, a city that represents structural racism and economic dislocation in the US. After being the first generation in his family to graduate from college, he worked as a freelance journalist before stepping into the philanthropy and economic development space to help create more equity and inclusion, specifically within communities of color. He’s the founder and former CEO of Invested Impact, a consulting firm and intermediary that connected philanthropic and impact investment capital to social entrepreneurs of color. He began leading Common Future about two years ago.
Common Future is working to build a sustainable economy where not just a privileged few are able to succeed and fulfill their purposes, but where all have the opportunity to thrive. It was founded in 2001 by Judy Wicks, who recognized that local businesses were the foundation of communities but many were dependent on global businesses as suppliers. She created local supply chains and sustainable ecosystems where local businesses could support each other. Common Future has built upon this foundation while increasing its focus on equity and inclusion.
To reduce the wealth gap, Rodney and Common Future work closely with community leaders, investors, and philanthropists to aggregate financial resources, raise awareness and build interest for community-centered enterprises. They are creating a vast network of changemakers who seek to use more inclusive approaches to business and economic development. He and his team build relationships with impact investors and local leaders to create partnerships and provide resources. They are building and creating community and putting the human connection back into our economy while also providing consulting services to institutions that want to help build economically empowered communities.
When asked how can we all help to narrow the gap and create more understanding within businesses and our communities about racial equity, Rodney offered this: “Do your best to practice empathy and non-judgment in this process. Conversations around money, race, white supremacy and injustice can be tough. But by coming from a place of compassion, we can create dialogues where people can safely open up about these issues.” He suggests taking a hard look at what’s happening and how we are playing a role in it. Regardless of race and economic status, we all need to unite forces to find common ground that builds prosperity and fairness for all.