The descendants can apply for grants administered by Nexus Community Partners over the next eight years.
By Dee DePass Star Tribune
After 18 months of planning, the “Open Road Fund” launches on June 19, which is Juneteenth, the federal holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
Grants up to $50,000 will be issued to 800 Black recipients by 2031. At least half of the grants are expected to land in Minnesota, which has a larger Black population than either of the Dakotas.
While many community improvement efforts have launched since the death of George Floyd, the Bush reparation grants are believed to the first — or one of the first in Minnesota — to focus solely on slavery descendants.
The goal is to “challenge the system of rules that robs Black people and communities of the wealth they create,” officials said.
The Bush Foundation in St. Paul has selected the 19-year old St. Paul-based Nexus Community Partners to administer the grants, which are seen as a way to help address long-standing injustices resulting from slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining housing laws and police brutality.
Nexus CEO Danielle Mekha said during an interview Monday that she expects individuals to use their reparation grant for wealth-building projects such as buying or expanding property, on education, to grow or start a business, to buy life insurance policies, fund estate planning, or on healing and economic justice initiatives.
Up to five applicants can pool their grants together to collectively buy one property, Mekha said, noting that “we believe in cooperative development.”
Nexus is strongly encouraging single parents, senior citizens, the formerly incarcerated, those living with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community to apply.
“When we have access to an abundance of resources, we can cultivate healing, safety, care and liberation on our own terms,” she said. “Through this $50 million Open Road Fund, Nexus has a chance to provide a return on the investment Black folks have long made to this country and create Black wealth. To us, Black wealth-building is about creating spaces and opportunities that help all Black people to thrive.”
In Minnesota, Nexus is partnering with nonprofits to get the word out and help people fill out applications. Partners include Build Wealth Minnesota, Neighborhood Development Center, The Northside Economic Opportunity Network, MEDA and The Black Women’s Wealth Alliance.
To apply for a grant, applicants must live in Minnesota, South or North Dakota and be a descendant of the Atlantic slave trade, including the Caribbean, North, Central, and South America. Descendants of formerly enslaved people who repatriated to Africa are also eligible.
The non-profit Research in Action and a panel of community leaders will judge applications submitted via the website https://www.nexuscp.org/open-road-fund/.
While Open Road focuses on slave descendants, other companies and nonprofits have taken a different approach in Minnesota as they strive to erase some of the biggest racial economic and educational disparities in the country.
U.S. Bank, Target, Bremer Foundation, the McKnight, Pohlad and Mortensen foundations, Wells Fargo, Allianz, J.P. Morgan Chase, The Center for Economic Inclusion and others have invested hundreds of millions of dollars since Floyd’s death on helping all communities of color get business loans and grants, job training and college tuitions.
Dorothy Bridges, CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA), said the Bush Foundation/Nexus program appears to the be the first in Minnesota to target American descendants of slavery.
“On the face of it, it is wonderful. I am really thrilled they are talking about it in those terms,” said Bridges, adding that she will encourage MEDA’s Black business clients to apply for the grant.
MEDA administers loans and technical business assistance to 1,400 small businesses of color. About 67% of them are Black.
While the Nexus reparations are good, Bridges said she is relieved to know grant recipients will receive technical help so they can properly convert a $50,000 grant into real wealth.
“”In terms of creating Black wealth if there are no guidelines or wrap around services to help guide people, this will look like another payday,” Bridges said.
Dee DePass is a business reporter covering commercial real estate for the Star Tribune. She previously covered manufacturing, the economy, workplace issues and banking.
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