Accelerating Shared Prosperity in Durham & Beyond

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At ReCity, we have committed ourselves to telling the story of Durham. We believe it is an essential part of our vision of building thriving communities, rooted in justice. Part of telling that story involves taking a realistic look at the history of our city and looking at whose voices have been systematically left out. Earlier this month, we hosted Accelerating Shared Prosperity, a ReCity Roundtable event with five speakers instead of one. Over the course of the night, speakers included Keith Daniel and Thomas Droege (Resilient Ventures), Geraud Staton (Helius Foundation), and Felipe Witchger and Merald Holloway (Community Purchasing Alliance).

Overall, the gathering was a space for people to reflect and dream about the future of entrepreneurship, ownership, and opportunity. We had a great time at Q&A session at the end of the night. While we didn’t get to address all the questions, this is our treat to you! Our presenters responded to the unanswered questions we received throughout the night. We hope these responses will inspire you to continue this discussion in your communities.

In case you missed the Roundtable, please check out our website for the ReCity Roundtable Video Archive Library.

Question for CPA: Is there an opportunity to counsel the vendors you work with on how to form their own cooperative model to distribute wealth to employees?- Katherine

Merald (CPA): The short answer is yes!!  

The long and winding answer:  CPA provides a free cooperative tool kit for folks interested in our particular model for working better together, but we are not the best resource at this time for worker cooperatives. However, we are connected to partners here locally that are interested in helping established organizations think about wealth building for their employees. Durham City Government and the Small Business Development office at NC Central are recipients of a fellowship, working with other local experts with a track record of engaging employees at all levels for business success through open-book management, employee ownership, and educating retiring business owners and their advisors about the possibility of employee ownership as an exit strategy.

What exactly did Geraud mean by "learned helplessness", how does it tie to housing inequity, and what role does systemic racism play when it comes to housing?

Geraud: Learned helplessness, as the experiment by Martin Seligman confirms, is when we are conditioned to take suffering. As the animals in the example don’t leave their space when shocked, so to do human who have gone through terrible things create a coping mechanism to deal with that. We can say to ourselves that the situation isn’t so bad. We say, “we’ve dealt with it this long, why stop now?” We may even believe we are stronger because we can take the shock. To the extreme, this causes people in negative living situations to stop looking for a way out. And, they don’t take options that are laid before them, either. Much like the animals in the experiment.

Racism plays a large part of this because for a long time, African Americans and other minorities were in a place where we couldn’t attain wealth. We couldn’t be educated at the same level as whites. We were blocked from owning property, or from voting, or from prospering. And, one day, like the animals in the experiment, many people were conditioned to stop seeing their situation as malleable. “We’ve dealt with it this long, why stop now?” We even see ourselves stronger because of it. We stop looking for a way out.We stop attempting to buy property, or so many other “ways out.”

Is there a resource you know of in Durham that lists black/minority-owned businesses for businesses looking for vendors?

Merald (CPA): Certainly. There are several resources for lists of minority-owned vendors in Durham, (links included) like the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce, The City of Durham website, The Durham County MWBE program website.  The state HUB office has lists of certified women and minority-owned service providers you can search pretty easily as well.

We could detail in about a dozen more pages our experience and aspirations in this arena but hope this gives some insight into some of the ways we are thinking about our role as responsible and ethical corporate citizens of our various communities. There are big plans this year for CPA to use some of our staff expertise in creating internal diversity profiles and initiating successful supplier diversity programs for large and small organizations.  We help organizations at a relatively low cost to discover where they are in minority business patronage and adjust/suggest something as simple as a couple procurement procedures to create some real impact and help match the organizational desires you promote match your actual practices. We can refer larger organizations to consultants across the state that have helped entities like RDU, Wake County Schools, Self-Help Credit Union, and Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Schools create successful long-running programs. I would personally love to help anyone who decides this is a worthy investment of your resources and/or time.

If you or your organization are interested in getting some additional insight into helping your organization identify ways you can participate in supporting minority and local business enterprises, let us know by contacting us at

For Geraud: I’m about to embark on a mentoring relationship to an under-served high school student in chapel hill. Please share two pieces of advice.

Geraud: Listen first. We often want to jump in and solve the problem our mentees have. And they may even listen, but there will be one of two prices to pay for that. One is that they listen for a while, but like cutting open a cocoon before the butterfly is ready, the lesson won’t stick and the mentee will fall right back into bad habits. The second is that they listen and keep listening, but they stop being able to make decisions on their own. They can become dependent on your advice. So, listen and find out what they REALLY need.

Second, ask questions that LEAD them to an answer. Make them think. I’m not saying to lead them to THE answer, but to AN answer. Ask them questions that make them push their knowledge, or think ahead. Help them to see all the sides of an issue, particularly if they haven’t thought about it. When we know what the real problem is, sometimes solutions are easy to find. The issue is often that people are trying to solve a surface problem, but what they really need solved is much deeper.

What difference does a mentor really make?

Geraud: A mentor should make a HUGE difference. A mentor helps you answer questions that you didn’t see, or help you get to the real problem, without being totally invested in your issues. It’s the same reason attorney’s shouldn’t represent themselves in court. Why many tax preparers have someone else do their taxes. When you are involved, you tend to get caught up in the small details and the emotion of it. A good mentor can help you focus, hold you accountable, but even better, they can help spot some of the glaring (or not so glaring) errors in judgement that you’re making.

And don’t just rely on one! I have multiple mentors for multiple areas of my life! But even then, do not pit them against one another. Let mentors know you have others, and what advice you got. Having your own team of mentors who are all involved can be magical!

How important is mentoring for entrepreneurs? Who have been your best mentors and what did you learn from them? How do you find good mentors?

Resilient Ventures: All entrepreneurs need mentoring.  Mentoring is just a part of it though.  It is also access to networks and opportunities.  So introductions and support businesses are very important. It is more than putting money into a company, but providing support to get them to their next milestone.

Excited about all these new resources for minority entrepreneurs in Durham. What is the best place/person/organization for interested entrepreneurs to start?

Resilient Ventures: Resilient Ventures is working on a road map with others.

CPA: Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce, LaShon Harley Director, Small Business Center at Durham Technical Community College, La-Tasha Best-Gaddy University Program Director for Small Business and Technology  Development Center (SBTDC)

Resilient Ventures, have you found that your LPs fit a particular profile/share character traits that align them as investors? Or, are motives purely driven by money?

Resilient Ventures: It is too early to tell.  But stereotypes put our entrepreneurs in the “not ready” status. That is not true, we are providing access to entrepreneurs that are “ready”.  We also fight against the stereotype that because we are involved in African-American entrepreneurship, then somehow we must also be doing charity, and/or we should be set up as a 501c, etc… So we are not that either.   Investors without a racial equity lens will sometimes see diversity as a strength -- a la McKinsey report results. In general we are seeing that those most likely to invest see that because of systemic forces, we do not see good opportunities when presented, and so a fund like this will find undervalued opportunities which should give the same kind of financial returns.  However, I have not seen an investor that is purely opportunistic, if they are, they would go to another fund without our thesis. Our pitch deck has a good measure of racial equity content.

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