A Bush Foundation-funded effort will issue $50 million to the descendants of slaves living in Minnesota and the Dakotas over eight years in the hopes of building Black wealth, reversing systemic injustices and positively impacting communities.
The foundation and Nexus Community Partners, the St. Paul group administering the program, believe the Open Road Fund is the first of its kind in Minnesota and one of the first large-scale programs nationwide that ties grants to the descendants of slavery.
Nexus will begin taking grant applications on June 19, which is Juneteenth, the federal holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
"When we have access to an abundance of resources, we can cultivate healing, safety, care and liberation on our own terms," said Nexus CEO Repa Mekha.
Grants up to $50,000 will be issued to 800 descendants of slavery 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.
Nexus and the Bush Foundation say the program is not a reparations effort because it is not extensive enough. But community leaders ranked the wealth-building program with only a few others looking to address slavery's generational effects in any meaningful way.
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for example, issues scholarships to modern-day descendants of the 272 slaves the school sold in 1838. The school also has proposed spending $400,000 a year on school, health and other community efforts to atone for its slave history.
The state of California has created a task force calling for apologies and financial reparations to descendants of slavery who suffered land theft and other injustices. That California program would amount to billions of dollars in spending if approved.
Other cities and agencies also are looking at programs. But the Bush-Nexus program would be the first in the Midwest issuing money to the descendants of slaves, said Matthew Ramadan, president of the New Africa Community Development Corp.
While the individual grants are too small to result in large-scale economic development outcomes in Minnesota, "I am very hopeful," Ramadan said.
"The hope is that these funds will actually reach down into the communities as intended," he said.
The grants are seen as a way to help address longstanding injustices resulting from slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining in housing and police brutality.
The goal is to "challenge the system of rules that robs Black people and communities of the wealth they create," Nexus officials said in a release announcing the program.
Nexus expects individuals to apply for the grants to buy a home or property; to pay for education; to expand or start a business; to buy life insurance policies; or on healing and economic justice initiatives, said Danielle Mkali, the group's senior director, in an interview on Monday.
Up to five applicants can pool their grants together to collectively buy one property, Mkali said, noting that "we believe in cooperative development."
Nexus is encouraging single parents, senior citizens, the formerly incarcerated, those living with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community to apply for grants.
"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," said Mekha. "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 to help people fill out applications or give other technical support. Partners include Build Wealth Minnesota, the Neighborhood Development Center, the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, Meda and the Black Women's Wealth Alliance.
The involvement of economic development partners and community development banks gives some community leaders confidence that the fund could impact the community.
"On the face of it, it is wonderful. I am really thrilled they are talking about it in those terms," said Dorothy Bridges, CEO of Meda, or the Metropolitan Economic Development Association, which administers loans and technical business assistance to 1,400 small businesses run by people of color, 67% of whom are Black. Bridges said she will encourage Meda's eligible Black business clients to apply for the Nexus grants.
Bridges said the support and guidance is necessary to successfully convert a $50,000 grant into real wealth.
To apply for the Nexus Community Partners 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 also are eligible.
Applications are due July 28.