Q&A: The leader of the African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs on the power of fostering Black business entrepreneurs.
Most see wealth inequality, especially between Black and white Americans, as too long-standing and intractable to be solved in any meaningful way. Lenwood V. Long, Sr. isn’t one of them.
The 77-year-old has dedicated much of his professional life to community economic development and in 2018, the North Carolina native helped found the African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs. It’s the first organization designed to harness the experience and intellectual capital of black-led CEOs to use CDFIs to try to help shrink the racial wealth gap. The advocacy group scored one of its biggest wins last summer. Joining with organizations like the NAACP, the Alliance successfully urged the Small Business Administration to allocate $10 billion to CDFIs in the later rounds of the Payment Protection Program.
Their challenge is beyond daunting. As of late 2019, the top 10% of households held 70% of the nation’s wealth, leaving just 2% for the bottom 50%. The pandemic only widened the disparity and has thrust the work of the Alliance to the forefront of the fight against wealth and racial inequality as billionaires have seen their wealth soar by $1.5 trillion since the Covid-19 pandemic. The wealth inequality between black and white households remains as wide as the Grand Canyon: In 2016 the estimated median wealth for a white family was $171,500, a whopping 10 times that of a Black family’s.
Long, who is also president and CEO of the Alliance, spoke with us about what motivated his life-long fight against wealth inequality, the main challenge CEOs in his Alliance are facing and why CDFIs might be the best-kept secret weapon in helping to close the wealth gap.
You’ve been in the community development business for a while. What motivated you to engage the issue of trying to close the wealth gap?
I have a passion to help people, specifically (dealing with the) deprivation of African Americans and the disparity (between Black and whites) that has been in play for years. I must confess that part of what drives me is my own deprivation when I lived in segregated North Carolina. I reflect around those dark days of segregation in American history. And I said, if I ever got a chance to add value to humanity, for the cause of Black people, I would want to do it.
The mission statement of the Alliance is to try to help shrink the gaping wealth gap between Black and white people. That’s a pretty tall order. The gap is still wide.