Luis and Cora Abrahante, an Afro-Latino family in Shepherdstown, W.Va., lived in a mobile home with serious structural damage, electrical problems and dangerous mold.
Phil and Charlotte Baker-Shenk, a White couple in Shepherdstown, donated a ready-to-build lot on which the Abrahantes built a home in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity.
Soon after the Abrahante family moved into their new home, the Baker-Shenks doubled down, pledging to donate 1% of their present net worth to help reduce the wealth gap between Black and White families.
“We donated the homesite because, after talking for a long time about White privilege and systemic racism, we felt compelled to do something tangibly, albeit modestly, to begin to repair one of its starkest effects — the Black-White wealth gap,” Phil Baker-Shenk said.
In 2019, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, the median White family had $184,000 in wealth, compared to $23,000 for the median Black family.
After the shocking murder of George Floyd in 2020, the Baker-Shenks sat through “seemingly endless hand-wringing church discussions about the disgraceful disparity in racial wealth that is the legacy of White racism.”
They decided to move beyond righteous indignation and do something about it.
The Baker-Shenks had bought a prime residential lot with some of their retirement savings. The parcel was in a new Shepherdstown subdivision, next to where they helped establish a 30-home Shepherd Village Cohousing Community. Rather than holding this as a piece of their retirement security, they realized it offered a concrete way to put their beliefs into action.
The Baker-Shenks donated the homesite to their local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.
Although the lot’s value was well over 1% of their assets, the couple subsequently pledged to give additionally at least 1% of their remaining net worth over the next three years to Black-led organizations working to close the racial wealth gap.
Phil Baker-Shenk also agreed to be a founding board member of the nascent INSPIRE campaign, which inspired their equity pledge.
INSPIRE is an acronym for “Inviting New, Substantial, Personal Investment in Racial Equity.” The campaign embraces the challenge of Martin Luther King Jr. that “White Americans must recognize that justice for Black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.”
While government, foundations, universities and companies all need to do more to confront the legacy of systemic barriers to Black wealth accumulation, the founders of INSPIRE Equity Inc. believe ordinary citizens must also play a role. Confronting the racial wealth gap is a way to realize King’s dream — and our nation’s founders’ unrealized vision — that all people are created equal.
Those who take the INSPIRE Equity pledge agree to contribute at least 1% of their net worth to nonprofit organizations that increase Black homeownership, provide educational scholarships or debt relief for Black students, invest in Black entrepreneurs and businesses or support other measures to help narrow the wealth gap between Black and White families.
In the face of “anti-woke” pushback since the racial awakening of 2020, the INSPIRE campaign has two goals:
— Educate and mobilize White people to confront the legacy and impact of enslavement, segregation and racism on the accumulation of Black wealth; and
— Collect and share efforts to close the racial wealth gap through voluntary contributions to equity-building initiatives.
INSPIRE Equity Inc., a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, plans to track pledge participants and their contributions on a website coming this spring, helps connect racial-equity advocates, identifies investment opportunities and measures the investments’ impact. Rather than establishing itself as a financial intermediary, INSPIRE seeks to connect supporters with organizations.
As the INSPIRE campaign works to build a national movement, it invites White people to start by calculating their own net worth, reflect on its origin and consider joining others in pledging to transfer at least 1% of their financial security to help Black families build their own financial security.
For most White people, net worth is derived from home equity growth, savings from job income and investments, and perhaps a family inheritance. INSPIRE encourages White families to ponder whether their race was ever an obstacle to securing a mortgage or the education that secured them their job. The campaign then helps pledgers understand the historical and structural obstacles that have prevented Black families from accumulating wealth through those same channels.
A website for INSPIRE Equity Inc. will launch this spring. Those who would like to make the 1% pledge or learn more can reach out to info@theINSPIREcampaign.org.
The Luis and Cora Abrahante family celebrated one year of homeownership in summer 2023. After closing on the house, they parked their rental truck and turned the key for the first time in the front door of the home they own after helping build it together with Habitat and many friends.
“I can still hear the echo of small feet on the bare floor running into our empty, yet so full, home,” Cora Abrahante recalled. “The sound of that alone, the freedom in every step, knowing this is ours — we are so beyond grateful for each person who played a part in us hearing those steps. We could not have done this without many helping hearts and hands.”
David Bucher attends Community House Church in Washington, D.C., an independent Anabaptist congregation, where participant Peter O’Driscoll envisioned the INSPIRE campaign.