Last week, eight mayors from urban cities announced the creation of the NJ FAM (New Jersey 40 Acres and a Mule Fund), with the collective goal of putting capital directly in the hands of New Jersey’s Black and Latinx business owners and communities, which traditionally have suffered the greatest barriers in access to financial resources.
The new initiative stems from the Newark FAM Fund (Newark 40 Acres and a Mule Fund), which was introduced in September 2020 as a private investment vehicle seeking to raise $100 million to combat and reduce social and economic inequalities resulting from systemic racism. The pandemic and continued interest in the fund from across New Jersey has led to the expansion of the program into a statewide initiative.
The NJ FAM Fund was created by a partnership of eight mayors from cities in New Jersey, with assistance from New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC) and from an advisory board. The new initiative will operate with collaboration from eight cities across New Jersey: Newark, Orange, East Orange, Paterson, Camden, Trenton, Irvington, and Atlantic City.
“While the racial wealth gap is a national struggle, it is especially salient in Newark. Minority businesses have always faced more roadblocks than their counterparts and the pandemic has only worsened the issue. The NJ FAM Fund aims to help these businesses reach their full potential in these tumultuous times,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “These investments will be a tremendous tool for the minority business community in Newark and we are incredibly grateful for this generous support.”
“The past year has been extremely difficult and put a spotlight on the racial wealth gap that exists in our country, but we cannot pretend that this problem is something new,” said Bernel Hall, managing partner of the New Jersey FAM Fund. “We look forward to expanding this initiative as partners come to the table. Through the Fund, our goal is to help Black and Latinx business owners and developers to expand their operations, create jobs and generate wealth for the communities that they serve.”
“When the difference in median net worth between White families and Black/Latinx families is nearly 200%, that is much more than a social disparity. That kind of gap is representative of the inequitable financial policies that have kept Black and Latinx businesses and families behind the national curve for decades,” said Mayor Ted R. Green of East Orange. “This initiative is how we start to bring balance to the communities that have been devastated the most. This is how we make amends and bring generational wealth into our communities.”
“We’re proud to stand with Mayor Baraka and other city leaders who understand that an equitable business environment is crucial to maintaining the diverse identity of our urban communities,” said Mayor Reed Gusciora of Trenton. “Despite decades of institutional and financial obstacles, many of our Black and Latino residents still put in the hard work to become entrepreneurs. We need programs like the one announced today to help make sure those historical challenges are not an impediment to their long-term success.”
The name of the fund comes from one of the earliest Reconstruction promises to the newly freed slaves of 1865, to provide freshly emancipated families with “40 acres and a mule” on land along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts following the Union winning the Civil War. The radical proposal was issued on Jan. 16, 1865, and the initiative was inspired after Union General William T. Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton met with 20 Black ministers four days earlier. Had the policy been fully implemented and enforced, former slaves would have had a chance to be self-sufficient economically, to build, accrue and pass on wealth. However, the promise was not realized for the majority of the nation’s former slaves, and President Andrew Johnson, a sympathizer for the South, overturned the policy in the fall of 1865.
According to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the median net worth of New Jersey’s white families is $309,000, while the median for New Jersey’s Latinx and Black families is just $7,020 and $5,900, respectively—one of the worst racial wealth gaps in the nation. The objective of the NJ FAM fund is to close these gaps by providing Black and Latinx business owners with a more level playing field with their competitors.