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3 min read

Open Road Fund Helps Build Black Wealth

Open Road Fund Helps Build Black Wealth

In June 2023, Nexus Community Partners launched the Open Road Fund, a groundbreaking $50 million resource to help build wealth for descendants of the Atlantic slave trade throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas. Through Open Road, at least 800 Black residents will each receive a grant of $50,000 through 2031. Research in Action, a social benefit corporation focused on community-centered research, was brought on to help evaluate the program. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity recently partnered with Research in Action to help create a new approach to working with Black homebuyers. We chatted with their Founder and CEO Dr. Brittany Lewis about Open Road.

Dr. Lewis header-1
Dr. Brittany Lewis of Research in Action

Putting Community Expertise First

“I love that Nexus had the foresight to reach out to us and say, 'we know how important it is that we have an equitable evaluation process and that we develop that with community,'” Dr. Lewis says. “Whether it’s an evaluation or any form of data being collected by an organization, usually those most impacted aren’t at the table co-creating with them.”

Research in Action pulled together Black folks from across North and South Dakota and Minnesota to create an Advisory Council for the Open Road Fund. Together with the Advisory Council, they created equitable evaluation tools like surveys to inform the Open Road Fund application process and evaluate its effectiveness. A big task was creating a shared definition of Black wealth—and there were some surprises.

“Many folks named wealth generation as not necessarily being connected to or relying on homeownership. And if we’re going to be honest, the model of homeownership and the narrative was created by and has benefited mostly white folks…our nation has narrowly defined wealth building as connected to one product, and Black folks have named that it goes far beyond that.”

This community-centric approach led to an expansive definition of Black wealth-building with five focus areas: housing, education, financial well-being, healing, and economic justice. Applicants are encouraged to identify one of those areas to focus on, but they can be creative and build wealth on their own terms. Maybe that means getting out from under medical debt or student loans. Or buying a duplex to live in and earn passive income. Or incubating a new business. Or traveling, healing, education—the sky’s the limit.

Open Road Fund banner with illustration of a big group of people walking together
Credit: Courtesy of Nexus Community Partners

Disrupting the Politics of Deservedness

Another unique thing about the Open Road Fund is the application and selection process. In brief, here’s how that process goes:

  • Submit an application that asks you to explain how you racially identify, confirm your understanding of the key definitions of Black wealth, and briefly explain your plan for the funds.
  • If you’re eligible (you live in Minnesota or the Dakotas, you fit the target racial demographic, and have some type of plan), you move forward.
  • From there, a random number generator will determine if you receive the grant that year. If you’re not selected, you can continue applying in subsequent years.

“The judge and jury is the random number generator,” Dr. Lewis explains. “And it’s not until that random number generator selects people that they have to develop their detailed plan. I think it really disrupts the ‘politics of deservedness,’ which usually entails some metric of proving one’s excellence compared to others, is not what determines if a person gets the funds.”

The idea is that everyone who is eligible deserves these funds without having to further prove themselves or jump through hoops. The only reason folks need to be randomly selected is because of the limited resources.

“I love that,” Dr. Lewis shares. “I’ve never seen anything like that, and I’m honored that we’re a part of helping to develop it.”

Nexus Community Partners and The Bush Foundation, who resourced the fund, hope to leverage this opportunity for more investment in the fund so it’s accessible to more people. They also hope the fund’s unique model inspires more funds across the country.

The main thing Dr. Lewis wants people to understand about the Open Road Fund is this: “The Open Road Fund is not reparations. $50 million isn’t really a lot—let’s just name that for what it is. Presumably, reparations should be accessible to all descendants of the Atlantic slave trade. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

The Open Road Fund is just one way to help the Black community cultivate wealth and prosperity, and hopefully its vision inspires so much more.

Open Road Fund with an illustration of a big group of excited people with the text "Forging paths toward liberation on roads paved by our ancestors."
Credit: Courtesy of Nexus Community Partners

Open Road Fund Details

  • Who can apply
    Applicants must be age 14 or older; be a resident of Minnesota, North Dakota, or South Dakota; and be a descendant of the Atlantic slave trade. There are no income caps or minimums. Folks who were formerly incarcerated, single parents, seniors, LGBTQ+ folk and those living with disabilities are especially encouraged to apply.

  • When can you apply
    Application windows will open on or around Juneteenth (June 19) each year through 2031. In 2023, applications closed on July 28.

  • Who will receive the grants
    Each year, 100 applicants will be randomly selected to each receive a $50,000 grant. Over the eight years of the Open Road Fund, a total of at least 800 will be selected.

Learn all about the Open Road Fund on the Nexus Community Partners site.


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