Money and Meaning: The Southeast Regional Slow Money Gathering Friday Report

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By Art Menius

Friday brought the full day of the Money and Meaning Conference at the Pittsboro campus of Central Carolina Community College. It got off to a good start with locally roasted coffee and local baked goods.

Then Vivette Jeffries-Logan, Morning Star of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, got us started with breathing exercises and inspiring words: “I know that capitalism is in its death throes. I know there are other ways of being.” Asked to write a poem for the occasion, realtor and former Chatham County commissioner Gary Phillips said he wrote, in the form of a poem, a rant about money without meaning. Highlights: “Money is a ’57 Chevy that looks good on the outside, but it can kill you.” “The original meaning of economy is the arrangement of households… Let’s arrange our households for the general economy, not the individual.”

Carol Peppe Hewitt, founder of Slow Money NC, told us that “We are here today to change the paradigm about money.”

The practice of asking speakers for their earliest money memories began with “The Money and Meaning” session. Frank Phoenix of the Fenwick Foundation, which keeps alive the legacy of his grandfather, remembers his father always gave to nonprofits. His father, son of the founder of Durham Life and Durham Life Broadcasting, would pile a big stack of requests on his desk at Christmas time and begin writing checks. Frank’s biggest money challenge was Chapel Hill’s Greenbridge project which ultimately went bankrupt. For him the worst was worrying about what people would think. In the agony of losing all this money, Frank asked himself, “what can I leave my son that is more valuable than money? Then I realized there is. Proud that we actually finished the project, I looked for the silver lining. No matter what the struggle there is safety in the depths inside myself.”

Money and Meaning: Frank Phoenix, LaShauna Austin, Rachael Greber
Money and Meaning: Frank Phoenix, LaShauna Austin, Rachael Greber

Rev. LaShauna Austin of tiny Mellville NC says that people can be a part of the church community even if they can’t tithe. She us proud that her family made things work when she left corporate job for seminary. Started backpack program that feeds poor children on the weekend while in them seminary. Rachael Greber moved from Seattle to Saxapahaw, seeking answer to her own spiritual struggles. She wonders how to help fix the problems of the work, while not giving in to the White savior complex. “This is my struggle right now. Learning to decrease dependence on money economy. How to come out of exile and build the world we want.”

Impact Investing: Allison Trott Byrd, David Roswell, Josh Humphries of Croatan Institute
Impact Investing: Allison Trott Byrd, David Roswell, Josh Humphries of Croatan Institute

The Impact Investing session was likely the most intellectually stimulating event. It opened our eyes to the work of those with money who share progressive, community oriented values. Inheriting money suddenly changed the world of Allison Trott Byrd. “I get value back from investing rather than getting money back. To have successful business, you need successful relationships. I want local and value building investments.”

David Roswell’s great grandfather started Amoco. He belongs to Resource Generation which offers a variety of programs for young people with wealth to make meaningful investments and take part in social movements. David works with the Renaissance Food Co-op project in a food desert in Greensboro. David also works with Regenerative Finance, which aims to change capitalism so direction of capital is not always to the rich. David realizes his wealth is extracted. “It’s not mine. I want to redistribute it. Investments and philanthropy are on same spectrum.”

Not personally wealthy, Josh Humphries is president of North Carolina’s Croatan Institute, creating new wave of investing that supports building community wealth. The institute seeks answers to such questions as What about transnationals that own good companies? How does Slow Money work best? How do we create new interesting loan funds for social impact investing? Racial equity impact investing needs to be on the table. Croatan Institute wants to lead that. How to build our own wealth to reinvest? “Let’s get money out of too big to fail banks into minority owned banks and credit unions.”

Carol Hewitt told the audience that Slow Money NC plans to teach how to start self-directed IRAs. She reminded us that financial information is made obscure to make us feel stupid and follow the advice we are given. Community Sourced Capital, on the other hand, provides a vehicle for $50 incremental loans called “squares.”

From the audience, Morning Star pointed out that North Carolina has the highest indigenous population east of the Mississippi. “Black and white marginalizes us. This country wasn’t just built on stolen labor; it was built on stolen land.”

Lunch break at the CCCC plaza
Lunch break at the CCCC plaza

After a lunch filled with animated conversations, we assembled again to hear the keynote by Greensboro’s Ed Whitfield of the Fund 4 Democratic Communities. Ed spoke frankly about race, wealth, and inequity. He asked how to change the world? “There are communities in a great deal of despair due to grinding poverty.” He referred to a 2014 book by Karen Fields called Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. 2015-09-11 12.52.06The central thesis is like witchcraft in earlier times, blackness is now offered as an explanation of problems, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Citing early civilization, Whitfield said, “we found a way to work things out in community, but now we have a world dominated by greed with access to wealth controlled by the few. Primitive society was built on gift, economy, and debt. Trade began for luxuries, not necessities. Now trade is essential to our needs.”

Like Humphries, Ed reminded that we must have difficult conversations to move forward. “The United States was built on genocide, land theft, and slavery.”

Whitfield’s offered ideas to solve today’s problems. “People don’t need a handout; they need an opportunity. Create opportunities for people to work in democratic, worker owned businesses. A store and its profits belong to the community. These businesses require an organized community. No resident left behind.” That seems to be exactly what the Fund 4 Democratic Communities seems to be doing with the Greensboro food co-op to open in spring 2016.

The Food Justice panel had to follow Whitfield and rose to the occasion. Speaking from her heart and fighting back tears, Siler City’s Shirl Cook provided the emotional high point for Friday. She described growing up in poverty with serious health issues in family marked by mental illness. After

Food Justice: Demetrius Hunter, Jessica Norwood, Shirl Cook
Food Justice: Demetrius Hunter, Jessica Norwood, Shirl Cook

her mother was institutionalized, she lived in uncertain world she did not understand. By age seven she was finding escape by writing short stories. Social services, responding to Shirl’s call for help, split her family into foster homes with sibling communication cut off. Things finally turned around after Cook found Circles of Chatham, a church-based program finally helped with love and resources. Now she has completed a novel about mayhem and secrets in a small town.

Jessica Norwood came all the way from Pritchard in south Alabama. Although her home town of Pritchard once supplied mobile with food, it had been a food desert for 40 years. She aggregated money to bring farmers market there. She posited that we must shift the conversation by being very deliberate in our actions and showing our values.

Demetrius Hunter’s grandfather started a business during the Great Depression in Raleigh bringing veggies to seniors. Years late he and Erin Byrd started Grocers on Wheels. Starting in the majority African-American food desert of southeastern Raleigh, Grocers on Wheels is expanding into Durham and Washington, DC. They also work in schools providing smoothies. It extends credit to customers, but the. WICK and SNAP programs proved huge challenges. They formed a partnership so that they can accept SNAP.

Financing Food Enterprises: Carol Peppe Hewitt, Jane Norton, Mary Demar, Steve Saltzman
Financing Food Enterprises: Carol Peppe Hewitt, Jane Norton, Mary Demar, Steve Saltzman

The Financing Small Food Enterprises panel included Carol Peppe Hewitt, Jane Norton, an active slow money lender, rabbit farmer and processor, Mary Demar, who has received Slow Money loans, and Steve Saltzman Self Help Credit Union. A 1990s tech boomer who went bust, Saltzman became a lender “because I want to do something really valuable.” He wonders how do you scale? How do we make it sustainable? NC needs a “fixer” who can connect policy, lenders, start ups, universities, and dynamic nonprofits. Policy is essential in this work.

The Money and Meaning sessions at Central Carolina Community College concluded with the Role of Media in the Local Food Movement. This proved to be the only session in which I already knew each panelist.

Role of the Media in Local Food Movement: Vimala Rajendran, Lisa Sorg, Andrea Weigl, Carol Peppe Hewitt
Role of the Media in Local Food Movement: Vimala Rajendran, Lisa Sorg, Andrea Weigl, Carol Peppe Hewitt

Andrea Weigl, Food Editor of the News and Observer (disclosure, I write a monthly column for the N&O’s Chapel Hill News) encouraged activists to be persistent with the media and realize that it is often just luck to be included. Use each pitch to hone your story and remember the need for a hook. Former Indy Week editor Lisa Sorg described the important role the media to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. She advised us to tell the media what makes your story stand out and be interesting to average reader. Both noted the significance of social media as a way to discover stories and advised using short “elevator pitch” emails to editors. Andrea admitted that social media is how most people read the newspaper now and that her bosses tracked social media reach of stories. Vimala Rajendran of Chapel Hill’s Vimala’s Curry Blossom Café stressed controlling the message and the interviews. Facebook has been very valuable to their marketing with 7000 page likes, since they do not do paid social media or have a publicist. Vimala said that “restaurant food does not have to be unhealthy,” although home style Indian cooking is rare in American restaurants. She struck the closing note, “our food tastes like justice.”

September 11, 2015

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