Descendants of enslaved people in Minnesota and the Dakotas can apply for $50,000 grants

19 July 2023

ROCHESTER Sometime this fall, a first-of-its-kind lottery will take place. The names of a hundred people will be selected randomly via computer program, and each will receive a no-strings-attached $50,000 grant.

The lottery winners will be able to use the money as they see fit: They could use it to buy a home, to fund a business, to pay down college debt.

The only catch beyond the requirements that the applicants be at least 14 years old and a resident of Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota is that the applicant be a descendant of the Atlantic slave trade.

Rochester promoters of “The Open Road Fund” say the lottery is not an attempt at paying reparations for historic wrongs and injustices done to Black people through the centuries for slavery, segregation and discrimination.

The money does not come from a government entity or taxpayers but from a $50 million fund established by the Minnesota-based nonprofit Bush Foundation. But they do say that the redistribution effort arises from an awareness of the cumulative harm that has been done to Black people over the past 400 years.

Jennifer Woodward, president of the Rochester Area Foundation, says the most common response she gets from people who first learn about the effort is one of skepticism. They want to know whether it’s on the level. She assures them that it is.

“Historically, members of our Black community have had the opposite treatment. They’ve been excluded rather than included,” Woodford said. “This is a movement specifically designed to build resources for our Black community.”

The Rochester Area Foundation is not part of the effort, but it is promoting it locally because of the fund’s consistency with the foundation’s overall philanthropic mission and the “life-changing opportunity” it represents for the hundred people who win the money this year.

The $50,000 grants issued this fall are only the opening salvo and will be repeated through 2031, so that 800 Black residents from the region overall will benefit from the lottery.

The Rev. Andre Crockett, a Black community leader in Rochester and founder of The Barbershop and Social Services, is also seeking to spread the word. He sees the lottery as a competition, and the more people from Rochester to apply, the better the chance that someone from the area will win.

People can only apply via computer. Nexus Community Partners, a Twin Cities-based advocacy group for communities of color, is administering the fund and is not accepting paper applications. Crockett intends to host events to help people fill out the online applications. He also plans to organize door-to-door campaigns to hand out fliers. The application deadline is July 28.

A descendant of the African slave trade, Crockett also has plans to apply for one of the grants.

“So my objective is that the more individuals that we can get down here to apply, the better chance there’s someone down there to win,” Crockett said. “It doesn’t have to be me. We want somebody down here representing Rochester to win.”

Fifty million dollars is a large sum, but only a pittance of the financial legacy and wealth denied to Black people through racism and discrimination, advocates say. Shawn Rochester, author of “The Black Tax,” has quantified the cost of racism in the U.S. at $70 trillion.

In a Washington Post analysis published June 4, 2020, statistics showed that in 2016, a typical middle-class white family in the U.S. had $149,703 in accumulated wealth, while a middle-class Black Family had only $13,024 meaning Black families have 8.6% of the wealth of white families.

The racial economic disparity is also evident in the Rochester community, where 22% of Black people own a home compared to 76% of white people.

A similar million fund to redistribute $50 million from the Bush Foundation has been set up to benefit Indigenous individuals in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Woodford said the opportunity presented by the Open Road Fund has the potential to be life-altering in both an individual and collective sense.

“There are life-changing moments in nonprofits and in philanthropy every day,” Woodford said. “However, this is incredible to me, because it is so wide-scale, because, again, this is one year with 100 people and they’re each going to get $50,000.

“And it’s going to happen every year for the next eight years,” she said.


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