As CEF has grown and blossomed over the years, we have been reminded, time and again, of the importance of being nimble and adaptive as we grow. As you will see in this report, 2020 was no different. In the enclosed stories you will learn how CEF responded to COVID-19 through articles and reflections from CEF’s staff. The report also shares more information about our quantitative impact and our year-end financials. This report is dedicated to the CEF Members who moved on in 2020, we hope you will hold them in your hearts and minds as you read.
What is the racial wealth gap and how has it continued?
In 2015, a study found that white households in Boston had a median net worth of $247,500 while Black households had a median net worth of $8. Yes, you read that correctly, $8 (Adams & Brancaccio, 2020). This gap in wealth is not just in Boston. A survey of the U.S. found that white* households’ median net worth was 10 times greater than that of Black households (Cilluffo & Kochhar, 2017). Without action, the worth of Black households is expected to fall to zero by 2053 (Rhinehart, 2019). This vast difference in wealth along racial lines is the racial wealth gap.
Racist laws and discrimination have created the racial wealth gap. Housing, employment, and educational policies have disadvantaged Black people. Black people inherit less wealth and have lower incomes, lower levels of homeownership, and lower rates of health insurance than white people (Gold, 2020; “Reducing the racial homeownership gap”, n.d.). These factors have made it harder to build wealth and left Black people more vulnerable to financial struggles (Jan, 2018). This all leads to the big gap between white and Black wealth.
Wealthy, white households also add to this problem. Upper-middle-class and wealthy families stay wealthy by passing down their wealth from generation to generation, they also use their privilege and connections to help their kids personally and professionally. These families often fight against policies that lead to greater societal equity (Reeves, 2017). In families that have the top 20% of wealth in the U.S., 57% of kids remain in that range for the rest of their lives. Rich kids tend to become rich adults. On the other hand, fewer than 15% of people born into the bottom 20% of families with wealth ever make it to the top 40% (Pfeffer, 2015). 72% of households in the top 20% are white. Combined, Black and Latino households make up only 16% of this top bracket of wealth (Joo & Reeves, 2017). Therefore, more white families have the resources to ensure their kids are wealthy too. (Check out this game to see how wealthy families stay wealthy.)
What can be done?
Addressing this issue requires changes in state and national policies on a range of topics. Some examples are changing current laws, such as strengthening and enforcing the Fair Housing Act of 1968, expanding health care coverage, and implementing a corporate financial transaction tax to fund a risk insurance program to protect against housing market crashes which deeply affect Black communities. New policies like student loan forgiveness or creating a Minority Business Advocacy office could encourage financial equality (“Policy agenda to close the racial wealth gap”, 2016). Reparations are also a crucial step toward reducing the racial wealth gap. Black and Indigenous people have been prevented from building wealth for hundreds of years while white families were able to attain and grow their assets. To bridge this head start in white wealth, reparations are necessary. These are just a few of the policies that could ease the racial wealth gap. Check out this article for a review of solutions on this issue.
While these suggestions are big changes, there are smaller actions that can be taken to diminish the gap. If you are someone with inherited wealth, you can redistribute it to people in your community that do not have access to inheritance or give it to an organization that can do that for you. Supporting politicians and policies that address the systemic nature of the racial wealth gap is another great choice. Investing in Black-owned businesses, cooperatives, and organizations working towards financial equity is another option. These steps are important in order to address how the racial wealth gap shows up in your community and are needed alongside wide-sweeping policies aimed to reduce the gap on a national level.
What is CEF doing about the racial wealth gap?
CEF works to address the racial wealth gap in three specific ways:
- Offering non-predatory financial services and products. This includes 65 financial coaching modules that Members can access to support financial goals from budgeting to purchasing a home and CEF’s Safe Savings Accounts which are aimed to make banking more accessible and rewarding. Members receive a match of 15% when they meet their savings goal and are never charged a fee for participating, saving Members $40,000 over their lifetime (Fellowes & Mabanta, 2008).
- CEF actively works to ensure Members are safely housed. The Housing First model is guided by the belief that basic needs, like food and a place to live, need to be met before someone can successfully address less critical needs, such as employment, budgeting, or addressing substance abuse. Due to COVID-19 and increased financial instability, CEF started a Housing Assistance Fund for Durham-based Members. This fund supports Members who were unable to access assistance through other avenues, to ensure that they can be stably housed. Funding was provided by community members who choose to redirect stimulus checks to ensure that people in financial need had access to that support. Providing an avenue for people who benefit from the racial wealth gap to directly support people who are negatively impacted by the racial wealth gap is an essential part of CEF’s work.
- CEF Members are actively engaged in advocacy work. Community and Office Organizers Rosa Green and Yvette Matthews guide this work, creating spaces for Members to talk about and to advocate on behalf of their own interests. Having platforms for community members to share their voices and offer solutions is essential if we are going to create systems that are truly equitable.
*In general, CEF uses APA grammar rules in our writing. The APA says that the names of race and ethnic identities should be capitalized, as they are proper nouns. CEF is intentionally leaving “white” (when referring to a racial identity) lower-cased. We recognize that by capitalizing words we are giving them power and we do not want to encourage white power in any way. Unlike the AP’s explanation for why they are choosing to lower-case “white” we want to be clear that we believe white people do have a shared experience–that is one of privilege. We also believe that undoing racism is the responsibility of white people and worry that implying that white people do not have a shared experience (as the AP does) is a dangerous tactic that is aimed at discounting the responsibility that white people have in undoing racism and white supremacist culture. Ultimately, we know that race is a construct but that racial differences are not. They are real and need to be addressed directly. For any questions or clarifications around CEF’s choice of words please contact ari rosenberg (arir[at]communityef.org).
Adams, K., & Brancaccio, D. (2020 August 7). The economy reimagined, Part 1: Dealing with inequality. Marketplace. https://www.marketplace.org/2020/08/07/the-economy-reimagined-part-1-dealing-with-inequality/
Cilluffo, A., & Kochhar, R. (2017, November 1). How wealth inequality has changed in the U.S. since the Great Recession, by race, ethnicity and income. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/01/how-wealth-inequality-has-changed-in-the-u-s-since-the-great-recession-by-race-ethnicity-and-income/
Fellowes, M. & Mabanta, M. (2008, January 22). Banking on Wealth: America’s New Retail Banking Infrastructure and Its Wealth-Building Potential. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/research/banking-on-wealth-americas-new-retail-banking-infrastructure-and-its-wealth-building-potential/
Gold, H. (2020, July 15). Opinion: The racial wealth gap is at the heart of America’s inequality. MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-racial-wealth-gap-is-at-the-heart-of-americas-inequality-2020-07-15
Jan, T. (2018, March 28). Redlining was banned 50 years ago. It’s still hurting minorities today. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/28/redlining-was-banned-50-years-ago-its-still-hurting-minorities-today/
Joo, N. & Reeves, R. (2017, October 4). White, still: The American upper middle class. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2017/10/04/white-still-the-american-upper-middle-class/
Pfeffer, F. (2015). Rising wealth inequality: Causes, consequences, and potential responses. University of Michigan. https://poverty.umich.edu/research-projects/policy-briefs/rising-wealth-inequality-causes-consequences-and-potential-responses/
Policy agenda to close the racial wealth gap. (2016, September). Center for Global Policy Solutions. http://globalpolicysolutions.org/report/policy-agenda-close-racial-wealth-gap/
Reducing the racial homeownership gap. (n.d.). Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/policy-centers/housing-finance-policy-center/projects/reducing-racial-homeownership-gap
Reeves, R. (2017, June 13). Dream hoarders: How the American upper middle class is leaving everyone else in the dust, why that is a problem, and what to do about it. Brookings Institution Press. https://www.brookings.edu/book/dream-hoarders/
Rhinehart, C. (2019, July 12). African American wealth may fall to zero by 2053. Black Enterprise. https://www.blackenterprise.com/african-american-wealth-zero-2053/ Sivy, M. (2012, November 20). Why so many Americans don’t have bank accounts. Time. https://business.time.com/2012/11/20/why-so-many-americans-dont-have-bank-accounts/
As CEF has grown and blossomed over the years, we have been reminded, time and again, of the importance of being nimble and adaptive as we grow. As you will see in this report, 2019 was no different. In the enclosed stories you will learn more about CEF’s deepening advocacy work; read about the programs we’ve built and strengthened; hear directly from Members, Advocates, and Staff about their connection to CEF; and see our quantitative impact.
“We are overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to grow with the over 1,000 Members and 250 Advocates who show up every day to care for each other. It encourages us to learn from and lean on one another as we move forward together. Thank you for believing in this community of boundless support as we grow towards the abundant possibilities we have before us.”
In their home in Chapel Hill, Mussasa and Denise share pictures of family members and loved ones, many of whom are strewn across the globe by war. Their son Joshua looks over his mother’s shoulder at the pictures, saying, “This is sad. Oh my gosh, I miss it.”
Mussasa and Denise are both from Congo, and met in Burundi while both were fleeing war in their home country. It was 1996 and they were in their early twenties. As war continued, they moved to South Africa as refugees, where they were married and lived for 14 years. For a long time, they held out hope that they would be able to return to the Congo.
Across borders and amidst isolating, uprooting experiences of leaving family and home, Denise and Mussasa have restarted their lives again and again in the pursuit of a safe, stable home for their family. Denise has begun and built a number of careers, including law in Congo, business management in Burundi, and adult education in South Africa. Mussasa is an incredibly skilled welder, working in welding in every country they have lived, even teaching welding and skilled trades to unemployed youth in Capetown.
In 2016, after 20 years away from their homes and feeling that there was little chance they would ever be able to move back to the Congo, they made the bold decision to move to Durham, North Carolina.
Denise shares, “When we got here we didn’t know where to start, and transportation was a big problem.” With their busy schedules juggling work, school, and family, relying on public transit was significantly limiting their opportunities.
They heard about CEF from a friend and started saving in CEF’s matched savings accounts for a vehicle while working with Advocates to find better-paying jobs.
Denise reflects on what it means that they trust CEF with their personal savings, sharing that, “Being Congolese, it’s a bit difficult because… In 1994, they changed the currency in Congo and the banks just decided to say, ‘Well, you don’t have any money anymore!’ So all we had worked for, just gone back then.”
Despite these experiences with banks abroad, they trusted CEF because of the testimonies of friends, and because of the “emotional connection.” Denise says, “For example, when we got here, everything was too much, and then you get someone to have your hand and say, ‘we can work on goals that you have. We can address certain concerns that you have. Let’s do this one, then the next one, and the next one.’ There’s an emotional connection.”
After saving for several months and working with Advocates to get insurance and licenses, they reached their goal and were preparing to buy a car. Right at that moment, one of CEF’s campus partners surprised the family with a donated vehicle! Professor Jim Kitchen’s entrepreneurship class at Kenan-Flagler raised thousands of dollars through their own micro-enterprises in order to purchase a vehicle for the family.
“And when you get a car, it changes your life,” Denise shares. “Suddenly, [Mussasa] could come back home early, and could plan around getting the children from school on time… That is not just a car. It’s that kind of a connection that you’ve got with a place or a person.”
Meanwhile, both Denise and Mussasa have made incredible progress towards better jobs. Denise is now working as a C.N.A. and studying nursing to build a new career here, while Mussasa is working overnight as a welder at AKG and attending English classes during the day.
Here in the U.S., sadly they have still had to worry for the safety of their family. One of their sons struggled with bullying at his first school, which prompted Denise and Mussasa to work with their Advocates to find a new place to live in a different school district. Their son is much happier in this school, and they are hoping to “settle down” now.
Looking forward, their big goal is to own a home. Denise says, “I believe it’s better to work toward your own house than renting someone else’s house.” Because of their refugee status, “That is something we could not do in South Africa,” which will make this achievement even more monumental for their family.
🐖One giant pig. One million dollars saved.💰
Thank you so much to everyone who came out to the Piggy Bank Bash to celebrate CEF Members’ amazing accomplishment last night. We’re proud to be part of such an amazingly supportive community and extremely thankful for all of the warmth and encouragement shared and received last night. We’re also filled with gratitude at the generosity of Grub, who generously hosted and fed us all for free, and all of our West End neighbors and friends, who pitched in with raffle prizes ( Pauli Murray Project, The Cookery, and Steel String ) and supplying a sound system (the Durham Co-op Market 🎤).
Partners from Families Moving Forward, Self-Help, Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café also came out and shared their support in full force! If you want to continue partying it up with CEF this year, we hope to see you at Steel String on Wed, November 14 at CEF’s Night Out at Steel String
“When you are with CEF, you are a part of the thread that makes us all one community.” Chinita is a CEF graduate, and her poetic statement during a CEF celebration perfectly describes the palpable connectivity in this community.
Whether we’re weaving together programs and resources to form a holistic network of support, or connecting our Members and Advocates together in people-centered relationships, CEF is steadily crafting a beautiful, interconnected, and interwoven community.”
Romeo, Romeo! Ms. Laverne adores her Romeo
She showers him daily with belly rubs and bacon bits. “If you rub his belly, he’ll go to sleep,” Ms. Laverne intimates. And Romeo has stuck with Ms. Laverne through thick and thin, including the years when they were sleeping in her car, and in and out of hotels or friends’ homes. “Romeo would let me sleep, and when I woke up, he’d sleep. We would both watch out for each other.”
The day they first saw their new home, Romeo raced up and down the long hallway with barks of approval.
Ever since she moved into the new apartment this past June, Ms. Laverne has been relishing the daily things: “Opening the door is a blessing. Closing the door is a blessing. Laying in my bed is a blessing. Cooking. Decorating a house. It’s just a blessing not wondering where your next step is going to be.”
Even through homelessness, Ms. Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right for herself and others. She worked with CEF and her support networks to find her stable home! Photo collages of beloved family members adorn the walls of the living room and hallway, side-by-side with school photos of her children and grandchildren, their ribbons and certificates of achievement, baptismal certificates, Bible verses, and a poem written to her by her son. Her home is filled with the people she honors and loves, making space for memory and hope for loved ones who have passed on or are locked away.
Ms. Laverne’s favorite room is the bathroom. It’s large and luxurious-feeling, with a floral shower curtain and plush towels folded in neat stacks. “I came a long way from going around and taking bird baths.”
How Ms. Laverne Found Her Home
Ms. Laverne connected with CEF when she came to a public meeting of the Homeless Services Advisory Council in Durham to advocate for her needs as an individual experiencing homelessness — bearing witness to her own experience and the experiences of so many others, while making a prophetic call to action.
After 9 years of faithfully paying rent on time, Ms. Laverne had been evicted after a dispute with her landlord. For two whole years, Ms. Laverne and Romeo navigated homelessness together — finding food and safe places to sleep, taking “bird baths” in public restrooms, and struggling to find a healthy, non-abusive place to recover from back surgery in the midst of this experience.
“I’ve never been homeless before. This is my first time,” she shares. “I didn’t give up on myself. More people did me wrong, I kept pushing myself. More people lie on me, I kept defending myself. I’m not a bad person, I’m a good person. I live for God, and I like helping people.”
At that public meeting, CEF and Ms. Laverne connected and have stuck together ever since. She connected with staff at the Durham Housing Authority at that same meeting, and worked through the process to secure a permanently affordable apartment with DHA. With CEF, she connected to legal services and addressed credit issues that were preventing her from securing housing. She also got a job at Harris Teeter, where her co-workers have been a wonderful community of support. She gives a special shout-out to all of these groups, and Angela Holmes (Chair of the Homeless Services Advisory Council) for helping with her transition into housing.
About CEF, Ms. Laverne shares, “[CEF] made sure I was okay, and we started working on everything.”
“[CEF] don’t do the talk, they do the walk. And since I’ve been coming here, all I see is friendly faces glad to help you. [They] ask you, ‘What do you want?’ and take everything you say to the heart. And they love my dog.” (Indeed, Romeo charms the entire office when he comes in with Ms. Laverne.)
What’s Next for Ms. Laverne?
Ms. Laverne has new goals to share with CEF. “I’m going to take computer classes, to get a laptop, so that when I go to school I can have it… I want to get my GED.”
She hopes to eventually use it in support and advocacy of other people who are experiencing homelessness. Even while she slept in her car and struggled with issues of discrimination, Laverne never stopped fighting for what is right and helping others. “When I was homeless, I helped homeless people. I paid for a hotel room for a family. So, though I was down and out, I still helped, and I didn’t ask for nothing back in return. I just told them, ‘Do it for the next person.’”
Ms. Laverne dreams of managing her own shelter one day. “I wish I had money to build a place. This would be my shelter: a lot of flowers. A lot of love. Respect. Trust. And a church inside my shelter.” In a way, she has already built this sanctuary space inside her home.
“Six months ago, I was a person that lived in the trees. When [Hurricane] Matthew was running, and you were home safe, I was in the trees. Thinking about if they fell on me, would anyone find me? I was in the trees. I was in the trees because I could no longer afford housing in this city that I had lived for 6 years. I had an income. I was homeless, but not hopeless. I only wanted to trade trees for keys.”
Now, from her new, affordable apartment, Chinita is still surrounded by the trees, but she has keys. She remarks in bursts of joy to see the chipmunks scurry past her window, to see nature as her neighbor, but not her shelter.
Chinita grew up in Greensboro, and received degrees in Journalism and Education from NC A&T University. She built a career based on service and a love of people, working as a teacher and as a Hospice caregiver, and even for several years as a publicist and media sales.
In 2010 Chinita relocated to Chapel Hill to be closer to her doctors, and shares, “I had been living in the same place since I came to Chapel Hill — for six years. It wasn’t the best place, but it was home, it was comfortable, it was safe.” Each year, Chinita says, “I would go through the annual time to renew your lease and it’s nothing abnormal, normally it’s anywhere from $20 – $25 more but nothing shocking. Last year was shocking.”
Last year, her rent went up from $680 per month to $2,110 at her lease renewal. More than triple. This was more than she could possibly afford, and forced her to seek new housing with short notice. She moved into her housing of last resort: her Jeep.
“In this city, I found trees that would cover me, that would protect me, so that I could be close to my doctor.” The social worker at her doctor’s office actually first referred her to CEF.
Chinita describes using a fan plugged into her car lighter as her source of cooling down in 100 degree summer weather. She describes meeting the “golden warriors” of the Meals on Wheels team that delivered her daily meal to her in a parking lot. And she describes coming to CEF each week during the two months of her homelessness to find the resources to move back into a safe home.
About her work with CEF Advocates, Chinita shares “Every element that I’ve needed them to assist me – glasses, legal services, housing, food…I think they look at the whole person, and their whole needs, and if they don’t have an answer, they have a wealth of resources.”
“When you go to other services you feel like you’re given a band-aid. But the difference is with CEF it’s more of a healing process.”
For Chinita, this meant staying connected to CEF while finding an apartment she could afford, and eventually signing a lease with a senior housing community where she can sustain her housing for the long-term.
“I appreciate you being here at my lowest point, but I’m more appreciative of helping me find the resources that I can hold my head up again, and hope again. I don’t think there’s anything more grateful than feeling like you’ve got someone’s hand that’s holding you through the storm, and that’s what CEF has been for me… They have been the anchor in my life.”
To listen to Chinita speak is to listen to the voice of a poet, whose first love and first refuge was found in words – the world of words a place of connection and relief ever since she was a young girl. To listen to Chinita speak is to hear the “caged bird” sing, to quote a sentiment she references often, as you hear in her lyricism and in her powerful voice the influences of Dr. Maya Angelou (or “Mother Maya,” as Chinita lovingly calls her).
And Chinita is sharing the gifts of her inspirational speaking and her love of stories with the CEF community. Chinita now volunteers to lead CEF’s new member orientation sessions every week, to help others gain the financial stability she has found and to be the first person to welcome people into the community she loves. She shares, that for her, “The faith is restored, the hope is restored, the homes are obtained, the jobs are obtained, the glasses are obtained. I feel better about me. About life. I feel so great about it that I want to tell everybody about it. And I enjoy being orientation coordinator working with our new members in orientation, because they get to see Chinita over and over again. And I get to see individuals who come and they look like there’s no hope, but I get to tell them that there is.”
Chinita encourages you to join her in supporting and being a part of CEF. “When you can be with an organization that pulls out dreams that you’ve never even considered, that’s priceless.”
“It’s tax deductible, but it’s priceless too. I think that all of our givers should know that giving to CEF is not just putting band-aids… I want to say my spine and my neck is up higher, and I feel more confident and my faith is restored, and not only can I make it, but I can be a hand for someone else.”
CEF matched savings accounts support Members in reaching goals all along the continuum from homelessness to homeownership! We launched a new program in 2016 to support first-time homebuyers with Reinvestment Partners and the Duke Homebuyers Club.
Paige was one of the first 5 CEF Members to successfully purchase their own home! Paige worked incredibly hard and with amazing focus to reach her goal in just ten months. In addition to her full-time job at Duke, she worked extra jobs in order to stay on track with her financial goals. She participated in CEF’s Financial Coaching program and was able to pay off debts and improve her credit score, qualifying her for an affordable mortgage. Meanwhile, she successfully saved for her down payment and closing costs, receiving a dollar-for-dollar match from CEF!
Paige is proud to be a homeowner. Some of the best parts? Her mortgage payment is actually cheaper than her rent payments were, and she is building an asset for the long term!