ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On Feb. 18, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, East Orange Mayor Ted Green, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, Camden Mayor Frank Moran, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss and Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. announced the creation of the NJ FAM — aka New Jersey 40 Acres and a Mule — Fund. Their collective goal is to put capital directly in the hands of New Jersey’s black and Latinx business owners and communities, which traditionally suffer from the greatest barriers in access to these resources.
This private investment vehicle seeks to raise $100 million to combat and reduce social and economic inequalities resulting from systemic racism. Since the idea was announced in September, growing need for these businesses as a result of 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 the eight mayors, with assistance from New Jersey Community Capital and an advisory board.
“While the racial wealth gap is a national struggle, it is especially salient in Newark,” Baraka said. “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. 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 percent, 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,” Green said. “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.”
“Although it is reported that minority-owned businesses represent the fastest growing business sector in the U.S. economy, black and Latinx business owners continue to face significantly more obstacles starting their businesses and maintaining growth,” Vauss said. “Our country’s current economic crisis presents a significantly heightened challenge. Therefore, it made sense for us mayors of urban communities to work together to create the NJ FAM Fund in order to help the businesses that are the heart of our communities, black and Latinx businesses.”
“On behalf of the city of Orange Township, I am excited to work with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka alongside other urban cities to help build up black and Latino businesses,” Warren said. “Determining how we invest our budget dollars in small businesses in our communities is one of the many initiatives underway as we move our state forward. This FAM Fund serves as a reminder of the work we need to continue to do to create equity in the business sector.”
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 Jan. 16, 1865, and the initiative was inspired after Union Gen. William Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin 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, and 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.