For most people, giving to charity means donating their hand-me-downs to Goodwill or giving a few hundred dollars to a nonprofit. For Ansel Dow, a Durham activist, it means pledging thousands.
Dow comes from a family that’s, well, rich. In his case, the money came from his grandfather’s work with the Chevron Oil Company, Dow says. Looking back, it’s clear his grandpa worked hard his entire life, Dow says. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a helping hand on the way to joining Raleigh’s elite.
Like many other white, middle-class families, Dow’s grandparents had an advantage when it came to living the American Dream. They had access to resources historically denied to minorities, Dow says. The GI Bill, for example, helped white World War II veterans buy a house, continue their education, or enroll in job training through low-interest loans. African Americans and women, however, were overlooked.
For many Americans, class privilege is a fact of life—one they try to avoid looking at too closely. But Dow thinks the richest 10 percent have a responsibility to try and right the injustices they’ve benefitted from. It’s not enough to be woke; people with wealth and class privilege have to work to help dismantle the systems they’re a part of.
Changing the way wealth works
As a recruiter for Resource Generation, a national nonprofit aimed at redistributing wealth, Dow often approaches people who are among the richest in North Carolina and asks them to give away money they may have inherited from parents or grandparents.
The kind of giving he’s asking them to do isn’t charity or philanthropy—it’s not taking part in a pledge drive or donating $500 to Black Lives Matter. Instead, Dow might ask people to donate an extra $5,000 they have in savings or dig into their family’s multimillion-dollar trust fund and start siphoning it away piece by piece.
“It’s a difference in approach,” says Isabel Walsh, who became a member of Resource Generation last year. “[The words] ‘philanthropy’ and ‘giving’ suggest the people who are doing those things are just really generous people. In truth, it’s that they have some kind of privilege that gains them access to wealth.”
In Walsh’s experience, many wealthy families donate to a cause only as long as it won’t significantly cut into their riches.
“I think there’s this very ingrained belief for a lot of people that you should not ever lose any money … and you should probably grow that amount of money, even if you don’t need it, and even if that amount is already really big,” she says. “[With Resource Generation], it’s about making real, lasting financial shifts to the way money is distributed.”
Where does the money go?
Last year, 15 members of Resource Generation’s Triangle chapter gave away $980,000, almost a million dollars. That’s an average of about $65,000 per person.
The money went to a variety of nonprofits aimed at dismantling white supremacy and other societal oppression. One of those was Durham Beyond Policing, a grassroots group lobbying for the abolition of policing and imprisonment. The group is creating “community-led alternatives to policing” through education and activism, says Interim Director Manju Rajendran.
“Resource Generation’s generosity and solidarity has made a meaningful difference in our work,” Rajendran says. “It always feels encouraging to hear from people who share a vision for a Durham where everyone has what they need.”
Rajendran says she respects the group’s dedication to supporting community organizations. Part of Resource Generation’s mission is to support local activists who have a firsthand understanding of what their community is facing. Often, that means supporting working-class leaders and people of color.
“Durham Beyond Policing is a working-class-led formation,” Rajendran says. “We appreciate Triangle Resource Generation’s commitment to work in cross-class alliances with racial and economic justice partners.”
Let’s talk about money
As of today, the richest 10 percent in Raleigh earn about $200,000 per year. In Durham, it’s about $175,000 per year. The top 10 percent can also include people whose parents earn those incomes, or whose net wealth falls between $50,000 and $200,000, according to the Resource Generation website. Regardless, they all have something in common.
“Most of the folks I talk to have been in this sort of purgatory of knowing [wealth] is a huge part of their story or their family’s story, but also knowing it doesn’t get talked about in ways that feel satisfying and real to them,” Dow says. “Conversations about [money] were so sparse and so infrequent and so uncomfortable.”
That was definitely the case for Walsh, who says she knew her family had money, but talking about it “was seen as impolite.”
“It was taught to be a private thing, a family matter only,” Walsh says. “It was a relief to talk about it openly.”
Dow wants to encourage those conversations, he says. The mission of Resource Generation isn’t just to redistribute money but also to help people recognize privilege.
“A huge part of the work we do is supporting people to initiate those conversations with family members, which can be so, so challenging,” he says. “Even as hard as that is to do, it’s worth it. It’s something we have a responsibility to do.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Ansel Dow is from Durham.
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