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How did this project get started?

This project was started in the aftermath of the 2016 election. It was started by a Black organizer and activist in the Twin Cities area and Executive Director of the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism. The synopsis of the larger version which you can read here. Concerned about her own student loan debt, she reached out to some friends and fellow activists. Everyone expressed interest in putting together a project that would help more than just her. A call went out and a number of Black organizers accepted the invitation to join the project.

Each organizer has dedicated their lives to the struggle for racial justice and liberation for Black people –including themselves.

Can anyone with student loan debt join?

After reaching a total student loan debt amount of $1.2 million between a group of organizers, we closed the process. We did this because we felt that it was pushing the upper limits of the capacity of our fundraising team to try and raise more than $1.2 million dollars over a period of 2-5 years. All of the organizers are people that have directly been involved in racial justice efforts across the country from a variety of approaches including nonprofits, higher education, k-12 education, protesting and activism, and healing and emotional support work.

What are reparations? (Subquestion: Is it really reparations if it’s not mass-scale?) 

One way to think of reparations is to see it as a moral imperative to address the tremendous wealth gap that exists between African Americans and their white peers. Such a wealth gap exists because of hundreds of years of slavery, followed by decades of segregation, institutionalized white supremacy, and other forms of systemic and structural racism. Many forms which still continue to this day.

The concept of reparations is often tied to the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule” made by the U.S. government after the Civil War to formerly enslaved Black people, especially those who worked the fields on southern plantations. Reparations acknowledges and strives to repair the historical injustices that have resulted in tremendous economic disparities between Black Americans and their white peers, as well as lost opportunities for building multigenerational wealth, establishing a career, becoming homeowners, being free from debt, and so on. Such injustices include Jim Crow laws, redlining, and other forms of segregation; mass incarceration and criminalization of African Americans; and the state sanctioned violence against Black people, including numerous murders by police of unarmed Black Americans.

Just as racialized injustice can be carried out on a variety of levels, from the interpersonal to the systemic and structural, so can reparations be between two or more people; or between a group of people harmed by racism and a group of people who benefited from white privilege who wish to correct that unfairness in material ways. Stolen Wealth Returns strives to mend the systemic injustice of crushing student loan debt held by young Black adults who pursued higher education in order to get a foot in the workplace door, while facing anti-Black discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

Why are the individual identities of the organizers kept private?

The Black organizers who are participating in this pilot project have full agency over how, when, and to whom they tell their stories and share their identities.

One symptom of capitalism coupled with white supremacy is how wealthy white people believe that they should have access to personal information, especially if they are going to “help” people who are seen as “in need.” This attitude, conscious or unconscious, demonstrates a paternalistic frame of mind, rather than a commitment to level the playing field through reparations.

In addition, a number of white supporters of Stolen Wealth Returns point out that many white people with wealth don’t know the details of how their family came to accumulate such wealth and are slow to engage in reparations without having details of how or where donations will be distributed. That discrepancy in and of itself demonstrates an inequity that must be addressed.

How do funds get distributed to the organizers in the project? What legal precautions are taken?

Stolen Wealth Returns is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, legally incorporated in the state of Minnesota. Our organization complies with nonprofit best practices for accounting records and documentation under the guidance of a professional, certified accountant and in consultation, as needed, with a legal team with extensive nonprofit experience. As an organization we are fairly new, as soon as we have reportable tax filings, and financial statements they will be made publicly available in order to ensure transparency and instill trust in both those receiving reparations payments and those making them through our organization.

Payments get distributed monthly to organizers to prevent their principal amounts from increasing. Organizers are responsible for providing a receipt of payment to their loans. All receipts will be maintained digitally for at least 7 years in accordance with tax audit liability and nonprofit best practices. Our fundraising campaign for the larger sum of $1.2Million is still in the planning phases as is the process for complete pay offs. When the process begins we will update this section with the pertinent information.

I want to make a contribution. How do I do that?

Reparations payments can be made by checks payable to “Stolen Wealth Returns” and directly to Stolen Wealth Returns, 2425 Humboldt Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405 or contribute online.

For more information, send us an email at or call us at 612-208-6011

How can I start a project like this in my area?

We would be happy to talk with you about our own process and learnings in this first experimental iteration of Stolen Wealth Returns.  Please reach out to us at to set up a time to talk.

Some basic learnings we’ve gained:

  • Whenever we’re dealing with issues of money and debt within the system of racialized capitalism, lots of feelings and interpersonal dynamics inevitably come up.  When you’re thinking about who to include in your project–both the Black organizers with student loan debt and the core team who will be fundraising for the project (Returner Team)–it’s helpful to be intentional about process and building relationships.  In our case, we began with the Black organizers meeting separately and building relationships with one another, and the Returner Team doing similarly (with one Black organizer as the liaison between both groups). Over time, as we have built trust, we’ve begun having some more interaction. We imagine that this might look very different in a group in which both Black Organizers and Returner Team already had pre-existing relationships before embarking upon the project.
  • The Black Organizers involved in our project have done a lot of work together doing study about reparations as well as building trust among each other.  The group has established criteria for who would be included in the cohort, and what requirements would be placed on members (for example, all the Black Organizers had to commit to meeting once a month via Zoom).  Based in these relationships of trust, the group has also navigated questions about who would share their stories publicly for fundraising purposes, what information about the group’s individual and collective debt to share out, how to be in relationship with the Returner Team, etc.
  • Consider whether, and to what extent, the Black Organizers in your cohort want to publicly share their individual stories for fundraising purposes.  On the one hand, potential donors often feel more compelled to give when they can “put a face on a dollar figure,” and fundraising may go more quickly when people know they are giving to support respected, powerful people leading impactful work in their communities.  On the other hand, many people carry significant shame about being in debt because of myths around self-sufficiency and misunderstandings about the structural ways racial wealth disparities are created; being public for the sake of raising money can feel exploitative and shaming, rather than liberating.  The decision to be public or not should always lie with those whose lives are at the center of those stories.
  • Think about the kinds of skills and roles you will need for your Returner Team and recruit for them.  We have benefitted from having team members who have ties to progressive high net wealth communities, to faith communities, to non-Black racial justice organizing communities; who have philanthropy and/or fundraising experience; who have communications and web design skills; who have experience dealing with student loan holders and debt negotiations; who have legal skills (especially in regards to non-profit formation and law).  
  • It’s really helpful to have multiple fundraising/organizing strategies to use over time, and to have strategic conversations about when to use various strategies given the local context you’re in.  Our group has used a mix of large donor fundraising, giving circles, working with a local social justice foundation, partnering with SURJ chapters, and recruiting monthly sustainers.
I usually give money to organizations working on the root causes of injustice.  What does paying off the student loan debts of Black organizers have to do with movement building for collective liberation?

It is absolutely true that we need to fund organizations that are working on the root causes of systemic injustice; we know that it is a huge challenge for such organizations to secure funding from many traditional philanthropic sources.  At the same time, it is also true that there are almost ZERO resources in the non-profit industrial complex that support individuals from frontline communities who are leading these movements for justice. One of the ways capitalism and white supremacy collude is to perpetuate myths of individualism and exceptionalism, and to teach us that debt is a personal fault, rather than a set-up by the system (while hiding the ways in which generational wealth and whiteness are the highest predictors of financial stability and access to education).  Even among progressive circles, people with wealth have been trained to give only to organizations, rather than supporting individuals.

Black-led organizing requires Black organizers who have their basic needs met, and if Black movement leaders aren’t able to pay their rent, access health care, secure reliable transportation, and get housing–all of which become extraordinarily difficult with incapacitating student loan debt–we won’t have the leaders we need to organize critical movements for liberation.  By supporting this project, we help create the security, stability, and resources these Black organizers need to free up their capacity to contribute visionary leadership to build the movements we all need to get free. People with wealth must BOTH fund organizations AND ensure that movement leaders have what they need to survive and thrive.

What do you mean by wealth?

Net wealth is everything you have (value of property, vehicles, art, jewelry, stocks, bonds, trust funds, Certificates of Deposit, or cash) minus everything you owe (debt, loans). You are a person with wealth, or a partner of one, if you or your significant other fall roughly in the top 10% of net wealth for your age bracket and family size. You meet this definition if you say YES to something in ANY of the 3 categories below:

Personal Income: Your personal income, or your family’s household income is in the top 90th percentile for your age bracket and state.

Personal Net Financial Assets. Your personal net wealth, or your family’s net wealth, is in the top 90th percentile for your age bracket and state. (As a reminder, your net financial assets is what you own (cash, stocks, real estate, car, art, jewelry, etc) minus what you owe (debt, loans). If you are a homeowner, this includes your home equity (the current market value of your home minus the outstanding mortgage balance).)

Family Net Assets

  • Your family’s net wealth is $1 million or more
  • Your or your parents’ annual income is in the top 90th percentile for your state. Median income for the 90th percentile of people age 45-65 is $185,000.
  • You or your family members have a family foundation.
  • For people with family ties outside of the U.S.: Your family owns land estimated at a value of $1 million or more OR has major business interests in OR is in the ruling elite (includes having access to major political power) in your home country.