The year 2020 was one of those watershed periods of time, much like 1863 and 1968, where the nation was forced into a painstaking introspection borne from the historic pandemic and sociopolitical upheaval. Many companies and institutions emerged from that reckoning ready to recalibrate themselves regarding race relations for the future.

Mastercard is one of the many multinational Fortune 500 companies — that include the likes of JP Morgan Chase, CitiGroup, Bank of America, General Mills, Pepsi Co, and others — that pledged to spearhead the move to close the racial equality gap. Mastercard launched its seven-city tour titled “Solidarity in Action” to be a conduit to help unlock financial opportunities for millions of Black residents and businesspeople. The next stops are Birmingham, Ala., St. Louis, Dayton, Ohio, New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles.

The payments behemoth hosted “In Solidarity with Atlanta” on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, which builds on Mastercard’s $500 million pledge over the next four years to tackle these challenges across the U.S. Mastercard is joining local companies such as Microsoft, Bank of America and Apple that promise to invest money and resources to close the atrocious income gap between black and white counterparts.

Most people would be surprised to learn that Atlanta, long hailed as the “Black Mecca,” is the number one city for income inequality in America, according to Mastercard. In fact, if a person is born into poverty in Atlanta, there is just a 4 percent chance of escaping poverty in their lifetime.

The sessions brought together the local community and industry leaders, government officials, small business owners, and entrepreneurs, with the goal of advancing existing efforts and building new partnerships.

Michael Froman, vice chairman of the New York-based Mastercard, spoke one-on-one with Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) to configure ways to forge new partnerships with Black entrepreneurs and business leaders and to get acclimated to the city’s needs. He also joined several panels on the topic that included Nathaniel Smith, Founder, and Chief Equity Officer of partnership with Southern Equity; David Tapscott, CMO of Greenwood; John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE; Lakeysha Hallmon, Founder, and CEO of The Village Market ATL; Nancy Johnson, President, and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta; and Morgan DeBaun, Founder & CEO of Blavity Inc.

Mastercard teamed up with Blavity in Atlanta to investigate ways to address a financial system that has systemically disadvantaged and excluded Black communities with a view to advancing opportunity and equitable growth in Atlanta.

“The reality is, there are so many incredible black businesses in this country. However, the system, in which it was designed, will continue to shackle and closeout black entrepreneurs,” said LeKeysha Hallmon, the founder, and CEO of The Village Market ATL. “The goal is not for black entrepreneurs to reach wealth. The goal is not for black folks to have upward economic mobility.”

John Hope Bryant, the founder, and CEO of Operation Hope concurred with Debraun’s sentiments. This act of exclusion became the impetus for Bryant to make a decision that changes the arch of his life and career.

“When you have a boardroom full of white people, they don’t necessarily hate black people, per se. They aren’t thinking about us. They’re thinking about their boys, their friends, people they went to college with. We’re not in that group. So what I decided to do is to create my own group, to create my own coalition to create capital,” Bryant said.

“We have to do this. We have to write the checks,” he added.

Mastercard wants to help Bryant and millions of others expedite the process of closing the economic gap. Mastercard has partnered with Greenwood, the digital banking platform that serves Black and Latino proprietors and customers. It will birth Greenwood’s first debit card which will be a black card that will have built into it ID theft protections, transaction alerts, and credit monitoring.

“It’s encouraging to know that Mastercard is aligned with our mission of economic empowerment for people of color,” said Ryan Glover, chairman, and co-founder of Greenwood, at the forum.

Mastercard will also invest millions in the Fearless Fund, an Atlanta-based venture capital fund run by Black women and other females of color. The fund is helping to offer Strivers grants to women-led startup businesses.

Photo: Associated Press

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