Jim Casselberry, famous
Black people in America won their personal freedom 158 years ago. Economic freedom, however, is much more elusive.
Veteran portfolio manager Jim Casselberry is trying to do something about it, using his four decades of investing experience to help bridge the gap between people of color and Indigenous people.
“We have to do better, and we have to do better by getting the capital into the hands of the right people,” Casselberry said in a recent interview. “What we want to do is be able to help them stand up and use the talent, the opportunity and the skills that they have.”
Celebrated on a Monday in the US, June 16 has been considered a national holiday for two years. It marks the day Major General Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas.
Although the holiday marks a terrible wrong that has finally been righted, it does not signal the end of racial inequality in the U.S. Nowhere is this more clear than in the distribution of wealth.
Houston resident Presilia May sings during a march to reenact the Emancipation Proclamation celebrations outside Reedy Chapel in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 2021.
Address Latif | Reuters
By now, the numbers are painfully familiar: Blacks make up 13% of the population but hold only 4% of the wealth. The richest 400 Americans have wealth equal to that of the entire black population. The racial gap between whites and blacks is 6 to 1—up from 23 to 1 in 1870 after emancipation, but still a huge divide. These statistics are from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve as of 2019.
Bridging that gap is part of the mission of Known, an organization Casselberry co-founded in 2021 with a team of Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and Asian-American co-founders. Its premise is listed as “a financial and asset management firm that works with founders, family offices and large asset owners who value competitive returns as well as powerful long-term racial, social and climate impact.”
Casselberry said the goal is right in the name.
“Why we even use the term Famous, especially among black and brown and indigenous people, is that we want them to feel like they are famous, that they see that we have the ability to be able to do this,” he said. “So many of the programs and so many of the opportunities … don’t work, but they’re not necessarily given a chance to work.”
Programs like affirmative action have helped make progress, he said, but he believes broader reforms are needed.
“Given the polarized and dysfunctional government we have, it is unlikely at best that we will see reparations on any meaningful scale. Philanthropy has tried many approaches, but they are also not at a scale where they can impact the problem,” he said.
“The real solution is in the capital markets, where the real money resides and is managed, but where more than 98% of funds under management are controlled by old majority white firms,” Casselberry added.
Treasury data shows the wealth gap between white and black families has changed little over the past 20 years.
Casselberry hopes the efforts of organizations like this one can help change that.
“Known is built to be the solution for asset owners who want to be able to invest for better results,” he said. “And it’s designed to be the access to resource capital for [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] community to have access and be able to grow and create opportunities.”