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"Invest in Black Life with Tamice Spencer-Helms and Diamond Walton" Transcript
[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]
Tamice Spencer-Helms: There was a Desmond Tutu quote where he talked about that the good news to a hungry person is bread. Like Jesus doesn't ask… if a person says, “I'm hungry,” Jesus doesn't ask, “Is that political or social?” He says, “I feed you.” That kind of haunted me because I kept offering very theoretical sustenance to students who were asking for actual tangible sustenance. So it just started to feel like I can't say that I'm actually doing kingdom work unless there is a tangible demonstration of the love of God. I can't keep talking about God, the love of God in theory.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the kingdom of God. I'm Sy Hoekstra.
Jonathan Walton: And I'm Jonathan Walton.
Sy Hoekstra: We have a great show for you today. We are talking with two guests about the ways that their work helps Black people—college students and adults—to succeed financially with the aim of reducing the wealth gap and increasing Black power in the world. We're going to talk about the ways their faith intersects with that work and a whole lot of other things. Jonathan will introduce them in a second. I just wanted to say, I want to say a few things. One is, obviously I'm still sick like I was last week. But guess what, when we did this interview, I wasn't sick, so [laughs] you don't have to listen to me talk all nasally like this again. Another thing, we are coming up on a mailbag episode. We're going to be doing that in two episodes from now. So in four weeks, we'll be doing a mailbag episode.
Please send us your questions. Send us them via email to email@example.com. You can send in texts questions or voicemails, ask us about anything that you've heard on the show all season. Ask us about things you've heard on the show in previous seasons. Ask us about anything you've read in our newsletters. Ask us anything. AUA. And remember, if you like what we do at KTF Press centering and elevating marginalized voices to help the church leave colonized faith for the kingdom of God, the best way to support us is to go to Ktfpress.com and become a paid subscriber. That supports us. That gets you the bonus episodes of this show, our newsletter every week, the full archives of both of those things, and it supports everything we do here at KTF Press. So please do that. Also, send in your questions, again, firstname.lastname@example.org. Okay. Jonathan, let the people know who our guests are today.
Jonathan Walton: One of our guests you already know. Tamice Spencer-Helms is the author of Faith Unleavened: The Wilderness between Trayvon Martin and George Floyd, that we published earlier this year. She's a theologian, author and speaker living in Richmond, Virginia. She's the founder and CEO of Sub:Culture Incorporated, a nonprofit that provides holistic support and crisis relief for Black college students. She holds a bachelor's degree in religious studies and copywriting from Virginia Commonwealth University, a master's degree in Contextual Leadership from Wheaton College and a master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Our other guest is Diamond Walton, who is in addition to everything else I'm about to say, my sister-in-law. As a grant maker, public health professional and social entrepreneur, Diamond has spent her career pursuing community-led solutions to social problems.
She received her master's in public health degree from Emory University. She has nearly a decade of experience in the field of public health working at local, state, and international levels. Her work has involved coalition building, strategic planning, community needs assessments, program development and evaluation. Now as a grant maker, she has continued partnering with community members to mobilize financial, social, and human capital to promote equitable access to resources. She also runs Elpida Social Capital, a financial coaching and consulting firm that partners with clients to engage with money and their communities in socially and environmentally responsible ways with the goal of reducing the racial wealth gap.
[The intro piano music from “Citizens” by Jon Guerra plays briefly and then fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Tamice Spencer-Helms, welcome back. Diamond Walton, welcome to the show for the first time. Thank you both so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Thanks for having us.
Diamond Walton: Yes, thank you. Glad to be here.
Sy Hoekstra: So let's just get started talking about your work, what it is and how you got into it. Tamice, could you start with Sub:Culture for us?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Sure, yeah. I started Sub:Culture in 2018. I had been doing campus ministry since 2007, and I decided that what I was offering students by way of good news and things like that wasn't really tangible. And what was starting to happen was happen was my students were having to leave school because of unexpected emergencies, and they weren't able to rise to the challenge of those emergencies. And so what I thought about doing was, what if I could create something that came alongside those ministries at the time, to kind of reinforce the wheel rather than reinvent it by offering financial crisis relief and things like that. In the five years we've been going though, we've kind of expanded a little bit more to think about how do we create a holistic web of support around the Black students so that they can get to and through college.
Sy Hoekstra: And I've heard you say before, it was kind of frustrating to you that in the ministry context, you could only ever raise money for people to go to a retreat [laughs].
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Sure. Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: …and not to like pay for an actual financial need that they had.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Indeed.
Sy Hoekstra: Not that people don't have spiritual needs, but yeah, I just appreciate that thought very much. Diamond, what's going on at Elpida Social Capital?
Diamond Walton: Yeah. So I went on a very windy road to get to Elpida [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Diamond Walton: So I spent, most of my career I was a public health professional, public health educator. So I worked in communities to kind of help address community health needs. And over the course of that time, I realized there are a lot of health disparities, especially for Black folks and we’re living sicker and dying quicker, what is happening? And I kind of got tired of reading the statistics of especially around Black women dying in childbirth and the rates of sickness and death among Black infants as well. And I was thinking, we're investing a lot of money in our public health infrastructure to research these disparities and bring up this data. Why don't we invest more money in Black communities themselves so that they can start investing in ways that they know will improve their health outcomes around various social determinants of health.
So I was like, “Well, maybe I could do something.” So I'm working full-time as a public health professional. And then I started Elpida in 2019, which is the financial coaching and consulting company. Initially, I was doing one-on-one financial coaching with BIPOC folks. But then in 2021, 2020, I launched the Black Student Debt Freedom Fund, where I raised $25,000 to help pay down Black student loan debt and offered free financial coaching for folks. And through that experience, I realized that… because before I did that, I was like, I'm giving folks financial coaching, they can’t… it's great if you have a budget, but if you don't have any money to budget, it's not very helpful or productive.
Jonathan Walton: [laughs].
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Indeed.
Diamond Walton: So like, what can we do to support folks to have the resources they need to create the lives that they want for themselves and for their communities?
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. And so the idea here with us was the two of you are sort of working on similar issues, just with people at different stages in life, right? And so we just thought you have some thoughts behind what you're doing that I think are pretty similar, and we'll get into those in a minute. But thank you very much to both of you for coming on, like I said before, and at any point, by the way, I didn't say this when we started, but feel totally free to talk to each other.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Okay. I was wondering if I could do that.
Jonathan Walton: Yup, yup.
Sy Hoekstra: You absolutely can.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: I was like, “Sis can I email you after this?”
Diamond Walton: Yeah, sure, no problem.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Because students need financial coaching as well. Actually, it might be better if they started earlier. So I've got all kinds of ideas.
Diamond Walton: [laughs] Okay.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I figured that's what was happening in your brain.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. This is just a public networking event that other people can watch.
Diamond Walton: Oh, okay. Oh, I see what you're doing here. I get it. I get it.
Jonathan Walton: But yeah, can you give us a snapshot or a story? And you've intimated a little bit about it, but like what were you seeing before you started doing this, and then what solidified your understanding of why this is important, the work that both of you are doing?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: So I think for me, it was really thinking about the four basic things that a person needs to be successful in college. A sense of belonging, they need their basic needs met, they need mental health things in place, and then they need academic success. They need a pathway for success, or preparedness. And so when I was looking at what my students faced, I did a couple of years at Emory, and so I was working with a multi-ethnic group of students and consistently watched that the students who were not minoritized had people and places to go to when something happened for them. It wasn't hard for them to have at least three of the four taken care of. For my students it was half. So they may have had a sense of belonging, but they weren't prepared for school and they didn't have their basic needs met.
And it was just something that was kind of, what can Sub:Culture do to assess when a student comes to us in crisis? How can we assess what's missing, where are the gaps in that web of support, and then what can we create? So we do everything from food insecurity initiatives to that financial, that crisis relief. But now we have a fellows program and we also have two and through college programs. So we do college prep and we'll pay for a student's application if they go to all of the preparedness clinics that we offer. So we do a writing clinic for them, and then we'll pay for up to three of their college application fees just to try to make sure that they're prepared as they're in that process in their senior year of high school.
Jonathan Walton: And you Diamond.
Diamond Walton: Yeah. I think it was right around the time I was pregnant with my second kid. I was toward the end of my time in the public health space, and I was just hearing more and more, again, I mentioned this earlier about the disproportionate poor health outcomes for Black women and their children. And I think maybe it was the hormones and the fact that I, like I've been in this space for so many years and that there haven't been significant improvements. And one thing that really struck me is that folks were seeing this disparity, but had no idea why it was happening. And though in reflecting and kind of reviewing these cases, seeing that a lot of this was preventable. And in that I was thinking something else has to be done.
If the professionals that are tasked with, and the experts that know the most about health and healthcare and community health can't find ways to save our lives, then what are ways that we can help save each other's lives. So financial coaching doesn't seem like that would be the answer, but I thought that at least giving someone an opportunity to have a bit more agency over the resource that they have. And then in addition to that, I do some consulting with folks with some wealth to think through how they're investing their money and how they are thinking through how they engage with their finances and the resources they have access to that are no longer contributing to the extraction and exploitation of communities of color.
I think working on both ends of that has really helped one, communities that don't have a lot of conversations about money feel less scared about it, less shame around it, and feel a little more agency and self-sufficiency around that. And then folks that do have wealth again, to feel less shame about it, and also to actually start having conversations more explicitly about race and the intersection of racism and the wealth they have. And so I think all of that together just allowed me to think through what are ways that aren't directly related to healthcare that can improve people's health outcomes and their wellbeing and their sense of wellness.
Jonathan Walton: Both of you at least in part think about your work in terms of reparations. And so why is that and how does helping individual Black folks like this fit into the conversation about reparations?
Diamond Walton: So a few, like a year or so ago, I had a call with a woman who's deep in the reparations movement. I was telling her about the work I'm doing with Elpida and she's like, “That's not reparations work.” And my feelings got hurt. Yeah, my little heart was broken [laughter]. She was like, “Financial coaching is very individualistic and it's also kind of like neoliberal,” and it's kind of connected to a very individualistic one by one way of kind of… the idea around financial literacy in particular can be a bit kind of demeaning and also doesn't, it's not super… it's not always a helpful conversation to have when you're talking to folks who… Many people don't have financial literacy, whether you have money or you don't have money, but I think it's often used in terms of people who do not have a lot of resources just indicating their level of intelligence and something negative in that area.
So anyway, at the end of that conversation, I was just reflecting a lot about on what I'm doing and how does it actually contribute to reparations repair. And what I came to is that though it's not directly connected to maybe the federal government, kind of offering reparations for the historical harms that they've caused to Black people in particular, or state government or anything like a larger entity, I do think that as folks are, as we are winning reparations as communities of color and Black folks in particular are coming into possession of resources, we still will need the capacity to know what to do with those resources. Because they will then go back into very similar capitalist systems outside and be extracted from our communities again. And so my hope is being able to offer some kind of support and community for folks who are wanting to be free of the fear of engaging with money, the fear of math.
I think a lot of folks have that fear, to feel like they're prepared to really manage the resources that they may be awarded or that they have now in a way that is aligned with their values and it doesn't just get them trapped in the same kind of system of exploitation and extraction they were before. And then I also think that as I'm thinking about what to do next with a Black Student Debt Freedom Fund, there are opportunities to expand that to all types of debt eradication and asset transfers. And so that's really what I'm thinking about next, is how to expand the work of the Black Student Debt Freedom Fund to anonymously pay off massive amounts of Black debt and to transfer assets at scale to Black folks so that we can then increase their net worth and thus close the racial wealth gap. And so I'm trying to think through what that looks like in a practical sense. But yeah, that's what I'm working on now.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Wow, that is fantastic [laughs]. So, for me, I think it's not as… that's a beautiful idea, and again, I will be emailing you [laughs]. But as for us, we're just thinking a student is in school, so they've already taken a step towards their matriculation, they've already taken a step towards who they're going to be as an adult. And so we think of this not as charity, but as reparations, because unfortunately you got to go to school, typically, you have to go to school in order to get a degree, in order to get a job so that you can be on the path to generating wealth and closing the gap, right? And setting your family up. And so I think for me, I have been talking about Sub:Culture in terms of reparations, because you are actually investing in future leadership, you're investing in the education of Black students.
And what I experienced before when I was doing ministry was that the narrative was always very a cause. That these students are a cause or we've got to help these poor Black students get through. And it's like, no, they just need a web of support that they don't have, and it is only right to surround these students with that. And so that's how we're moving forward in terms of our language around fundraising and donor development, because we really don't want it to seem like these students need the help of the donors. What's happening is we want to kind of shift and bring in more equity around students who are in school. And so that's the way that we're communicating out what Sub:Culture is doing, and hopefully people will respond [laughs], respond to that because it is not charity, it is reparations in my opinion.
Diamond Walton: And I appreciate that framing because I too, as I'm thinking through, especially when I set up the Black Student Debt Freedom Fund, it was all anonymous. So nobody could see, it's not like you're like plastering some brown face on a website saying, “Help this poor Black person.” And that's my hope and intent moving forward, is that this is a gift exchange. And so just like you were giving a gift to someone in your family, and you're thinking about kind of your will and your trust and how you're going to transfer something of value to someone you care about because it would be helpful to them and it's something that they requested. So it's not like you're just giving people something they didn't ask for. You're not giving someone something of value, and you're not giving something to someone out of pity, but you're giving it lot of love and you're giving it to them as a gift with no expectation of something in return.
And so my hope is in terms of the reparative aspect of this type of work and the culture that I'm trying to build in this financial exchange, this resource exchange, which can be super transactional, is really in gender a feeling of love for Black people that you may never meet, but and a way of contributing that is gift giving. Is free of expectation, is free of asking anything in return and is actually something of value that someone would appreciate. So yeah, I completely agree. I think it's so important to reframe how we are supporting Black folks and not seeing folks as charity cases, but also recognizing that people need things [laughter] and so like, let’s be more generous.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Right. Exactly. It's so funny because I think of kind of our main things that we're trying to see produced in Black students. Obviously, it's academic success, but it's also like social flourishing, right? And holistic wellbeing. It's not just that we want you to drop your $50 a month so that you can feel good about helping a poor Black student. It’s like no, we want them, even in our curriculum, like in our fellows program, financial literacy is a part of that, mindfulness is a part of that. We want to create the opportunity for students to have access to things that a lot of their counterparts already have access to. And we're saying we want to start early. Like how do we do SEL early? How do we do some of these things while they're in college so that by the time they graduate, they're dynamic, they're grounded, they're socially conscious, they're compassionate leaders.
And so I'm really excited about it. I feel like this way of framing it really has made me actually more excited to get out there and let people know about Sub:Culture because it's not, we're not tokenizing the students. We're saying no, we'd like for you to invest in the education of students who have been disproportionately left out of a lot of things.
Sy Hoekstra: I have come up with a random, well [laughter], it fits into one of my other questions, but this is not something that I sent you ahead of time. So have you all heard about this lawsuit against this VC fund for Black women?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: No.
Diamond Walton: Yeah. The Fearless Fund.
Sy Hoekstra: The Fearless Fund, yes. So the guy, Tamice, who financially backed the overthrow of affirmative action and a bunch of other conservative activists Supreme Court cases…
Jonathan Walton: [clicks tongue disapprovingly]
Diamond Walton: Jonathan…
Sy Hoekstra: …has sued this venture capital fund that focuses on Black women-owned businesses…
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Oh my gosh…
Sy Hoekstra: ……to say this is racial discrimination, because in his view, this is against colorblindness and therefore it's racism.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: [sighs]
Sy Hoekstra: So I want… Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm like delivering depressing news.
Jonathan Walton: No, I'm just like… whaa? My eyes are just like, “what the…” aaah.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: It's really just… It’s, it’s…
Sy Hoekstra: He's also the guy, he didn't succeed in this, but he tried to take down the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Jonathan Walton: Yes, same person.
Diamond Walton: Wow…
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, same guy. Edward Blum. So my question was going to be about the types of reactions that you get to what you do because you both do fairly unique work. And those reactions, I assume are pretty different inside and outside of Black spaces. And now there's this big, powerful, angry reaction against similar kind of work to what you all are doing—like work that's intentionally trying to erase a gap that exists—and calling it racist. So I wanted to know what kinds of reactions you all, you both get inside and outside Black spaces and kind of how you respond.
Diamond Walton: Oh, gosh. Well, I think I might be self-selecting the people I talk to because they're all very excited [laughter]about it, whether they're Black or they're White or non-Black. Yeah, I do think that they're… I don't want to completely dismiss the fact that folks feel afraid of like they're losing something or that they are being excluded, because I think that's real. What I’m hoping to do, it does make me a little nervous because I'm like, would someone sue me for doing what I'm trying to do? Who knows? Who knows? So I'm trying to seek legal counsel, just make sure that my P's and Q's are altogether. But what I found is that, and this is what surprised me about the Black Student Debt Freedom Fund, is like, I literally just said, I'm trying to pay off Black folks debt, who wants to do it?
And people were just giving me money to do that. And when I was asking them, or in the notes in their emails when they were just letting me know, we're trying to figure out how to pay off the folks debt, they were just like, “You know, I had debt…” And these are non-Black folks, “I had loan debt and it is a pain, and so I want to help folks out.” Or, “I never had debt, and it is ridiculous that so many people are burdened by debt in this way.” And I think there is a good critical mass of people, Black and non-Black who can clearly see that especially the racial wealth gap is extraordinary. It is astronomical, and it is, the amount of debt that communities of color are carrying, it's truly untenable.
There's no real way to get out underneath it unless there's like massive nationwide erasure of some of that debt. And also for us all to contribute because it's very clearly a problem. And for those who don't see it as a problem, the way that I've structured the work that I'm doing is it's you opt in. And so if you don't want to give to Black folks paying off their debt, to help pay off their debt, then you don't have to, and you're not being forced to, and it's not your tax dollars. It's just it's my company and if you want to help out, then you can help out. And if you choose not to, then that's your right. And so, I don't know. I mean, I think this is going to be an evolving conversation [laughs], we just have to make sure we're prepared for that type of reaction, but that's been my experience.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah. I think my experience is similar, we haven't really, my funding model due to some situations I'm hoping we're going to talk about, but…
Sy Hoekstra: We will.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: …has changed significantly. And so we are kind of trying to figure out where's the best base of donor support. Typically Black churches have been really excited about what we're doing and offer more practical help, like do you need a building or can we help with helping to stock the pantry? And it's great, we love that help. There's a pantry here at Virginia Union that we built. We remodeled a space at Virginia Union, built an entire pantry, bought the refrigerator, the freezer, all of those things, and partnered with some Black churches in the area that are now continually stocking that pantry.
So most of my interactions in that particular environment have been around practicalities, not been so much financial. So it just kind of, it's an amazing thing, but also you need capital [laughs] to run a business. So hoping to expand [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: So we've talked about this a little bit, but could you explain more of like the why and where your faith intersects with the work that you do? This is Shake the Dust, we're trying to leave colonized faith, right? And so how does this intersect with your faith, and particularly what the kingdom of God looks like coming practically to people?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Well, I mean, for me there was a Desmond Tutu quote that haunted me for a little while in 2017, where he talked about that the good news to a hungry person is bread. Like Jesus doesn't ask… if a person says, “I'm hungry,” Jesus doesn't ask, “Is that political or social?” He says, “I feed you,” because the good news to a hungry person is bread. And for a whole year, that kind of haunted me because I kept offering very theoretical sustenance to students who were asking for actual tangible sustenance. And so to me, it started to feel a little bit disingenuous after a while, to say that we were… to report out to donors and things that I was helping students along, because I was just giving them theology and Bible study.
I wasn't helping them actually succeed in college, which is what they came there to do. They did not come to college for Bible study. They came to college [laughs] to graduate and have a career. And they could do both. I mean, they could have Bible study, but also can we help them? So it just started to feel like, I can't say that I'm actually doing kingdom work unless there is a tangible demonstration of the love of God. I can't keep talking about the love of God in theory. And so it just kind of by the time 2018 came, I'm just like, I'm just going to start my own thing. So to me it felt like that was a step towards really maturing in my faith and really taking my discipleship seriously. If I say that I care about, and that I'm called to Black students, for me, this is what I think that looks like.
So, yeah, I mean, I think part of it is coming out from under predominantly White organizations and starting my own. And I think that, again, some of the demographic dynamics there with the practicality, I think play into that a little bit too.
Diamond Walton: That's so cool. I love Desmond Tutu.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah, me too [laughs].
Diamond Walton: I don't know why, but I've been reading through 1Corinthians backwards for like no real reason. I've just been reading it backwards [Sy laughs]. And so I recently was in 1Corinthians 8, and I got stuck on where Paul says, knowledge puffs up and love builds up. And I think I had been really self-righteous for a long time, I was just like, “Well, I know better and I wish people just figured it out and I don't understand why people are engaging in ways that are super unhelpful for the Black community.” I was really not super loving, honestly, to many of my brothers and sisters who are not of color, because I felt like they should just get it more quickly. And I still think that there is a lot of learning that folks need to do on their own, and I don't think that I'm responsible for all of that.
But I also think at the same time that I have a desire to be more of a builder, because that just is not what I have seen in social justice spaces or more progressive circles. It's very much oppositional. Like there is some enemy and we're always just like combating something. So I just have a desire to build the capacity and to build. Because it's more challenging. It is more challenging to create something new, to not only be free enough to imagine something new, but to build it and to do that with other people. And so that's what I'm trying [laughs] to figure out how to do. I'm like, how do we massively just transfer a bunch of wealth and assets to Black folks anonymously through some kind of technological platform? [laughs] No one’s done that before, and maybe I'll get some people on board to help me do it.
So I've just been trying to lean into being a builder and to not be so quick to be so critical and fall into that trap of like, because you waste a lot of time that way. You just spend, for me, I'm talking about myself. I just, I spend so much time just so mad at people and so frustrated, and I'm just like, “People are dying. Literally.”
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yes, indeed.
Diamond Walton: We’ve got to do something.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Diamond Walton: We need to be a bit more active and creative, and imaginative.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. It's interesting to me that both of you were talking about creating things and how Christ’s incarnation, the Holy Spirit coming was all a proactive process, not a reactive process. Like I'm going to engage in creation in the beginning. I'm going to engage in renewal, like with incarnation. I'm going to engage in witness and expansion through the Spirit coming. So it's interesting that that is both of your frame. … So now [enthusiastically] I want to create stuff! Okay, let’s do it!
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Right.
Jonathan Walton: Let’s do that.
Sy Hoekstra: It’s a good frame and then it's also a good counterpoint, I think, to not just how people sometimes are in progressive spaces, but how a lot of people are in the church, right? We're just going to define ourselves by all the stuff that we hate and everything is about protecting ourselves from the outside world instead of creating. So I appreciate that.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I think… sorry. Yeah, one more thing. You could probably edit this out, but Rich Villodas, he said it's a curious concept to despise the people you are trying to convert.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yes. It's very counterintuitive [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: This is not a podcast about that, but I could go.
Jonathan Walton: I'll bring us out the rabbit hole.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah. Hoo, Don't do it, Jonathan. Don't do it [laughter].
Sy Hoekstra: You could go on about it, and in some ways you went on about it for a whole book that people can go read.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: I did. Absolutely.
Sy Hoekstra: Let's get into what you were talking about earlier, Tamice. The conversation about justice and reparations can be kind of theoretical for some people, and then when it gets down to helping actual real Black people it can get a little bit dicey. Can you talk about what happened at Sub:Culture when you started talking about Pride?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah. So there was a student who reached out to us who was homeless who had been kicked out, couldn't go back home after school. And just put in my mind like, hey, I don't know if Sub:Culture is being as vocal as we could about the fact that we want to help all Black students. So I think it was 2020, I think. We posted a post on our Instagram about Black trans realities. About the plight of what it means to be Black trans, especially in college, and that we were going to help in any way that we could. And then we received a ton of emails and phone calls from our donors who were saying that we had swerved from our mission to follow Jesus and to glorify Jesus, that they did not want to give money to something that was kind of poisoning the psyche of the students, and we lost about $36,000 in a year.
So we are still trying to recover from that. On the one hand, it was very difficult and devastating. And honestly, I think there was a level of trauma for it in all honesty, trauma for me in that. But then thinking about it in hindsight, it feels really good to be clear about who we are. So that if people jump on and become partners with us, they know what we stand for and who we stand for, and we really do stand for all Black students. That includes Black trans students. And I wrote an article about it recently because as I think about it, I can't imagine that you would stop helping students graduate because we want to help Black trans students. I don't know how that made sense in people's minds. But so I wrote an article about it to say, this is what I meant when I said faith-based [laughs].
And this is what I think it means to have a faith-based organization, is that we help those on the margins. We help the least of these, and there's hardly a more marginalized group than Black trans folk. Especially Black trans women. And so I think that it's important to vocalize that. I think it's important to advocate for that because that's what I believe Jesus called us to do, to advocate for the least of these and those who are on the margins. So that's what we will do. It has hurt us. Like I said, we had a conversation with our finance people last year that were like, if you don't fix this, you're gone in July. But it's not July and we're still here.
Jonathan Walton: Amen.
Diamond Walton: Okay, Praise God.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: We're still here, but we really are trying to find… it's interesting Diamond because we, in the conversations with our financial controller, they were like, “You actually just need a venture capital. You need an angel investor at this point. Because it really is like a startup all over again, and you need someone to help you start this up.” And unfortunately, because of our being vocal about it, people that have large, or churches and things that had large capacities to give don't want to align with that. So it's been really hard to find space and folks who will invest. But I believe, because I think I'm doing good work, and I'm just going to keep doing the work and trust that it'll come.
Sy Hoekstra: That student, Tamice, so you're saying they were kicked out of their house by their parents for coming out as trans? Is that what happened?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Indeed.
Sy Hoekstra: I just, I agree with you and I want to emphasize the point of how wild it is to say. Someone is homeless and I'm not going to help them because they're trans.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: That’s what it boils down to.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. And looking at the ministry of Jesus and coming to the conclusion that that's okay, is wild.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: It's painful, to be honest. It actually hurts. Physically hurts.
Jonathan Walton: Mm-hm.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, I bet. That makes perfect sense. I mean, it's, yeah, I'm just, I'm sorry. And I don't know, just the tenacity and the courage of yours that it takes to just keep going and saying, “We're just going to keep doing what's right, period.” We were just talking about this, Jonathan, on the last episode we put out about the prophetic nature of just doing what's right [laughs]. Diamond, actually, Jonathan, maybe you want to ask the same question of Diamond, because I don't know the story as well as you do, so go ahead.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So I'm wondering like in the spaces that you've been in around health outcomes and now in finance, what professional sacrifices have you had to make to stay on mission and prioritizing the work that you want to do? And then how do you engage in that tension? Because I feel like it can happen regularly.
Diamond Walton: I don't know if I've had to make many sacrifices. I've just had to kind of expand my thinking, because originally I had very, it was just like siloed. Like you have this profession, you do this thing and you're retired. And so I got an MPH, I was going to be a public health professional, and I realized that there were so many intersecting issues with public health. And you get a bit of that when you start having discussions about social determinants of health, but these disciplines weren't really having conversations with each other. So when I would bring up things like, maybe we should invest more in communities of color, or maybe we should just figure… the common denominator is that a lot of these folks with poor outcomes are Black and poor. We're not going to change the fact that they're Black, but can we change the fact that they're poor?
Diamond Walton: Maybe that would improve their health outcomes. And people are like, “No, let's run another study.” So I'm just like, “What?” Okay, so maybe this isn't the discipline for me, this isn't the sector for me, but I still appreciate and use a lot of the frameworks. So I started to make a transition into finance via impact investing, and it's a very insular space. And so not having a finance background, being a woman, being a woman of color, I think folks were just, I could make some inroads with talking about racism and how impact investing is actually impacting and addressing racism. And I think that was interesting to some folks because they had not had that conversation before, so I was kind of like allowed in, in that context.
But I think I've realized that I, again, in terms of being able to see some connections across disciplines and creating a different path that no one has seen before is what I have to do. Because it just, clearly what we're doing is not working. And so to try something new, you may have to just build it. So that's what I'm trying to do, but that requires a lot of sacrifice. I work full-time, I get up early to work on a company, I'm volunteering, I have a lot of unpaid jobs. I'm a PTA president, I'm a parent. I've like, may join a board. So there are other things that I'm trying to manage and juggle at the same time that I'm trying to build something. And that too wouldn't be the case if I came from a lot of resources because I could just drop some money and do that full time.
So I think it's just really being fortunate to have your brother as my husband, who is very supportive and watching our kids while I get up early to work on this. Having folks like you, Jonathan, and other folks who are encouraging and are like, “Keep going and trying and maybe I'll give you some money to help you [laughs] a little bit.” And really leaning into those relationships and not so much... And also just seeing… and I also just feel for folks who maybe don't see how there could be something, something different could happen in their sector. Whether that's public health, impact investing, finance, whatever it is, because they're so talented. There's some brilliant people in these spaces, but I think that they just sometimes don't have that imagination. So I've just been trying to spend some more time with folks who have a bit more imagination to help move some things forward.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: I mean, I was just thinking Diamond though, that's really the reality of having five and six jobs to make ends meet to make your dream happen. And I think one of the things Sy, you were talking about with the… and you were too Jonathan about how it's really popular these days to be very oppositional and vitriolic and kind of define ourselves by what we're against. But those are also very lucrative roads to take.
Diamond Walton: Oh yeah.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: So it makes it really hard to say, “Actually, I still believe the Sermon on the Mount, and that means I have to live and move and have my being in society a certain way.” But it's also exhausting to be a person of color who has vision for something and in order to make that happen, you've got five jobs. And I see that consistently. Everyone I know, every person of color I know that has started an LLC, a business, a 501(c)(3), they are working at least 65 hours a week just to work for their company for free. And that's something that's really, it would be lovely to just be able to run Sub:Culture as my job [laughs]. But it's been going five years, so there are students coming to us.
There are things that have to happen, so you have to go to work and go to work again when you're not at work. And it's just something that I don't think people really, really get how hard it's to wake up every morning and decide to do that again. So it's real. It's truly real.
Sy Hoekstra: How do you keep doing that Tamice?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Well, speaking of the book, my grandmother, when she… I think it's in my blood. My grandmother at her funeral, they told this story about how she had the opportunity, she started the first all boys school in Baltimore to raise retention and test scores. And she did, of course. And the mayor came to take a picture and do a photo op and asked, “How can we help?” And she said, “I need washing machines. I need you to put washing machines in the school because these kids don't have any place to wash their clothes.” And I think I came by that honestly. It just, I can't just sit still if I know there's a need and if I know I have the skills and the capability and a little bit of the social capital to make it happen.
And that's how I feel. I mean, I didn't start out having gone to business school. I started out with students in my living room telling me that they had to go home. Or walking students home from the dorm because they got evicted because their room and board rates went up. And it was just kind of like, I can't not do something. And now I think five years in, I'm like, this is me. This was born of me. I can't imagine not doing Sub:Culture and I'm hoping to be able to do it full-time someday. Or at least paid a salary to do it full-time [laughter].
Jonathan Walton: There you go.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: I am doing it full-time, but you know what I mean [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: So I mean, I just, I don't think I could not Sy. I don't think I could… I love Black students.
Jonathan Walton: Unapologetic. Yeah. Amen.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Same question Diamond, just to wrap us up. How do you keep going?
Diamond Walton: I keep going because I am thinking about… I work in philanthropy and I'm like, I see that there are so many resources [laughs]. So there's enough. We have enough resources. So that's what I'm spending my energy on, is figuring out how to get more resources to folks who have been asking for things. They know what they need, they just don't have the resources to make it happen. And so that's my core objective is I know we have the resources, let's get them to the folks that need them.
Sy Hoekstra: Where can people go for both of you to find you or your work online or to help support? Tamice?
Tamice Spencer-Helms: You can go to www.subcultureinc.org. That's our website and you can find all that we're doing over there.
Sy Hoekstra: And you can click the donate button.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: [laughs] Yes, you can.
Sy Hoekstra: Diamond?
Diamond Walton: You can go to www.elpidasocialcapital.com. Elpida is spelled E-L-P-I-D-A, socialcapital.com. We are a for-profit company. We offer financial coaching and consulting, so you can click the Learn More or Contact Me link on the website.
Sy Hoekstra: And is the Student Debt Freedom Fund still going or is that…?
Diamond Walton: Yeah, so it sunset in 2022.
Sy Hoekstra: Okay.
Diamond Walton: And there is something that's coming down the pipeline. So there’s something in the works. Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: Awesome. Well, stay tuned to Elpida Social, yeah.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Yeah. This is awesome.
Sy Hoekstra: This has been so great. Thank you to both of you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
Tamice Spencer-Helms: Of course.
Jonathan Walton: Thank y’all.
Diamond Walton: Yes, thank you. This has been wonderful.
[The intro piano music from “Citizens” by Jon Guerra plays briefly and then fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Thank you so much for listening. Please remember to go to ktfpress.com and consider becoming a subscriber. Get the bonus episodes of this show, get our weekly newsletter and support everything we do at KTF Press, centering and elevating marginalized voices. Also, please remember to send in your questions. Send them in early and often [laughs] to Shake the Dust at ktfpress.com. You can send us an email. You can send us a voicemail, questions about anything you've heard on this show or read in our newsletter or anything really that you want Jonathan and I to talk about. Send those to Shake the Dust at ktfpress.com and we will answer them in two episodes from now. Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you all in two weeks.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Jonathan Walton: We've talked a lot about… [sound of a phone vibrating] Hold on one second. Sorry.
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: I just need to make sure, I just need to make sure this is not Maia. [gets further from the mic] Hello?
Sy Hoekstra: Oh.
Jonathan Walton: Yes ma'am. [gets close to mic again and there’s a sound of his phone being put down] Sorry. Nope, not her [laughter]. Sorry, we had this whole conversation about her speaking up for herself today. And like if you don't like something, you say, “I don't like this,” and you say, “Is there something else I could do?” And then if they say you can't do that, then you say, “I need to call my father.” And so I was just making sure that that didn't happen within the first hour [laughter] that she was there. This empowered girl like, “Hey, I ain’t doing that.”
Sy Hoekstra: “My dad said…”
Diamond Walton: “I am not coloring that coloring page.” Yeah.
Jonathan Walton: Right.