Michael Santiago Render, better known as Atlanta rapper "Killer Mike," was given a gift more valuable than cash before he even learned to drive. His mom and grandfather gifted him and his sister with stock in Delta and Coca-Cola, two of Atlanta's largest employers.
He sold his stocks at age 18 because he didn't understand or appreciate what he had, but now he knows better.
One half of the rap duo Run the Jewels, Render has made Black financial empowerment a focus of his hit Netflix reality show "Trigger Warning." In one episode, he tries spending money only at Black-owned businesses to make a point, and winds up sleeping on a park bench with a can of beans when he can't find a Black-owned hotel. In another episode, he works with rival Blood and Crip gang members to create a "Crip a Cola" soft drink.
The 45-year-old rapper and activist has a new project. with bigger ambitions and even bigger risks. Render is partnering with longtime friend Ryan Glover to create a Black- and Hispanic-owned digital banking platform.
"This is a platform for the young person trying to get their piece of an American Dream," Render said in an interview last month with CNN.
The financial services company, called Greenwood, is named after the early 20th century business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was known as "Black Wall Street" and was ultimately destroyed by white mobs in one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history.
The number of Black banks has shrunk by approximately half since 2001. The FDIC notes minority-owned banks lend to communities that have been on shaky financial ground for a host of reasons, not the least of which was the 2008 housing collapse that put particular stress on people of color. Those underlying challenges led to the failure of many minority-owned lending institutions.
The coronavirus pandemic only exacerbated these disparities. Almost all businesses have been hurt, but Black and Hispanic business owners have had a harder time securing loans via the government's Paycheck Protection Program, according to recent published reports.
"I want the worker class to understand this is a platform that ... will not gouge you," Render says of Greenwood. The company is expected to launch later this year.