In This Episode
In the debut episode of Black History Month, DeRay, Kaya, Myles and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week— including a not so shocking outcome of the child tax credit, a booming private prison industry despite federal ban, the disillusionment of a young Biden official, and two spiritual icons’ effort towards building a community of love. DeRay interviews Portia Wood about her mission as a generational wealth planning attorney and the importance of the work within the Black community.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me. Keya, De’Ara, and Myles talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week. And then we sit down with a good friend, author, and generational wealth planning attorney Portia Wood to discuss Black wealth and Black wealth planning really, estate planning. A lot of stuff I didn’t know anything about. Here we go. I learned a lot in this conversation. And Happy Black History Month beginning. Woot, woot. You know, as we look back on seven years almost since the protests began in Ferguson, Missouri, I think about how much has changed and how much work is ahead, and I’m hopeful that as we move forward, we really do talk about the work, that we talk about the concrete wins, we talk about the things we almost won, we talk about the strategies and the tactics that we need to refine—that that becomes, that becomes so much of how we talk about this story. That there are people who don’t realize that there is progress, people who don’t realize that there is hope, people who don’t realize that we can win, and the only way that they’ll realize that is if we talk about the wins, if we talk about the progress, if we talk about, if we talk about all the things that are happening. As you know, I help lead Campaign Zero. If you go to impact,campaignzero.org, you can see all the really cool things that we’ve been doing over the years. Impact.campaignzero.org. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People, I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @Dearabalenger.
Myles Johnson: My name is Myles Johnson. You can find me @pharoahrapture on Instagram and Twitter.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson @hendersonkaya on Twitter.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay. @deray are on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Lots happening this week. Lots when it comes to Black women. You know, Janet Jackson’s documentary came out, but we’re not going to talk about that. But we hope you all are watching it. What, we are going to talk about—
Kaya Henderson: Control! What she’s not telling you is we already talked about that, but that’s OK.
De’Ara Balenger: Well, we did, and we have some views that are probably not best to be shared. So, you know, that’s that’ll be a special segment coming up later. But we want to talk about the news about Justice Stephen Breyer retiring and President Biden saying that he’s going to stand by his commitment to putting a Black woman on the Supreme Court. So first of all, I want to say kudos to Joe Biden administration because there are a lot of things that they said on the campaign trail that they are not currently doing. But, thank you. Thank you for committing to this one. Let’s just see how y’all do during these Senate confirmation processes. But I want to give a shout out—and I’ve talked to them, talked about them on the pod before—but I want to give a shout out to an organization that was put together small but mighty called She Will Rise. And so this was an org started by April Reign, Brandi Colander, my dear friend from DC, Kim Tignore, and Sabriya Williams. And they’ve been advocating all along to hold Joe Biden’s administration to this commitment of ensuring that there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court. So I just want to send them a shout out because they are doing the thing. So, you know, this was, it’s exciting news, and I think, you know, there’s been a lot of chatter, particularly on the right about, you know, how this is an exercise with quotas and affirmative action. And given that given that the Supreme Court is actually going to hear a case or two on affirmative action this term, you know, it’s just it’s all very fascinating. But you know, I think what’s clear in this conversation around affirmative action is that these are candidates that have extraordinary qualifications, qualifications beyond Amy Barrett—whatever name is—
Kaya Henderson: Ouch.
De’Ara Balenger: —who is sitting on the Supreme Court. I mean, these women, you know, already one already on the federal bench that just went through the Senate confirmation process. You know, they’ve all, for the most part, I think everyone except for the incredible Black woman that Jim Clyburn’s pushing for, a Black woman candidate that actually went to the University of South Carolina, with the understanding being that all the Black women y’all are naming went to Ivy League schools and so there could be even further diversity on the bench if we had somebody that was out of, you know, out of the population of an ivy, which I thought was an interesting conversation too. So all that to say, super excited. You know, as a, you know, young-ish Black woman attorney, I couldn’t think of something like this happening even in my lifetime, so waiting to see how this all plays out. Obviously, we’ll be following this closely. But you know, what are y’all thinking, what’s coming to mind for y’all?
Myles Johnson: I think that the common thought that I’ve seen like this conversation happen too, because it’s interesting because you don’t ever want your critiques or your examinations of what’s going on to be like fodder for people who have less than, you know, good intentions or good politics. But I think in a post-Obama election like world, just really being adamant about us as like Black folks not falling in love with symbolism, and in not even to fall in love with hard work, like hard work and exceptionalism, because usually in order to be Black in these spaces, you will have done an extraordinary amount of work, you will be exceptional, you’ll be the best, and you could be all those things and still not be for the community and still not kind of enact the change that you want to see happen. We’ve seen that with Obama and in more extreme cases, we’ve seen that happen with—I’m about to call this man Carl Thomas. Not summer rain.
Kaya Henderson: Summer rain. You know he’s from Mount Vernon, right? OK, never mind. Sorry.
De’Ara Balenger: Play it. Clarence. Clarence Thomas.
Myles Johnson: Clarence Thomas. I was about to say Carl, I was like no, I didn’t like that song, but he wasn’t that bad. Clarence Thomas. And we’ve seen like in more extreme cases like Clarence Thomas, where people just because they have, you know, the same skin tone that their politics can be just bad and just as bad. So I think that it’s interesting to see internally inside the community Black people have to deal with this, kind of like heavy debate and balance between symbolism and actually holding our leaders that look like us to the same standards. And maybe even higher because we do have this like capacity to fall in love with this symbol of it and how it makes us feel because those things could be radical and transformative to witness but then after that’s faded and after the honeymoon phase of certain things are over, we might be dealing with somebody who can maybe enact even more, even more violence inside of our community because they have earned our trust, which is a huge muscle to have in the community. Those are my thoughts.
Kaya Henderson: Those are my very heady thoughts. Mine are a little more petty thoughts. First of all, [laughs] first of all, thanks Stephen Breyer for doing the Dems a solid and getting us a Supreme Court pick. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Secondly, can I just tell you what is giving me so much love, these girls are little girls like me, they went to Six Flags and they cannot find their names on a mug or a T-shirt or whatever. Come through Ketanji from D.C. Come on, Leondra. I want one of them to be on—come on Sherrilyn. I want you all to, I want you all to normalize Black girl names. I want these justices to talk to their colleagues with their correct pronunciation of their names. I’m here for it all. Also, I don’t know why the Republicans are acting crazy, except I do know that Republicans are acting crazy about this so-called affirmative action when in 1980, on the campaign trail, then-candidate Ronald Reagan promised that he would put a woman on the Supreme Court because equal rights were under attack and his way to get women to vote for him was like, Yeah, I’m a put a woman on the Supreme Court. And he did Sandra Day O’Connor. Now he didn’t put anybody else except white men on the Supreme Court. But he did that. He made the campaign promise. And so why is this so different, friends? I’m not even going to debate the qualifications of Black women. I’m going to revel in the fact that there are so many qualified Black women that we get to see them all right now in this moment, and that we get to applaud the fact that we can make the cut across different colleges and universities, from different jurisdictions and states and neighborhoods and whatnot. This is Black girl magic on display, and I am reveling in it.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, I just think about the way the Republicans obviously talk out of both sides of their mouth. Just while we’re recording, Susan Collins went on ABC and said tha she will not rule out supporting Trump in 2024. The Republicans are just a mess on this. I hope that Biden takes the the Amy Barrett C plan and puts this person on Supreme Court in five days. I hope the hearings are quick, swift, thorough, and done. I mean, that’s not what we did with her. They were not thorough but they were very quick. And to see the Republicans be like, We should, we don’t need to rush this, we can take all our time. Nope. We can’t. We can’t take any extra day. I hope that the White House has already done the vetting so this is just like a wham, bam, put them on the committee, do the hearings and let’s get this train moving out. I also think we need to expand the court, so let’s do it all in one fell swoop. Let’s put 70 people up on it. Let’s put Native American, let’s put all that everything. Let’s make the court actually representative of the country and we should do this very quick and just knock it out.
Kaya Henderson: Preach, preacher.
Myles Johnson: But one of the things I really, like I was reading an article from Lion’s Roar, which is like this I kind of spiritualist magazine, and they promoted a talk that the late bell hooks in now the late only Thich Nhat Hanh which is, he’s a notorious Buddhist. He died in ’95, was one of the Buddhist that, like, met with like—excuse me, not Malcolm X—but Martin Luther King Jr. And just for me and my own spiritual journey, which is just as important as my political and personal journeys, my spiritual journey has been so integral into just me having the consciousness that I want as a human, he has been instrumental, his books have been super instrumental, and when I saw this article and I was reading it, it really restored me. And then they even have this moment in the article where they were reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr. together, and I just felt really at peace. And I think sometimes when things happen socially, politically, like public figures having deaths and stuff like that, the mourning, grieving can kind of feel a little bit machine-like and you kind of just harmonize with how people think you are supposed to engage with death. But I know spiritually, the idea is death is not a failure. And that these are all people who died: Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh, and bell hooks are all people who passed away, who believed in transcendence and believed in death as a type of transmutation. And I wanted to quote this exchange they had in the article because it was just so beautiful. So bell hooks says, “I think one of the most wonderful books that Martin Luther King wrote was Strength to Love. I always liked it because of the word strength, which counters the Western notion of love as easy. Instead, Martin Luther King said that you must have courage to love, that you have to have a profound will to do what is right to love, that it does not come easy.” And then Thich Nhat Hanh responds, “Martin Luther King was among us as a brother, as a friend, as a leader. He was able to maintain that love alive. When you touch him, you touch a—I can never pronounce this word—bodhisattva for his understanding and love was enough to hold everything to him. He tried to transmit his insight and his love to the community, but maybe we have not received it enough. He was trying to transmit the best things to us, his goodness, his love, his non-duality, but because we had clung so much to him as a person, we did not bring the essence of what he was teaching into our community. So now that he’s no longer here, we are at a loss. We have to be aware that the crucial transmission he was making was not the transmission of power of authority, of position, but the transmission of dharma. It means a love. Bell hooks responds, “Exactly. It was not the transmission of personality. Part of why I have started writing about love is feeling, as you say, that our culture is forgetting what he taught. We name more and more streets and schools after him. That’s almost irrelevant because what is to be remembered is the strength to love. That’s what we have to draw courage from, the spirit of love, not the image of Martin Luther King. This is so hard in the West because we have such an image and personality-driven culture. For instance, because I have learned so much from you, for many years of my life, people kept asking me whether I had met you in person.” And that he responds, “Yes, I understand.” And you can read the rest of the article. But again, that makes me revisit, that exchange was so powerful for me because it made me revisit the ideas behind certain things that we get excited about politically and socially and these people getting elected and different people becoming stars, and all these different things that it’s really, I think, powerful for us to maybe transcend what people are giving us as people and as personalities, and really try to sit in what they’re offering to us as, what they’re giving it to us as ideas and philosophies. And sometimes you’ll figure out there is trash and you don’t want to support it, or that it’s more problematic. And sometimes you’ll understand that, Oh, wow. Even though I maybe don’t understand where this person is coming from or like what this person is doing, there’s still something valuable that transcends maybe the personality or product they’re giving it in. And I just truly love this exchange, like three of my heroes wrapped into one super interview. So I think that if you need a little, you know, respite from the worldly news and what’s going on currently, that is such a good article and super restorative and a good lens to go into reading other things that are happening now and just to read where, where opportunities for love and justice and the discipline of love can come into your daily lives and your political lives. That’s my news.
DeRay Mckesson: The part of this that I loved is, you know, as organizers, we talk about organizing as an act of love and community. And I think sometimes people think that that’s really fluffy. But what I always remind myself is that the best organizers go into community or are in community knowing that people already have gifts and skills way before we got there. That like part of our job is to help people believe that they have power and to see the power they have, because this system is conditioned to tell you that you were just one of a gazillion and you don’t have power and you can’t do anything. And there’s a part where he talks about a good teacher and he says, “In fact, the true teachers within us, a good teacher is someone who can help you to go back and touch the true teacher within because you already have the insight within you. In Buddhism, we call it Buddhanature. You don’t need someone to transfer Buddhanature to you, but maybe you need a friend who can help you touch that nature of awakening and understanding working in you. So a good teacher is someone who can help you to get back to a teacher within.” And that narrative, that language, I think, is like part of the beauty of when we talk about centering community and reminding people that, like so much of the talent and the gift and, frankly, all the things that make this society work and move, like, we got it. That part of a good organizers do, what love does, what teaching does, is actually help people realize that they do have power, they do have skills, and they do have that joy.
Kaya Henderson: That’s so interesting, DeRay. I picked up on a similar thread around community. bell hooks says in the interview, and this, I mean, this just literally like wrapped itself around my heart and gave it a big squeeze, because this is how I try to do my work, “I think that we best realized love in community. This is something I’ve had to work with myself because the intellectual tradition of the West is very individualistic. It’s not community-based. The intellectual is often thought of as a person who is alone and cut off from the world. So I have had to practice being willing to leave the space of my study to be in community, to work in community, and to be changed by community.” And I think that is a lesson that bears revisiting at this point. One of the things that I talk about when I work with leaders, developing leaders, is we have to throw away this individualized Western approach to leadership, which is that there are some amazing person who’s smart and cute and funny and talented and whatnot and who has an amazing vision and who is going to pull together a whole bunch of people around their vision and then go out and slay the dragons, when actually the way real leadership works is there are a bunch of people who have a bunch of good ideas and they put them together and they work together to slay the dragons and to realize transformation. And that’s not what we’re taught in this western world. And so this was timely and a great reminder for me. Thanks for bringing it Myles.
De’Ara Balenger: I think the only thing that I’ll add is, so my mom, the last few years has really gotten into mindfulness and mindfulness though with the really, with a lens and a practice of kind of equity and equality and love. And so that’s how I even knew, I knew of T—how do I pronounce his name, Myles?
Myles Johnson: Thich Nhat Hanh.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. So that’s, because I’ve only read his name, I haven’t had to say it out loud. So happy to get the opportunity to do that. But my mom’s been talking about him and his practices because I think that’s a big part of this, is like it is a practice. And so I think when we even start talking about the language around organizing or the language about being in community, it is more than a language. It is an everyday practice where if you follow his writings and follow his teachings, and the same with bell hooks, and also someone who I’m obsessed with, Reverend Angel Kyoto Williams, they start to give you tools to do this work, right? Because yes, you can know the language all day long, but unless you’re practicing this every single day, you know you’re not going to evolve or transform or get any better at it. Because I can speak a really good game, but if I’m still cussing people out real quick, that really ain’t following the practice.
Myles Johnson: Well hold one. That’s holy too. That’s holy too. It’s not what you do, it’s the intention why you did it. I definitely feel like God sent me to the curse many a people out. The universe saying, You know what? This whisper from God is not helping. Here’s a yell from this, this sissy down the street.
Kaya Henderson: [laughs] Oh, oh.
De’Ara Balenger: I need to be practicing with you the, because that’s what sounds way more relatable to me.
Kaya Henderson: That’s your kind of mindfulness, huh?
Myles Johnson: Holy hood. Both.
De’Ara Balenger: But all that to say, like, I think I’ve just been finding for me personally that, you know, having access to these folks and reading them and interpreting them and putting their tools to practice has helped me a great, a great deal. So thank you. Thank you, Myles, as usual, for bringing something spiritual and thoughtful to the pod.
Myles Johnson: And just like a little last thing that I just wanted to say because it was just on my mind while you were talking: when you were saying, like, mindful, and I think is the reason why I love, of course love mindfulness or the usefulness that I found in it, was that I think everything in our culture inspires us to react. And I think that true change really comes from having that space, whether it be a year or a month or a minute or a second, to pause, not just totally react to a situation and pause and actually respond to it, and figure out what can I actually to offer to the situation that will inflict a change or inflict something that will help it, like expand or get better, and not just react with impulse does. And I think that there’s nothing that I can think that you could do, whether you’re—there’s just no career or modality as a human being that I can think of that you would have that is not a good practice to have, you know, and a good and a good thing to be practiced in.
De’Ara Balenger: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week is about what happens when government works well for people, which this federal government did a few months ago when it expanded the child tax credit. If you are not paying attention, Congress passed the expanded child tax credit as part of the Build Back Better program, and it was an experiment, a six-month experiment with an idea that actually is quite, it’s not, it’s standard in a lot of wealthy nations. And that is a child tax credit, which is a monthly payment to help families cover the cost of raising children. For six months, we shifted from a lump-sum payment at—tax credit—at tax time, to a monthly payment over six months from July to December of 2021. And it accomplished a lot, and there is now data to support what it actually accomplished. And so I wanted to raise some of the benefits of the expanded child tax credit. So instead of, as I mentioned, instead of a lump-sum payment at tax time, the tax credit provided monthly benefits to families that had children. It increased the benefit from $2,000 a child per year to a maximum of $3,600 per child for children five or younger, and $3,000 for kids from t6 to 17. And the expanded tax credit closed a loophole that prevented one third of the nation’s poorest children and half of all Black and Hispanic children from fully benefiting because their families earned too little income. What kind of policy is a tax credit where the poorest people don’t get it? OK, but they fixed it for six months, and this is what happened. First of all, the payments cut monthly child poverty by roughly 30%. In fact, in July alone, the first month the program, three million children were kept out of poverty. And by the end of the six months, child poverty was reduced in the United States by about 30%. The expansion gave, helped again the kids who, millions of kids who needed it most. Prior to this, the kids who needed it most—and again, half of Black and Hispanic kids—actually got the least. But in fact, now with this reversal, we think that childhood poverty could jump back by a third or more just between December and January. I think the most important finding is that contrary to popular belief about these cash disbursement programs, the family spent the extra cash on basic needs. They weren’t out here balling out, buying sneakers or whatever else you think about poor people. They spent cash on the things that were really most important to them. And in fact, they spent their money on food, clothing, school supplies, utility bills, and rent. The monthly payments also slashed food insufficiency by about a quarter. And what is interesting, maybe one of the most interesting things, is there’s no evidence that the money drove caregivers to quit working. There’s no evidence to disruption of parental employment. In fact, a single mother, Jess Hudson from the Bay Area in San Francisco, said $500 a month isn’t reason enough to quit looking for a job. I can’t live on that. It was enough to give me childcare help, so that I could finish school so I could get a job so I can participate in the economy in the ways that I want to. Now, if that ain’t a reason why we shouldn’t support poor parents or parents across the board in support of raising their children in an economy where people are losing their jobs and an economy where the people who are employable aren’t matched correctly with the jobs that are in place, where housing costs and health care costs can literally wreck a family, then I don’t know what is. The problem you see, is that the expanded credit costs a lot of money. And so if we go back to the old tax credit for 2022, which is the case, it costs about $125.5 billion dollars. If we went with the expanded tax child credit, it would cost about $100 billion on top of that. And so this Congress failed to renew it when it expired in December, and it is likely that 30% of kids will barrel straight back into poverty. I think that we need to be thoughtful about why other nations, or how other nations have figured out how to do this, and we haven’t. I watch as we are deploying billions upon billions of dollars to get ready for what Russia might do in the Ukraine and we’re letting our children in this country starve to death, not have the support that they need. And I think we can do better.
DeRay Mckesson: I remember when, I remember when this happened because, you know, I talked to somebody in the in the Department of Treasury about helping to get the word out about it, and that forced me to learn much more about it. I was pumped. I think I forgot that it wasn’t permanent. So in preparing to talk about it today, I was researching like, what’s going on? And I didn’t realize that making it extend and making it a real thing was a part of the Build Back Better package, and that this is one of the provisions that Manchin has specifically said he will not support. And that is just like, what is the, what is the opposition to making sure that poor people—and this is frankly is not even a ton of money. I mean, this is not like, it’s not like we’re giving people who are in the lowest bracket, you know, $1 million lump sums. This is not that at all. And him being against it is just like, I just didn’t know this was one of the things that he’s like, No, can’t do it. And you know, good thing is that the Dems, there are a set of Dems who are like, you know, we got to fight for it and that’s Michael Bennet of Colorado, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Booker in Jersey, Warnock in Georgia, and Wyden in Oregon, who talk about this. And they wrote a letter to the president being like, We actually, this is really, really important. And I think that this goes back to some of the messaging. I think that like some of the, you know, I think Biden has not done what we need him to do on criminal justice and there are definitely some promises he made during the campaign that will be part of my news that he has not followed through on. With that said, there are some like real structural things that are really big. The infrastructure bill is real. The child tax credit was a big deal. Like, things that touched the story, but we also have to figure out how to tell real stories that people understand, and I think that that has to be the work leading to 2024, the midterms, all of that—is like helping people realize you might not have gotten everything because you got some good things. In Manchin, we got to figure out a strategy around that man. He got to go.
De’Ara Balenger: I think all of that is true, of course. And it’s also, I think what the storytelling it’s like, how these things are all interconnected. Because I think the other problem is like, things are so silo’ed, it’s like, you know, we’re doing things to fight poverty, or we’re doing things to make pharmaceutical drugs more affordable, or we’re doing—when really, it should be one story. And Build Back Better is kind of a comprehensive approach to take care of all of these interconnected issues because it’s just, because I think the problem is when we separate them—and this is what, where Manchin doesn’t want this—is because then somehow it gets translated into its welfare, right? And the whole, like all of those stereotypes around welfare queen, yada yada yada, that’s what comes up on the right, and that’s what they’re able to create story around. But if we have, if we’re telling an inter—like, just how do these things intersect and how are all these systems working together. That’s why we need to address across the board. Because I’m just, I guess I’m just getting fed up week to week, month to month, the Dems trying to push one single thing when it’s all related. Like voting rights is related to poverty. Voting rights is related to health care. So I just I guess part of it, it’s just I, I hope also DeRay that, you know, we start to take just a more imaginative approach to how we’re talking about these issues because the same old, same old is just not it’s not working.
Myles Johnson: I totally agree with what everybody says, but I think the thing that like keeps on like ringing in my ears is that how despite all of the pathologizing that people do around poor folks and Black folks in general, because, racialization is its own like class, so like no matter what, like what your actual experience with class is, if you’re Black, you’re already perceived as like somebody who’s like irresponsible until proven otherwise when it comes to money—but giving people money is a good thing. And I like to keep it that simple because there’s been so much jargon and debate that says the opposite. And I love the fact that this article proves that it’s just, that’s just not true. So next, what like we have to get down the base of like what’s really going on, which is there is a systemic, conscious or unconscious prevention of empowering poor people to transcend the class that they were born into. And that’s what’s really happening, and all these debates and all these ideas are really to reinforce those things, but none of them are based in truth because giving people money is actually good for every single person. Every single person involved, including the person who’s economically empowered already, somebody who’s disempowered, and somebody who’s trying to like, move in between or somebody who’s in the middle of, like, let’s say, the middle class. There’s nobody who does not benefit from somebody getting $500. And I would like to take it a little bit further where I don’t—and I’ve said this many times on this podcast—is that I do not believe in the moral gatekeeping of who gets to get support. I really, I will always believe in that moment. And it’s funny. I see it on Twitter often when, like, everybody was getting unemployment at one time, or like a lot, or, I’ll say my friends and my peers who I was talking to, like everybody was getting unemployment—I do believe that there needs to be something like that. And whatever you call it, communism or socialism or whatever, I just don’t believe that, oh, in order for you to get economic support from this rich country, that’s like, we’re so rich that we’re making up new currencies and new ways to get money, that I need to give you an excuse or I need to have gotten ill or I need to have made a mistake or whatever in order to get this money. No, you’re spending it on insane militarization on police systems, and I want my share. I want to get paid in living in something that is so insane. And I don’t want, I don’t have to have to keep on calling it reparations or call it anything or making it a moral excuse of why you should give it to me. You should give it to me because I’m a part of this nation and I should be able to thrive and you thrive. And things thrive when you water them, and in this case, watering is USD.
DeRay Mckesson: Mine is about private prisons. We talked about this in, I think, when he first did the executive order, but now we’ve had, now there’s new news. So people talk about private prisons a lot. Remember that only 8% of people were incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country are in private facilities. About 40% thought of people who are incarcerated in ICE detention are actually in private facilities. And when Biden did the executive order around limiting the extent of private prisons, it only applied to things that were held under the DOJ. So that did not include anything held under Homeland Security, which is ICE. So there’s an article in Grid, which is a new publication that is titled “After a Year”—”A year after Biden’s executive order on private prisons, business is still booming.” At one of the places where private prisons are thriving and have always thrived that are untouched by anything with the executive order is ICE. But the thing that was sort of interesting to me was, you know, the article has plans that are from a memo from CEO Group, which is one of the biggest suppliers of private prisons, and it talks about how they are just like morphing their business, that they are staying true to private prisons and ICE but they’re doing some really sneaky things. So there’s one town that where they, there’s one town where instead of contracting directly, that they are essentially going through the town, so they’re contracting out with the city instead of contracting with the federal government. And like, I hadn’t even thought about that as like a loophole. So if, if the private prison companies can’t contract with the federal government because the government is no longer honoring those contracts, the city can contract with the private vendor and then the city can also work with the federal government as a way to get around. And I just hadn’t thought about those things. And the other is that CEO group is building up its anklet business, it’s monitoring business outside of private prisons. So just offsetting the private prison industry with another way to track people who have been accused or convicted of wrongdoing. And I think what this did for me was just like, it just helped, you see even more clearly how much of a business the carceral system is like. You know, people tell you that it’s about, it’s about justice and about freedom and about safety, but I’m telling you, when you see these spreadsheets, you realize that this is a business. There is not a thing on any spreadsheet that they have in here that is talking about safety concerns. It’s not a thing on here talking about recidivism and trying to make sure people have services. This is straight up dollars and cash. These are cash flow charts and how to return revenue. And seeing it really is something else.
Kaya Henderson: As you said, DeRay, knowing it is one thing, seeing it in Black and white is a totally different thing. Like this is a shareholders report, right? Like that’s where a lot of this information comes from. And so a company’s, you know, necessity to be transparent with its shareholders gives us an opportunity to look directly into that company’s, you know, inner workings. And Eunice Cho, who’s a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, her quote to me just sort of set it all. She says the documents “really confirm what our worst suspicions were.” It’s a “shell game with the government to counteract really hard-won efforts to reduce incarceration, repurpose facilities and think about shrinking the impact of mass incarceration in our society.” And I think that’s the thing that is so devastating to me. There are people out here, the people who are fighting against mass incarceration, many of them are not big companies. Many of them are regular people who’ve been affected by the carceral system. And they are out here advocating and fighting and showing up in hearings and in places to push and move policy, and you have these, you know, corporate juggernauts who are literally just running an end game around the wins that folks are making. And so my big question coming out of this is: what tools does the government have to hold accountable people who are violating the spirit of the law, even if they aren’t violating the letter of the law? To me, everybody is complicit, including the towns that are, you know, serving as intermediaries. Like, until you start hitting people in their pocketbook, none of this stuff is going to change. They’re just going to find other ways to, you know, keep making money. And so I think this shows one of the limits of federal policy on real practical change.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah, my heart stopped. Jack Brewer, who played for the University of Minnesota the same time I was going to McAllister College, is on this board. Jack Brewer’s a Black man from Florida, was in the NFL, is a professor, and now on this board. Now, Jack Brewer, I got to spend my whole week tracking you down to figure out what the hell is going on.
Kaya Henderson: Get him, girl! Get him.
De’Ara Balenger: What?! I think that this is, I mean, look, the benefit of these things being a business is that they have to file this paperwork. So we get to know who’s on the board. We get so, you know, we get to know what these people are reporting to their shareholders. And I think that is the benefit and that is the place where intervention can happen, because there has to be a certain level of transparency, right? So I just, I can’t believe this. But we’re going to get to the bottom of it. I’ll report back next week.
Kaya Henderson: One of the board members is the former director of ICE and for the Department of Homeland Security from January 2006 to November 2008. How about them apples? Now you’ve got us down the rabbit hole, girl. [laughs]
DeRay Mckesson: You see it and you’re like, you know, people—this is why in my organizing work, we just bring a lot of primary sources to people, because when you tell people something like this, they’re like, Couldn’t be. Just, like, I know you’re an advocate, but that’s probably true, you’re just dramatizing it for effect. You’re like, No, no, no, it is, it is actually that wild.
Myles Johnson: Well, to quote one of my new favorite prison abolitionists, Martha Stewart, [laughter] youse got to be on the left. I don’t care if you the left in the kitchen, or you the left, you know, on the front lines, just be the left of it. “Well, there shouldn’t be any prisons, period” what she told Ellen this week, which has gone viral. That’s all I have to add to this conversation, is that there shouldn’t be any prisons, period. I hope that we can all cook more, and imprison less in the future. Wild!
DeRay Mckesson: You are hilarious, Myles. That set up for that was brilliant, by the way. One of my favorite—I was like, OK, who’s he going to? And then it was like . . . [laughter]
Myles Johnson: Sometimes things get so heavy that I’m like, I can’t.
Kaya Henderson: Sure enough.
De’Ara Balenger: OK, so my news this week—I don’t know, this just hit home for me for so many reasons, but it’s in The New Yorker. It’s about Andrea Flores. And the title for it is “The Disillusionment of a Young Biden Official.” So full transparency, like I know Andrea, I worked with her on Hillary’s campaign, and I have a great deal of love and respect for her. But basically, what happened is, first of all, you should know that Andrea is like a bad ass, like she done gone to every Ivy League school. Just name em all, she’s been. She’s worked for the ACLU. She’s like, she is a policy guru, particularly when it comes around immigration. So I also thought it was cute because, you know, it was a humblebrag in the article, she says,” I was on a Zoom with Madeleine Albright and I realized that I may have an opportunity to work in the administration. You just was on a Zoom with Madeleine Albright, just like that? Just on a Tuesday or Thursday anyhow . . .
Kaya Henderson: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Because you know, that’s how you and DeRay be doing too. Oh, I was on a Zoom with so and so, such and such. Oh, for real though? OK. Oh, wait, I got a call back such and such because blah blah. Don’t play. Don’t play.
DeRay Mckesson: Lies. You are Kaya [unclear] Henderson. [unclear] anyone else.
Female speaker: Doctor.
DeRay Mckesson: Do you not even. Right. Come on.
De’Ara Balenger: But anyway, but you know, she’s like, she’s the bomb. So she ends up going into the administration, she’s working in the White House, she’s working on immigration. And so Biden had said on the campaign trail he was going to end MPP. And just to remind y’all, MPP is basically, It is basically, it allows, everyone has the right to seek asylum in that country where they are seeking asylum. MPP holds folks at the border, so that’s why there are thousands, tens of thousands of people waiting at the border. You know, obviously mostly in Mexico because they’re seeking asylum in the United States, but we will not let them in. Which is sort of illegal. That’s neither here nor there. So Andrea went in because Biden, he was like, OK, we’re done with MPP by executive order. Republicans sued and then they, basically the administration lost in the federal court. And instead of them slowing their roll, as Andre is saying in this piece, and just trying to think about how they could, you know, reinstate MPP, but do it in a way that was more organized, more dignified, and actually more to the letter of the law, they rush, rush, rush, rush to reinstate it again. So when this was happening, she—think that’s where the disillusionment part was—she was obviously distraught, hurt, confused. Why would this administration who had promised to do all these things now rush so quickly to put MPP back in place? Right? The other thing is Title 42. So Title 42—and we’ve talked about this on the pad before—Title 42 is basically a president saying because of COVID, because of a public health concern, again, we’re going to leave people on the border. We’re kind of halt immigration, and and essentially leverage that as a reason to not let people into the country. So as we know, the Biden administration is also continuing Title 42, which was a Trump policy, right? So all this to say around immigration, Andrea—first of all, the courage it took for her to just come out and say this was f’ed up and this is what happened in the White House and these were the people— namely Ron Klain, who’s the chief of staff for the White House, and also Susan Rice, who’s the head of domestic policy for the White House—those folks saying we ain’t let nobody else in, we don’t care how creative your little strategies are, we don’t care how creative and imaginative you can be around how we respond to this, close the doors. Right? So I think why this kind of hit me personally is because I’ve been in government and I’ve been in rooms where the policy actually impacts my family members, and I feel like for folks of color who are from vulnerable communities that work even in the Democratic Party, these issues hit you closer to home because they’re issues that are impacting you and your families every day, right? But what’s interesting is the folks that are leading our policy when it comes to the Dems are white boys—no disrespect, I worked with Jake Sullivan for a long time—are white boys that went to Yale. So then what ends up happening is that there ends up being this conflict that takes place, and if you’re a person of color, it’s you’re too impassioned about this issue, you’re too close to this issue. As opposed to saying You might know better than me because you’ve experienced this issue or your family’s experiencing this issue, right, and therefore, we’re going to take your lead. So all that to say, I just, this was so, so interesting. And DeRay to your early point around what’s not being delivered on criminal justice, I would go so far as to say we’re having the same issues, that the white folks, no matter how well-intentioned they are, saying, Wait, wait, wait, we can’t move that fast, you folks are too close to the issue, yada yada yada. You know what I’m saying? So I think it’s just one of those things that like, I don’t have a solution for, I don’t have a, I don’t even know what the path forward is. But I think just as someone who has sat in those seats, in those rooms, and how I have felt when I’ve been told We’re not going to move so fast on that, when I know it impacts my community deeply—one, obviously, there’s a pain that comes with it, but then also like, how do you navigate that given that this is the party that you are supposed to be valued, aligned with? So I just thought this was interesting. Read through it. I just, I again want to commend her for being courageous because I know it takes a lot to step out there and to give this type of critique. And just even more deeply, just like from a human, just from a human perspective of what it’s like for folks of color in these types of environments—this is all just fascinating to me. So hopefully y’all have some something smarter to say on it than I do.
DeRay Mckesson: The thing that stuck out to me was that the project she worked on that you talked about was essentially undone when some Republican A.G. sued. And what it reminds to me is that the Republicans are willing to fight to the death over the big, the small, the dumb, the smart—like the fight over CRT, which is not being taught in anybody’s K-12, they are fighting that fight while they were moving books from libraries, while they’re fighting immigrant—I mean, it is like a full-court press on everything. And they are bullies, like the tactic is to bully you in. One of the things that bullies do, right, is that they overwhelm you and they make you think you can’t possibly win and da da da. And what I saw from this is that she was like, Come on, this is the moment to fight! This is the—you should make these people work for every legal argument, battle, you should test the power of the government to stand up to bullies. And instead they caved. And I think that to me is like the message here, is that, you know, we got to fight for all the things we believe in as, like as intensely and like our lives depend on it. And De’Ara, the way you reframed that, I will use that forevermore. Because people do say You’re too close to it, you know? And then you start being self-conscious. You’re like, Yeah, maybe, maybe I haven’t seen the—and then it’s like, No, maybe I should just have like a better perspective. Maybe I actually like, see the impact of this from a policy perspective way more clearly than you do from the theoretical landscape of writing about it. And that’s what I got from this.
Kaya Henderson: It’s not just a maybe, right? In fact, people count on you to start to second guess yourself. I mean, she talks about how in the, she talks about in the article about how she felt crazy with the things that she was saying, and when people disagreed with her, they would be like, Did this come from Andrea, right? So they are discounting her because of her perspective. I mean, here’s the problem. She’s young. She’s a woman. She’s a person of color, in an administration whose hallmark is not that. One of the most disappointing things as I watched Biden make his, many of his appointments was that he brought back a whole bunch of people who already had a chance to do this job, instead of mining the amazing talent of the young people that are in this country. I mean, I find it, you know, as I get older in age and secure my auntie status righteously, I find it an honor to engage with young people who know more than me, who’ve been to different places, who—I mean, my favorite time in a week is this podcast because I’m an old lady and I learned so much from all of you. But that’s not how we think about young people. This woman has bona fides. You read her life story in this thing, she came to this, she comes to this with real lived experience backed up by the academic credentials, backed up by high-powered jobs that nobody at 31 has had. And people don’t, people don’t want to engage her and people don’t want to entertain her. And so they have moved her out of an opportunity to make tremendous progress for our country. And you know, we got a dead administration, I might say, right? Like if we aren’t cultivating the young people to come into leadership in our country—I mean you look at how many how many countries that have 90-year old people running, that, like how many are thriving and changing and growing and whatever. We got to get it together, honey. These young people know what they are doing. You young people know what you’re doing. You have the experience, you’ve done all of the things. This like boils my blood and yeah, I know don’t know. Hmm.
Myles Johnson: Nothing too much smarter to add. But the thing that was just like ringing in my head where it’s like, now, you know, something’s really, you know, messed up when examination and experience don’t equal expertize. There’s so many fields where that is literally the combination that like, Oh, you must be good at this like, let me put you in. And the fact that like you having experience, and doing something that examines, be it education, work, past work experience, that doesn’t equal expertize thought. That combination doesn’t mean expertize. It makes you wonder, Hmm, is there something else at play, behind this. Like, you know, the matrix of, you know, domination that kind of inflicts oppression on all of us.
DeRay Mckesson: The one thing I do want to say is, shout out to her for leaving. A lot of people would be like, you know, this is an incredibly prestigious job, so few people ever get to do this, she’s so young. And I do think this is a generational thing about like, I am only going to be places where my values are present, and I’ll get another job, right? I’ll figure it out. I’ll like land somewhere. But when my values start to not be honored in the place I’m supposed to come every day, saying no to that it’s actually like a really courageous thing.
Myles Johnson: That is definitely our generation. Quit that job. I might not come back next week. You don’t know. You don’t know. [laughs] Quit that job. Keep people on their toes.
DeRay Mckesson: Like I do love, I love like the restaurants that can’t open because people are like, I’m not working. No, no, I love it. And it just, you know, the other thing that I wanted to say about this story is that in the work that I do, you know, one of the things that we work on a lot is like, we know the content, we spend my time on the content, and she just embodied for me that like, when you know your stuff, you know your stuff. And like, she has done the work to know the context. You might disagree with her, you might not like the option, and you might not like, her perspective might not be yours, but you cannot say she does not know the work. And I’m excited about a generation of young people, younger people even than me who just like know—it’s not that, it’s not just their heart’s in the right place, it’s not their values are aligned, but they know that content really well. Because for so long we were told, Well, she’s been doing it for 80 years, she just knows it better. And you’re like, No, no, no, you just have more experience, that does not mean you are like better at the thing or you know, the issue better. And I’m excited about that shift happening.
De’Ara Balenger: And also the people up in their got experience doing things wrong.
Kaya Henderson: Hey, hey.
De’Ara Balenger: Come on. I mean, you know, I’m not going to call out names and pull receipts and all that kind of thing today. But I will say that I think that’s what’s frustrating about this whole thing is that there is a culture and a mentality of people being more concerned about power and profiles than actually doing what’s right for the people of this country. Right? Get out of the way. Get out of the way. Your time is up. Goodbye. That’s all I got to say.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, last week, we had on Samantha Tweedy to talk about the Black Economic Alliance Foundation and the advocacy they’re doing around closing the racial wealth gap. And today I sat down with Portia Wood, the one and only, to give us some context on how those efforts can begin with our own homes and our own families. And the truth is, a lot of Black people don’t have the information about estate planning or assets or think that this only applies to people with a ton of wealth, and I learned from her that that’s not true. I learned a lot about financial planning, about trust, about estates—all this stuff that I really had no clue about. Hope you will learn too. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
DeRay Mckesson: Portia, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Portia Wood: Hi, DeRay. Thank you so much for having me. You know, your platform is so impactful for our community and the things that you touch on, so I’m just grateful to be here.
DeRay Mckesson: We are pumped that you are first guest of Black History Month. It’s good to have you in this [world]. We’ve known each other for half our lives.
Portia Wood: A gajillion years, birthday twin.
DeRay Mckesson: I know it. July 9th. Woot, woot. It’s always great to be like, I know that person, like that person is my friend and they’re doing really cool work. So let’s just start. We’re going to talk about the work you do on estate planning and financial security in Black communities. All this stuff. But before we get there, can you—I met you because you started out as a prosecutor, then you did some other things . . . talk about what’s your journey been.
Portia Wood: Yeah, of course. You know, my journey has not been a straight line, which I think is true for everyone, it’s really trying to find your voice and your passion and find alignment in that. I originally was in journalism, public relations. So long before law was even on the table, I was in journalism and public relations. I personally was impacted by a drunk driver. I was in a car accident. Someone ran into me. Which required me to be in physical therapy for an entire summer and I needed a job. My cousin, thankfully, was a civil—is, excuse me—a civil rights attorney, and I interviewed with them and ended up working in a law firm at a time when they were working on a police brutality case out of Baltimore. And that was the first time I’d really been exposed to the work of a lawyer from that up close and personal and the impact it has for our community. And I went back to college in the fall and, you know, I couldn’t really change my major, but I started taking all of these legal classes, and that’s when I sat for the LSAT. So that was like the start of my legal journey, was this car accident. And then while in law school, I want to be a voice for the voiceless. I worked for the public defender’s office in Baltimore City. And the prosecutor’s office coached me. You know, they wanted people who thought more critically about the statements that were coming in and we’re not just yes people. And so they asked me to quote unquote “switch sides” and be a trusted advocate on the prosecutor side. Around that time, the country erupted. Trayvon Martin happened, and then Michael Brown happened, and I found myself protesting more and more, feeling that the system couldn’t really be changed from within, that it did require rethinking or reframing what the system could be. I went and did a dual LLM at Pepperdine University in alternative dispute resolution and international commercial law, and started doing civil litigation. You know, left the criminal world entirely, and all I kept seeing was the economic loss in our community. Over and over again, this lack of preparedness around eventualities, right, the fact that none of us are getting out of this life alive. We were just not prepared. And I would see in courts, day in and day out, people losing that look like me, unnecessarily. And that’s really where I started doing deep dive investigative work around estate planning and the economics in our community, and the more I researched, the more I realized nobody’s having this conversation. Nobody’s talking about it from this lens. And we are on the precipice of one of the largest wealth transfers in the history of this country. Black people have more wealth than really ever before to pass down, and we’re slated to lose a good majority of it. And that would be devastating.
DeRay Mckesson: I wanted you on because I literally know nothing about this, and I’m hesitant to talk to you about it in real life because I’m like, I want to wait to have a conversation until we’re on the pod? How did you even, when you said you like saw people losing in court, That’s civil court, right? Like, how did you, were you just like randomly sitting and hearing? Like, why did you even start to go into court in see these proceedings? Or like, I don’t know. How did that work?
Portia Wood: So yes, it is, it is civil court. And technically, you know, at death, it’s probate court. But we were a real estate litigation firm, and one of the cases that came in was a brother and a sister, and they were fighting over a piece of property that was left and there really wasn’t any direction. The case went on for a year or so, and by the time they resolved sort of the sale price and all of this other stuff, all these other issues without going too in-depth, their lawyer fees were so expensive that it was almost a wash. So they would have been in a much better position if they had had a, either instructions on the front end or been able to mediate their way out of that. But they didn’t. Because of the litigation and the time that it took, they ended up losing what would have been a really strong benefit for their family. And I’m not talking about something measly like, you know, a thousand dollars, I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees from both sides that were just gone, right? No longer with that family because there were no instructions. And that was not an uncommon case. That was a case that my firm was handling. We represented one of the siblings. But when you would sit and see that happen over and over and over again, you realize people have to talk about the planning side. Once you get to the time when you need a plan, it’s too late to make a plan. You have to do it on the front and it takes a little bit of thought. And that’s when I decided to really dedicate myself to helping people plan.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, one of the things that I definitely think is true, but I feel like it’s probably wrong [unclear] I’m talking to you, is that you need to have a lot of money to do estate planning. And you know, you know that there are a lot of people who are people of color who live in poverty. And it feels like this conversation is not a conversation that you have unless you have wealth, like true disposable income or a lot of money. Is that true and not true? Like what, what is it, what does it actually mean in practice? The is estate planning and does it apply to everybody or are a lot of things or some things only accessible to people who have a lot of money?
Portia Wood: Yeah! This is the biggest misconception. And it’s the thing that makes my work so hard is that people have been duped, right? The media has done a great job of showing these like white trust fund kid as like these spoiled brats, you know, fast cars that sit on their butts and don’t do anything. And everyone’s like, Oh, that’s definitely not me, right? We don’t live in these mansions and have this kind of wealth, so obviously a trust is not for me. Right? That’s sort of the messaging that we’ve been getting through the media. But the reality is, is estate planning is for everybody. It is just a determination of what happens with your stuff after you’re gone and how you live, right? How you live, because there’s a whole component of estate planning that’s about what happens if something happens to you. What if you get COVID and you’re in the hospital? Who makes sure your rent is paid or that your car note is paid so it doesn’t get repossessed? Who has the legal right to do that? That has nothing to do with how much money you have. It does mean that you need ,to if you’re 18 or an emancipated minor, that you need to have that allocated, because if you don’t, your family may need to go to a conservatorship or guardianship proceeding much like, you know, Britney Spears. I only bring her up because it is one of the most recent examples that everybody has sort of heard about. She was put under a conservatorship because of a mental breakdown, but the conservator, her father, had so much power: the power over whether or not she works, whether or not she can get married, whether or not she can have children, what she can spend her money on—all of these things her conservator controls and a court picked that conservator because she didn’t pick it for them. And we are not Britney Spears. We’re likely not going to get a Netflix special and the entire, you know, world international protest to free us from this conservatorship. If we go under it, we’re likely going to be stuck there. It is almost impossible, it is very difficult to get out of that conservatorship once you’re in it. And so we need to make sure that we’re taking autonomy over our own lives so that if we get to that point where something has happened to us and we can’t make decisions, that the people we trust are in power to do that and it’s not in the court’s hands. So, yeah, it’s not about how much money you have. There are really three key components. One is going to be your property power of attorney. In different states, it may be called different things, you know, durable power of attorney, uniform, statutory—but essentially it’s who handles your personal property or finances and you. Who decide who makes decisions for you, right? You need to pick those people. The second thing is going to be your health care directives. Who makes your medical decisions? All the time, people say, Oh, but my parents will make that or my spouse will make that. Just because you said “I do” does not mean that they get to decide whether or not the plug gets pulled. It’s just not how it works. If you’re over the age of 18, you need to say who you want to make that decision. And go one step further and say what decision you want them to make. So that really they’re just speaking your voice when you don’t have the ability to speak. And then the third part, that’s the baseline for any estate plan for someone over the age of 18, is your distribution plan. And this is the piece that people think is all estate planning. But your distribution plan is what happens to your stuff and the people you leave behind once you’re gone. And that’s where you see variety. It’s going to depend. What’s your family structure. Are you married? Are you single? Do you have minor kids? Are you in a blended family? Are you a grandparent raising a grandchild? Because all of those things are going to change the way your estate plan works. And the reason is because the laws as they’re written, don’t account for you, right? Do you have incarcerated beneficiaries? Do you have people who on probation? Do you have people who have student loan debt. Those things are regardless of whether you have millions of dollars, right? You might have $10,000, but that doesn’t mean you want the state to take it from you. Right? The next one is going to be: what are the assets? Do you have really $10 or do you have $10 million or are you somewhere in between that. And your plan is going to look different, depending on how you answer that question. And then the last consideration is really, what are your goals? What are you trying to achieve? If you’re trying to achieve intergenerational wealth, then you’re probably going to be far more restrictive in your planning. You’re going to lock it up, right? You’re going to say, I don’t want the principal used for these things, so I want it to only be used for health and education and maintenance and safety. But I don’t want someone just going out and buying a Maserati. Or if you’ve got one house, grandma’s house, I don’t care where it is, if you get a paid off house, anywhere in the world, anywhere in the country let’s say, that house can be rented, but if you’ve got multiple beneficiaries, people often will say it’s easier to sell it and now they can’t even buy back what they just lost, they just got rid of. So estate planning is not for just the rich, it’s for every single person that’s over the age of 18. We just don’t all need the same estate plan.
DeRay Mckesson: Is say, I don’t do any of that, or say the person doesn’t do any of that and they pass away, what happens to their stuff? Do it automatically go to a next of kin, or how does that? Because I have to imagine that part of what you do is you’re dealing with people to say like, No, no, no, you need to do this now, don’t wait. But I have to imagine that like sometimes, and you talked about that one story with the siblings at the beginning—what is the most common sort of recourse when they don’t do it?
Portia Wood: Yeah. So every state is different, right? Probate court is the state default plan. Most people don’t realize is that everybody actually has an estate plan. You either have the plan that you wrote for yourself, for the people that you love or you have whatever the state’s default plan is for you, right? Which is the laws of intestacy, and every state is different. So let’s say a state like California, your estate would go through probate court. The judge would then be in charge. They would be the ones who would, you know, determine who the beneficiaries are. To get it open, you’re going to file a filing fee. You’re going to then publish in a newspaper of general circulation for four weeks that this probate is being opened to give people notice to basically file a claim, right? Like we saw it in Prince’s case, where women kept coming forward—or I guess technically the children would coming forward and they were saying, We think Prince is my dad because my mom had a dalliance with him some odd years ago. And the estate had to fight that right? And it’s all money that’s coming out of the estate. If you say, let’s say you have gross value, so everything you own, house, car jewelry, clothing, everything you own is $500,000. And let’s say you have $400,000 in debt, right? So $500,000 is what it’s worth, $400,000 in debt. Your attorney’s fees and personal representative fees by statute are already going to be about $26,000. That’s before you paid filing feed, that’s before you pay the accounting fees, it before you very paid anything else. If what you had was $100,000 in equity for your family, you’ve lost a quarter of it already just by statute. Right? And then once you go through the process, which is time consuming, you may end up with absolutely nothing left over. And the court may end up selling that piece of property or those properties to pay whatever those debts are and your family gets nothing, or they get very little, or they get a negative bill. Right? The estate is close to insolvent. So the cost of doing nothing is that you lose control. It is incredibly expensive. It’s time consuming. And by the way, those numbers are based on nobody fighting, right? Because if fights break out, attorneys get extraordinary fees, which means we get our regular hourly rates on top of our statutory fees. If there’s real estate, we get extraordinary fees for dealing with that. And, you know, obviously this is in the general sense because every case is different, but it can be incredibly costly to the estate, so that there’s nothing left. And then you’ve got to deal with the issue of financial literacy or who the beneficiaries are. Right? So now you’ve got one hurdle, but once something’s left, you may or may not even be able to keep it. And there was a study that came out in 2017 that said that only 13% of college-educated African-Americans passed $10,000 or more to the next generation. And said differently, right, 87% of college-educated African-Americans aren’t getting $10,000 or more to the next generation. That’s a problem. We’re constantly starting over from a negative, which means we are in a struggle mindset, generation after generation after generation. And it’s not because we don’t have things. It’s not because we don’t have assets that can build wealth. One paid-off house of one, even one house in general—I don’t care how much debt it has, right?—one house in general when African-American family homeownership rates are at about 40%, and it’s increasingly more difficult to get into homeownership, which is one of the fastest ways to build wealth—one house, if properly leveraged, can create wealth in a family for generations. You just have to know how to use it. And what we end up doing is losing our homes in probate court. We can’t even get past the court process to even reap the benefits of somebody else’s labor. So the cost of not doing it can be everything the previous generation worked for.
DeRay Mckesson: Now where should people start? So you talked about the different components. Should people start with a will, should people start with—I don’t know, like, heck, I’m asking for other people—where should I start? Like, what’s the first thing people should do?
Portia Wood: So the reality is a will has been promoted to our community. Oh, you’ve got to have a will, you’ve got to have a will, you’ve got to have a will. A will is really insufficient because a will still has to go through a court process. It has to be certified by a judge. So you haven’t avoided court, which is 100% avoidable. Most people would benefit from a trust-based structure, because at a baseline that avoids court, right? There’s no need for that court interference. So those fees we’re talking about, that $26,000 in a $500,000 estate, you don’t pay, right? That’s huge. Right there, that’s huge. That’s two years oat a state college, right? That’s huge, the impact of that. So for most people, it’s likely going to be some form of a trust-based structure. And then it goes, What’s the goal? If you say to me, Portia, I want to create intergenerational wealth and I want to, you know, build it for my niece and nephew, right? Let’s say that. Then what we’re going to talk about is a legacy trust structure where when you’re gone, your trust creates a sub trust for those kids. And you put some restrictions on it so they get some creditor protection so that if they start a business or they get a judgment in their own life, what you’ve left them is untouchable. Imagine how powerful and impactful that is, that what you do in your life, you still have a whole another bucket over here that’s separate and distinct. They get married and divorced down the road, if we’ve put in divorce protection inside of the plan, what you’ve left them is separate and distinct. It how the assets stay together, there’s not all of this division that comes in that rips apart assets. If they have kids, you’ve decided where those assets go after them. If it’s a house you’ve left behind, you’ve given them structure. For my son, he’s not allowed to sell my real estate so let’s just take that off the table. You’re not allowed to sell it. And I can do that in my plan, that I can give you the structure. You can leverage my house up to 75% of the fair rental value. Someone’s going to pay you $2,000 a month in rent, then your mortgage on that property cannot be more than 75% of 2000. Now I guaranteed that that would be an income-producing property and given him the structure to take money out every 15 years to start a business, buy more real estate, go pay for college, pay for food. One house, no matter how much it’s worth, has the ability to do the same thing, right? And when you can take out large chunks of money that somebody else is paying back, ie. the tenant, and because you’re borrowing it, it’s tax free, you can play this game that builds assets. It only takes one person. It only takes one person to make a concerted effort to plan well that can change generations.
DeRay Mckesson: Now how does this, how do you think this impacts Black communities in a way that it doesn’t impact other communities? Like why this is a topic that you work on specifically in communities of color.
Portia Wood: Seventy percent of us don’t have any estate planning. We are wholly unprepared for the transfer of wealth, either by illness or by death. And because of that, we are unnecessarily losing. You know, everybody is talking about the study that was done, you know, reported back in 2017, says the median net worth for African-American families is going to hit zero by 2053. So everybody is alarmed, and oh, let’s talk about the racial wealth gap and how it continues to grow. But what nobody talks about is that we aren’t protecting it. We don’t say where it goes. We don’t put structures on it like other communities do, that allows our assets, our hard-earned labor, to continue to support our families. Much of that is a knowledge gap. We just don’t know what’s possible. It’s a system and a game that was never built for us. In fact, we were the assets being passed inside of other people’s estate plans at one point in time. We were the property that somebody was giving to their families. It wasn’t built for us. And yeah, sure, you know, you talk about a society that says, here’s opportunities, go buy a house. All they do is come in, the developers come in and buy it from the families out of probate court for pennies on the dollar. So we aren’t, we aren’t leveraging the same way that other communities are, and it’s what is keeping us from closing this racial wealth gap. It’s not an income gap, it’s not a higher education gap, it’s how do you preserve what you have and then grow it for the next generation? And that’s what we are not doing. And that’s why I’m so passionate about this because we are in a state of emergency. If the baby boomers pass their wealth outside of proper estate planning structures, it is possible that it will be irreversible to the road to zero wealth. Because you cannot buy back a paid-off house, you cannot buy back what you lose on the inheritance.
DeRay Mckesson: Before I say [unclear], where can people go to stay up to date with what you’re doing? How do people get in touch with you? How do people follow your work?
Portia Wood: Yeah. So we are woodlegalgroup dot com across all platforms. I also have a passion project that is the Black Trust Fund Kids, which is really about normalizing intergenerational wealth in Black and brown communities. And so we are Black Trust Fund Kids on Clubhouse and we are Black Trust Fund Kids on TikTok. And we do, we do webinars every month. We do webinars, one specifically for people with minor kids and one just on general estate planning, so that people can start to get good information. Because another problem is, there are not very many culturally competent advisors to help walk our community through this process. We have different issues that affect our estate planning due to, you know, a legacy of slavery and systemic oppression. We have different considerations, and if you don’t have a culturally competent adviser, you may not have a plan that actually reflects what your wishes are for your family structure. No two plans are the same. So education is a good place. They can follow the work on our website. We also have a free resource library for people, and it’s just woodlegalgroup.com/resourcelibrary.
DeRay Mckesson: So there are two questions we ask everybody. One is: what you say to people who feel like they’ve done everything and it didn’t, it didn’t turn out, right? They emailed, they called, they protested, they, they did all those things and the world hadn’t changed in the way that they wanted it to. What do you say to those people?
Portia Wood: The only constant in life is change. It may not have changed the way that we wanted it to, but it has changed. And people awakening is not necessarily the system awakening at the same time. And the community that has been built around the movement has changed lives. I see it on Clubhouse, I see it in people coming together and elevating together in a way that bypasses systems. And so I’d say, keep fighting the good fight because it’s making an impact.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. What’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Portia Wood: Hmm. You have to know the rules to the game, to play and to expect to win. So you have to be intentional. You’ve got to take the time to understand how it works before you start playing. And that was something that I got from my parents very young when we were playing sports. You know, you’ve got to understand the rules of the game, but it has carried through with me even to the work that I do today. Estate planning is a game, right? It’s a puzzle, and the laws are the rules. And so once you know the rules, you can play the game successfully and nobody can take that from you. It’s all about having autonomy.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Awesome. We consider you family of the pod. Can’t wait to have you back, and wish you all the best, Portia!
Portia Wood: Aw. Thank you so much for having me. This was so fun and happy Black history.
DeRay Mckesson: Woot, woot. Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week.
Pod Save the People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.