HEADLINE: Does INROADS hold a key to closing America’s racial wealth gap?
Sub-headline: The organization’s 50-year track record of sending black students into
corporate jobs suggests it might.
21 January 2020
It’s no secret that the racial wealth gap is widening in the USA.
As of 2016, the average white family possessed nearly 10 times the net worth of a black family and
7.5 times the wealth of a Hispanic family, according to the Federal Reserve. That same year the U.S. Federal Reserve reported that black families possessed a net worth of $17,600, compared to
$171,000 for white families.
The most alarming aspect of this gap is that it’s on track to get even worse. Even as millions of
Americans reap the benefits of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, the median wealth of
black Americans is on track to fall to zero by 2053 if the current trends persist. (1)
America’s racial wealth gap is unmistakably the end result of failures both in the public and private
sectors, as well as unique historical roadblocks along the path towards generational wealth
accumulation for black people. Closing this gap, which is centuries in the making, requires
commitment and innovative thinking on the part of public policymakers, non-profit organizations
The problem is complex and whilst there is no silver bullet solution, organizations like INROADS
could hold a key towards closing the gap.
I am a Fulbright Scholar and proud Aboriginal Australian visiting the U.S. on a mission to shed light
on non-profit organizations, such as INROADS, that empower racial minorities through sustainable
programs, track records of excellence and a proven ability to scale.
In a powerful testimony to a congressional subcommittee by Ariel Investments Founder & co-CEO
John Rogers Jr. stated the fact that “between 1992 and 2016, college-educated whites saw their
wealth soar 96 percent while college-educated blacks saw theirs fall 10 percent.” After reading this
testimony I investigated a hypothesis that programs like INROADS hold an important key to closing
the racial wealth gap.
The case in point
INROADS was founded in Chicago in 1970 and pioneered an internship program for black, Hispanic
and Native American college and pre-college students with a vision to develop talent for the 21st
Century. The track record of INROADS foreshadows any other corporate internship program, having
cultivated the leadership potential of more than 154,000 students in partnership with more than
1,000 sponsoring employers over a 50-year period.
Today, the program boasts a long list of notable Alumni including C-Suite leaders such as Steve
Davis, former CEO of Bob Evans, and Willard Evans, former CEO of Peoples Gas in Chicago.
INROADS is a by-product of the Civil Rights Movement. Its founder, the late Frank Carr, was a white
publishing executive who attended the March on Washington in 1963 and was moved by Martin
Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech. Carr believed “that talent was not in just one part of our
society but it had to be sprinkled in the black and brown community as well as in the white
community.” In 1996 INROADS received the King Center’s Salute to Greatness Award. Since then,
Martin Luther King III has argued that INROADS should be recognized for building America’s black
The more immediate impact of INROADS is that it helps students forge pathways to lasting and
rewarding careers beginning with a paid internship at a sponsoring business that is invested in their
success. These businesses in turn benefit from gaining access to a talent pool that has been
In analyzing the net worth of INROADS alumni, I screened 1,000 randomly selected individuals with
an average age of 44 years and found the program can claim an unprecedented economic impact
that challenges the notion that policy change is the only solution to closing the racial wealth gap.
For example, the Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 and sought to boost black home ownership
rates in the U.S by removing housing discrimination based on race. However after nearly 50-years
the rate of black home ownership has actually fallen – going from 42% in 1970 to 41% in 2017. (2) In contrast, 76% of INROADS Alumni were found to own at least one property and therefore providing a platform for generational wealth creation.
Finally, my inquiry shows that many INROADS Alumni attain greater levels of wealth than that of
their white college-educated counterparts. As found in the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances,
approximately 37% of college-educated white households have a net worth range of $500k - $5mn.
In comparison 40% of INROADS Alumni have the same net worth range.
INROADS President Forest Harper responded to this finding by saying “we’ve known that our
program changes lives because we see our students transform from high school through to university graduation. However as we approach 50-years, we can show that we’ve positioned racial minorities on a wealth trajectory that is greater than the status quo.”
Thasunda Brown Duckett, the CEO of Chase Consumer Banking, is a living testimony to the vision
and sustainability of INROADS. Her participation in the organizaton as a high school and college
student put her on a trajectory to leading the largest consumer bank in the United States. Today, 20
years after completing a Fannie Mae internship that she landed through INROADS, Duckett is leveraging JPMorgan Chase resources to create career opportunities for thousands of black students through the Advancing Black Pathways program, an INROADS partner.
ABP is committed to hiring 4,000 black students over the next five years as interns, apprentices and
A sustainable way to empower racial minorities on a global scale
The INROADS model takes full advantage of a ‘free market’ that hasn’t always been free for racial
minorities. Through partnerships with corporate sponsors and the unwavering commitment of role
models like Thasunda Brown Duckett, the INROADS model is proving to be a recipe for sustainable
In Australia, the fact that there has never been an Aboriginal C-Suite leader of a major corporation
inspired the establishment of CareerTrackers for Indigenous Australians, a non-profit modelled after
INROADS. Now in its 10th year, CareerTrackers has graduated 1,000 Indigenous students whose
average starting salary is $62,000, compared to Australia’s national average of $54,000.
A sentiment I often hear among diversity professionals in the U.S is that minority employment
programs are “just a supplier of diverse talent” and I couldn’t disagree more. This perception
overlooks the greater fight for economic justice that Dr. King led in 1963 when he said-
“America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there
are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of
freedom and the security of justice.”
America’s racial wealth gap is an indication that minorities – black people in particular - have yet to
see that ‘check’ clear without insufficient funds.
While it makes good business sense for corporations to invest in diverse employment, the widening
racial wealth gap makes it clear that there are moral reasons for investing in programs like INROADS.
INROADS’ 50-year track record serves as proof that programs, and not just policy changes, can
generate a sustainable approach to generating strong incomes and wealth for black people and
other racial minorities. But we must also recognize other historical institutions within the black
academic ecosystem, which make INROADS’ impact possible, and rally for greater investment in
these organizations to serve even more people on a wider scale.
Since the Reconstruction period following the U.S. Civil War, Historically Black Colleges and
Universities have educated and created pathways to opportunity for generations of black students.
In addition, scholarship programs like the United Negro College Fund and Hispanic Scholarship Fund have funded the educations of millions of students for decades, while development programs like Black Girls Code provide a foundational skillset in STEM for the future workforce.
There is a rich history of U.S. organizations working to provide pathways to opportunity for racial
minorities, and they will play a vital role in closing the nation’s racial wealth gap.
(1) Source: The Road to Zero Wealth, 9/11/17
(2) Source: The Shocking Truth 50 Years After The 1968 Fair Housing Act: The Black Homeownership Paradox, 5/16/19