Acknowledging our Past for a Stronger Tomorrow

In 1947, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust was created to improve the quality of life of people with low incomes in Forsyth County and to improve health care around the state. Initial financial support from our founder, Mrs. Reynolds, has enabled us to support thriving communities around the state, from the time the Trust was established through today.

This year marks our 75th anniversary.  

The time has come to be open and honest about our founder Mrs. Reynolds’ history and our own. With this in mind, the Trust has marked this momentous 75th year by traveling around North Carolina sharing our story. Mrs. Reynolds’ initial bequest to found the Trust came from tobacco profits, originally earned through the sale and labor of enslaved Black people who worked in the tobacco fields.

To repair this history and fulfill our founders’ vision on today’s terms, at our recent 75th anniversary events, we announced that the Trust will divest our financial portfolio from tobacco production.

We thank Wells Fargo, our sole trustee, for aligning investments with our mission and committing to a socially responsible investment strategy to support economic opportunities in North Carolina.

At the Trust today, we are committed to taking responsibility for and learning from our past, to help address the root causes of inequities that have held people of color back for far too long. We value listening and learning to community and are working together, supporting efforts to achieve racial equity and systems change. We are focused on building the power of people who have been marginalized and oppressed to achieve Mrs. Reynolds’ mission of improving the quality of life and health for all.

Looking Back

Kate B Reynolds sitting in a chair looking up while holding a book

Mrs. Reynolds was a woman of her time. 

Mrs. Reynolds inherited wealth from her father, Joseph Bittings, one of the largest owners of enslaved Black people in Yadkin County, whose assets would be valued at $4 million dollars today. She also inherited wealth through her marriage to Will Reynolds, whose family profited from enslavement in the same way. He led the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company after his brother’s death.

Mrs. Reynolds was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In their wills, she and her husband left their estate, Tanglewood, to be made into a public park  in Forsyth County, reserved for whites only.

From her birth in 1863, shortly before the Civil War ended, through her death, shortly after the end of World War II, the marginalization of Black residents was codified by United States Supreme Court decisions that endorsed segregation and unequal treatment. The education systems, health care systems, and economic opportunities were rooted in the determination that Black people would not equally benefit from the American dream.

Mrs. Reynolds was also ahead of her time. 

In her adult years, Mrs. Reynolds funded charities dedicated to improving the lives of those who she called “the poor and needy” of North Carolina. She and her husband donated funds to the creation of a hospital in Winston Salem, to be staffed by Black medical providers and to serve Black patients. This had never been done before in the area, and the Kate Bitting Reynolds Memorial Hospital was named after her.

Following her death, an editorial in Winston-Salem’s People’s Spokesman, a Black weekly newspaper, praised her as “a humanitarian whose sympathies transcended the barriers that divide the races at times.”

Her mission to improve health care for people in need set the Trust on its initial path. The Trust’s approach to access to health care in the 1940s was direct payments to hospitals for “charity care” and direct payments to individuals to cover their care.

“Before the rise of Medicaid, Medicare, and health insurance, these payments from the Trust to the hospitals were significant.”

 

Adam Linker

Vice President of Programs, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

2016–present

We are accountable and we are learning.

While much good was done by the Trust in its early years, we need to acknowledge that harm was caused by the Trust working with organizations that actually perpetuated racism, even while the intent was to help. Grants were made to large, predominantly white-led nonprofit organizations that functioned within the very systems that needed to be changed.

Working Forward

 

Even though “charitable” is in the Trust name, over the past 20 years, we have come to realize that “charity” is not enough to address the root causes of systemic inequities. Today, in response to that reality, we have evolved our vision, values, and grantmaking strategy to focus on outcomes. We work with our partners to change the systems that have intentionally held the people we serve back for far too long—especially people of color.

To make change happen, we start with ourselves.

Beginning in the early 2000s, the Trust committed to increasing diversity within its staff. During this period, the Trust also began changing the way it connected with grantees.

Initially, the Trust, like many philanthropies, required potential grantees from around the state to come to its office in Winston Salem to answer questions and submit applications. In 2005, this was intentionally changed to center the focus away from the Trust and on the grantees.  Program officers began spending more time in the field, meeting grantees and community partners where they live and work, such as community centers, church basements, schools, and health care facilities.

“The Trust was early on in understanding why diversity matters in hiring, bringing in the lived experience of a Black woman—Karen McNeil-Miller—as the president and a Native American Lumbee guy like me from Eastern North Carolina…The shift of moving from a transactional hierarchy to a community-and relationship-centered approach to doing this work was transformative. It has become a best practice approach in philanthropy.”

 

Edgar Villanueva (Lumbee)

Former Senior Program Officer, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

2005–2011

 

The Trust has come a long way in 75 years and we still have a long way to go.

Today, we focus on outcomes.

We have evolved our grantmaking strategy from trying to fill the gaps, to supporting larger, community-led efforts to close and prevent the existence of gaps. We employ an outcomes-focused strategy and invest in promising programs, efforts that foster systems change, and innovative ideas to help residents and communities achieve long-term success.

We use data to evaluate the impact of racism and support solutions.

Data shows that racism and lack of access to health care, educational opportunities, and economic mobility are inextricably linked. We know that people of color are too often marginalized by race and place and this informs our strategy.

“The numbers don’t lie—the truest way to evaluate progress is to look at data over time and determine if change has occurred in the communities you serve. I’m excited to inform evidence-based strategies that impact people’s daily lives.”

 

Dr. Kristen Naney

Director of Learning and Impact, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

2021–present

 

We invest in building community power.

We partner with community and support their capacity to foster the change they have defined themselves. We ask them to tell us what their communities need, we listen and learn, and we develop solutions together. In particular, we are investing in leaders of color, who have been denied opportunities for far too long. We build on the power and agency that already exists in communities.

“African Americans are 30 percent of the population of Old Fort, but we never really had a voice at the table. We’ve always been here, but we haven’t been seen. We formed the working group to give the Black community a voice and be part of the change.”

 

Lavita Logan

Project Coordinator, Old Fort Community Forum

Healthy Places grantee (McDowell County)

We acknowledge the Trust’s complicated history with tobacco.

The $5 million in RJ Reynolds Company stock that Mrs. Reynolds left in her will to start the Trust, was wealth originally earned by enslaved Black people working in tobacco fields. Farming tobacco has also been the basis for economic growth for Black farmers in the state, and there are clear tragic health impacts of death, disease, and chronic illness. At the Trust, we acknowledge this makes for a complicated history of which we play a part.

The Trust’s investments continued to profit from tobacco production, until now. 

Today the Trust has approximately $575 million in assets and awards roughly $20 million in grants, or 5 percent, annually to further the contemporary version of Mrs. Reynolds’ vision – ensuring that all North Carolinians have the opportunity to thrive.  At our 75th anniversary events, we announced that, working closely with our trustee, Wells Fargo, the Trust is changing its investment approach to exclude tobacco from the range of companies that the Trust invests in, and invest in companies that are economically important to the state.

“A significant portion of our assets has been traditionally invested in tobacco, per Mrs. Reynolds’ will. Yet, at the same time, we have been working to improve the health of residents whom tobacco may have harmed. While we cannot change where our funds originated, we are responsible for using them wisely, addressing any past harms, and eradicating the roots of the problems that face our state.”

 

Dr. Laura Gerald

President, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

2016–present

 

Additionally, our trustee will allocate $100 million of the Trust’s public equity investments in a dedicated strategy designed to invest more heavily in companies that are economically important to North Carolina. This portion of the portfolio holds 10 times more equity in NC-based companies than the funds it replaces, and 13 times more in companies that hire more North Carolinians than their peers.

We set our course to achieve systems change, through racial equity.

As we examine our past and look toward our next 75 years, we know that the only credible route to fulfilling Mrs. Reynolds’ vision is by working for racial equity in the health, education, and economic systems of North Carolina.

 “Changing systems requires hard work from each one of us. This means me and this means you. Together, let’s work for a just society that stands up against racism and changes the system to ensure equitable health, educational, and economic outcomes for every person in North Carolina.”

 

Dr. Laura Gerald