A Black-owned stock exchange motivated by MLK’s dream: These genius investors are thinking outside the box

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 11, 2024 9:00 AM EDT
Dwain J. Kyles. Photo credit: Sage Collective

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” was delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was organized by Black union members as a call for workplace equality. Dr. King himself often highlighted the duality of interests between the labor movement and the civil rights movement. He advocated for decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, and health and welfare measures for Black workers and their counterparts. Over half a century later, disparities that express themselves in racial terms within the US economy and workforce thrive. A staggering 2023 projection claims that it could take African-Americans over 500 more years to achieve economic parity if there are no drastic changes to how America continues to grow.

The majority of African-Americans share the American Dream: work hard, retire and leave a legacy of generational wealth. But for many, that dream remains unattainable. Minority communities face the largest barriers to wealth building. Limited opportunities to build up wealth translate into a lower income and less money to invest after paying bills. Increasing the number of racial minorities in the stock market can help narrow this wealth gap.

Dwain J. Kyles and Joe Cecala are launching The Dream Exchange, set to become the first minority-owned stock exchange in the United States. The duo say they are influenced by Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

On paper, a stock exchange intends to bridge the gap between Main Street and Wall Street, allowing ordinary Americans to buy into the promise of corporate America. The Dream Exchange is thus a way of advancing the hopes of people like Kyles’ father, who was a preacher and an associate of Dr. King’s in the 1960s. Kyles’ father, as did Dr. King, wanted to see Black America receive its fair share as America became the world’s most dominant economy.

“What he [Dr. King] began to understand in the later years of his life [is] that you were not going to achieve equality anywhere in this country or anyplace else if there is not economic parity. You’ve got to be able to give people the opportunity to earn a good living and take care of their families, or it’s never going to work,” Kyles said about advancing MLK’s dream.

In 2018, Cecala founded the Dream Exchange to build the first US venture stock exchange for small and medium-sized businesses. Kyles, a managing member at the exchange, was vital in developing the initiative intended to open doors for minority-owned businesses and reshape the economic landscape to foster equitable growth and opportunities. In 2020, Cadiz Capital Holding LLC, a Black-owned private equity firm entered an agreement to become the majority owner in the Dream Exchange. The deal consequently allowed for the creation of the first Black-owned stock exchange in the history of America.

The Dream Exchange operates similarly to the New York Stock Exchange. It however has a distinct focus on smaller, emerging companies historically overlooked in the stock market. Kyles and Cecala recognize the challenges that many Black-owned companies face in acquiring capital and gaining visibility in public markets. With only 0.2% of the New York Stock Exchange listings being minority-owned, the exchange intends to increase investment in companies from underserved communities. The Dream Exchange plans to make the stock market accessible to people of color who historically have less access to capital and create a space where smaller companies can become publicly traded companies.

“Most people in all communities have access to Main Street in some form or another, but the gulf which exists between Main Street and Wall Street has continued to exist and we see that serving as that bridge as being vital to the revitalization of our economy. Our approach is to really look at those small companies that have been left behind,” Kyles said about the importance of the Dream Exchange.

The vision of the Dream Exchange extends beyond financial gains, the founders say. It’s also about creating a ripple effect of prosperity in communities that need it the most. Listing a company on a stock exchange creates thousands of jobs, fosters community development and can tremendously transform participating communities. According to the U.S. Treasury Department Task Force, 92 percent of jobs within a company are created when a company goes public.

Although around 80 percent of people in Dream Exchange’s base are accredited Black investors, the exchange’s services are open to everybody. It will be the eighth licensed stock exchange in the country and the first minority-run. Kyles and Cecala are currently working with Congress to pass the Main Street Growth Act, which would start ‘venture exchanges’ to get even more capital to smaller, growing, minority-owned companies. At a time when venture capital for minorities is being challenged, the Dream Exchange is keeping alive the African American dream.