Disrupting the Cycle: James Reynolds, Jr.’s Commitment to His Community

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In celebration of Black Philanthropy Month, the Trust is featuring a series of conversations with Black philanthropists making their impact across the Chicago region. This article is the first in our series—be sure to check back as we profile the impact of generosity in the Chicago region’s Black community throughout the month of August.

Before he found success in the world of finance, James Reynolds, Jr. grew up in Englewood on the south side of Chicago, where he saw people in his community experiencing hardship, which shaped his commitment to giving back to his community. As the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Loop Capital, one of the largest privately-held investment banks in the U.S., Jim is leveraging his power to disrupt the cycle of disparity in health, gun violence, and education in the Black community. His commitment to helping more African Americans achieve success is evident in how he runs his business, which is committed to recruiting minority candidates, to his investment in a film production studio that will transform Chicago’s South Shore community. In doing so, he believes we can inspire future generations of Black philanthropists.

Reynolds recently sat down with Nina Alcacio, director of public relations at the Trust, to discuss how his Chicago roots inspire his commitment to transforming lives and communities on Chicago’s south and west side through philanthropy. Some questions and answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Nina Alcacio: How would you describe a philanthropist and who are philanthropists in your eyes?

James Reynolds, Jr.: My definition of a philanthropist is a broad one: A person who uses their resources, time and money to help others, or specific causes, for no particular financial gain. Their benevolence, instead, is entirely for the betterment of that group or those entities.

NA: What inspires your commitment to philanthropy?

JR: Well, for me, I think, my philanthropic nature is my moral fiber. I’m from Englewood…the south side of Chicago. My family was probably lower, middle-class. My beginnings were certainly meager enough for me, from a very young age, to be inherently aware of the struggles of folks around me. That struggle has been ingrained in me. I didn’t come from a place where everybody had plenty. Today, as I see news reports about Chicago’s gun violence on television and see the incarceration rates of my African-American people, I get it. And as I see the lack of educational achievement of my people, I get it. And even as I see the health disparities of people just figuring out how to get by and landlords and businesses that contribute to ill health, I get it. I didn’t need somebody to say it to me. I see the situation around me every day and I’m very clear on where my insights and resources are needed. That’s one of the reasons why I never left Chicago. I chose to be relevant—to help the folks that need people like me and need me to advocate and groom more people like me in the city of Chicago. That’s what I choose to do. I’m a big proponent of doing things that will help more African Americans achieve success in their business or their endeavors so that they, too, can give back. It’s why I believe my commitment to philanthropy is a continuum of my life. My belief is, if you’re going to be on this earth and if you’re fortunate enough to have some level of success, you’re supposed to help others.

NA: As a Chicagoan, what is the vision you hope to achieve through your giving?

JR: I hope to drastically alter health, gun violence and educational disparities within the Black community. I believe it starts with educating people on the relationship between health, wealth and the disparities that exist in the African-American community. If you watch the evening news, they always lead off with reports of the 10 to 20 shootings that have occurred. There isn’t, however, much discussion about how disinvestment in these violence-riddled communities has created the condition that allows youth to shoot one another. There are so many linkages that contribute to the issue of gun violence. If we don’t cure the root cause, we are creating an entirely new generation of folks that will take their place. It’s just a cycle.

NA: What message would you share to someone who’s at the beginning of their philanthropic journey? Maybe a young professional who’s trying to find their way within the philanthropic community.

JR: Before I speak on that young person, I’ll say that corporate America has to find a better way to provide opportunities for African Americans to grow and flourish. Opportunities to help them grow their business or develop professional careers to make the type of income to one day be good philanthropists. When I think about a young person coming in, I share what I say to my kids: peel off something to help someone, or some cause, with your money or time.  Make it a part of your day-to-day DNA. I think that would be helpful, such that when you become older and more successful, and you’re able to contribute more, it’s just part of your DNA to generously give.