As Wall Street shares were ending sharply lower on Tuesday, Chika Uwazie found herself ringing the New York Stock Exchange’s closing bell in an upbeat mood.
“How many times do you see Black people ringing the bell, especifically Africans,” asked the cofounder of Afropolitan, a company looking to create a digital country for the continent’s diaspora. “That’s why we brought our community into the room.”
As traders—at least those with long positions—headed home to lick their wounds, an after-hours event was just getting under way at the Big Board, hosted by VanEck, the $50 billion investment manager-turned-crypto bull, which brought together Afropolitan and global investors. The focus was on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which share elements of investments and cooperation.
“We realized their project was community centric, like ours,” says Matt Bartlett, head of NFT community and Web3 at VanEck. The money manager is co-hosting events with Afropolitan, seeking to bring together crypto and traditional finance.
“Events like this are the story of access,” says Eche Enziga, the other cofounder of Afropolitan, “traditionally we can’t even get into the room to know what is out there.”
The two companies connected at the CryptoBahamas event in April through Culture Capital, one of Afropolitan’s investors. Since then, they have been working together based on their community-centric approaches, hosting events to educate people on crypto, NFTs and what a digital country could look like.
The event brought together Afropolitan’s network of community members and investors with VanEck staff and NFT holders. The floor of the exchange was filled with early backers, childhood friends and members of VanEck’s growing NFT and Web3 team. Following the ringing of the bell, sliders, chicken sandwiches and glasses of wine flowed through the exchange’s Board Room as images of VanEck’s and Afropolitan’s NFTs took over screens in the over 119-year-old chamber.
The ringing of the bell and event with VanEck was only part of Afropolitan’s seat at the table during a cycle of crypto happenings in New York City. Uwazie was a speaker at this year’s SALT conference and the Afropolitian cofounders quickly left Wall Street to head to their next meeting—a dinner with United Nations officials.
VanEck’s foray into digital assets is not new. It launched a bitcoin futures exchange-traded fund in November, when the crypto market peaked at $3 trillion in value. The investment manager then initiated its first NFT program in May before trying to launch an ETF in the U.S. for bitcoin the following month. A decision on the proposal was delayed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has yet to approve a cash bitcoin ETF.
Unlike most NFT collections, VanEck’s is determinedly non-commercial. Sent directly into their wallets, or airdropped, to a select few crypto enthusiasts after the first announcement, the asset manager made clear that the NFTs are not investments. They’re meant as “digital memorabilia” intended to build community while not running afoul of securities regulations
The VanEck NFTs are images of the character Hammy, a caricature of Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Treasury secretary, who holds special interest for CEO Jan van Eck. A goal of the company’s NFT program is to educate people about the history of the U.S. financial system.
Kristen Capuano, managing director and chief marketing officer of VanEck sees its crypto and digital assets as part of a “forward-looking” value system. “We are striving to find these very interesting or unique pockets of the market before they become mainstream,” she adds.
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