NFTs light up Wall Street’s evening as VanEck strives to build community with Afropolitan

As Wall Street stocks ended sharply lower on Tuesday, Chika Uwazie found herself ringing the New York Stock Exchange closing bell in an optimistic mood.

“How often do you see black people ringing the bell, especially Africans,” asked the co-founder of Afropolitan, a company that seeks 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 in long positions – went home to lick their wounds, an after-hours event was just beginning 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 investment and cooperation.

“We realized their project was community-centric, like ours,” says Matt Bartlett, NFT and Web3 Community Manager at VanEck. The fund manager co-hosts events with Afropolitan, seeking to bring crypto and traditional finance together.

“Events like this are the story of access,” says Eche Enziga, Afropolitan’s other co-founder, “traditionally, we can’t even walk into the room to find out what’s going on.”

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 about crypto, NFTs, and what a digital country could look like.

The event brought together the Afropolitan network of community members and investors with VanEck staff and NFT holders. The exchange floor was filled with early backers, childhood friends, and members of VanEck’s growing NFT and Web3 team. After the bell rang, sliders, chicken sandwiches and glasses of wine streamed through the exchange’s boardroom as images of VanEck and Afropolitan’s NFTs flooded the screens in the chamber over 119 years old.

The ringing of the bell and the event with VanEck was just part of Afropolitan’s seat at the table during a cycle of crypto events in New York. Uwazie was a speaker at this year’s SALT conference, and the Afropolitian co-founders quickly left Wall Street for their next meeting, a dinner with United Nations officials.

VanEck’s foray into digital assets is not new. He launched a bitcoin futures exchange-traded fund in November, when the crypto market peaked at $3 trillion. The investment manager then launched its first NFT program in May before trying to launch a US ETF for bitcoin the following month. A decision on the proposal has been delayed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has yet to approve a bitcoin cash ETF.

Unlike most NFT collections, VanEck’s is decidedly non-commercial. Sent straight to their wallets, or airdropped, to a few crypto enthusiasts after the first announcement, the asset manager made it clear that NFTs are not investments. They are designed as “digital memorabilia” intended to create community without violating securities regulations.

VanEck NFTs are images of the character Hammy, a caricature of Alexander Hamilton, the first US Treasury Secretary, of particular interest to CEO Jan van Eck. One of the goals of the company’s NFT program is to educate people about the history of the US financial system.

Kristen Capuano, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer of VanEck, views its crypto and digital assets as part of a “future-looking” value system. “We strive to find those very interesting or unique pockets of market before they become mainstream,” she adds.

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