This week, I flew 4,000 miles to address the NAACP in Anchorage, Alaska. Between 14 hours of flying and media queries about the Heather Ellis Wal-Mart case, I found myself thinking about the keys to black empowerment. One of those keys is clearly financial, since the quickest path to slavery in a capitalist society is to become critically dependent upon a commodity that you do not control. In the case of African-Americans, one of those commodities is money.
Many of us live paycheck to paycheck in low wage jobs that break our backs instead of build our brains. It is our dependence upon capitalist carrots and sticks that forces us to sit down when it is time to stand up. We find ourselves saying, “I would have spoken up on that racism issue at work but I’ve got bills to pay.”
Well, it’s time for that language to change. A few simple steps can help us to cut off the economic shackles and find our way to freedom. Financial freedom is one of the keys to psychological, spiritual and political freedom. They are all inextricably linked.
The first step is that every black child in America should be taught the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. Rather than teaching our children to go out and get jobs, we should be teaching them how to go out and create jobs. From the minute they learn where babies come from, they should be learning where jobs come from. That way, when the town’s automobile manufacturer goes out of business, the family doesn’t find itself homeless.
The second step is that we must all learn the value of owning something. Ownership is a critical key to power in a capitalist society; it implies that you have the ability to manage and modify your own fate. You can never live in someone else’s home and expect them to allow you to move the furniture around. Similarly, African-Americans cannot join institutions that are 150 years old and expect to truly control the outcomes and opportunities within such institutions. The art of black institution building should come back to life.
If you don’t want to own a business, start by owning your own home. Most wealth in America is built through home ownership. Your economic pride should not be communicated with fancy cars or a high paying job. It should come from your ability to show yourself as a producer of valuable commodities that others would like to obtain. So, the next time you are tempted to “bling out” like many of our rappers, preachers, doctors and lawyers, remember that this is exactly what others would like you to do. It is also the easiest way to end up in bankruptcy court, no matter how high your income might be. Just ask Antoine Walker, the former NBA superstar, who is now broke.
They say that freedom isn’t free. In fact, it is usually quite costly. The runaway slave was always tempted by the comforts of the plantation, but his desire for liberty led him to chase after something more. The same is true for those of us who wish to find our economic empowerment through entrepreneurship and investing, for those endeavors are the ones that will have the greatest impact on our children.
Wealth building is one of the great drivers of social change. Dr. King’s dream was partly economic.