You might say Hill Harper is the quintessential “Renaissance” man. Best known as an actor on TV shows like CSI: NY and such feature films as For Colored Girls, the Ivy League grad (Brown and Harvard) is also passionate about making a difference in the world.
Harper is the founder of Manifest Your Destiny, a non-profit that targets underserved youth and communities. The 45-year-old Iowa native is also a best-selling author whose books aim to encourage young people, as well as men and women seeking to build better relationships.
Now Harper has penned a fourth book, The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place (Gotham Books). The self-help guide offers financial advice, while also examining the meaning of true wealth — blessings like good health, family and love — that money can’t buy.
Now Harper is on a cross-country book tour that’s already hit such cities as New York, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. theGrio caught up with him by phone and later at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, where hundreds braved pre-Hurricane Irene conditions to attend a book signing. Afterwards, Harper spent more than two hours autographing book copies and taking photos with fans.
theGrio: Why’d you write The Wealth Cure and why now?
Hill Harper: I believe that our addiction to money and chasing money has us collectively and individually trapped in a cycle in that has in part created the debt crisis — individually and well as what we see in government. Through my foundation I talk to families and young people and ask them what it would take to live their best life. To a person — whether black, Latino — the number one reason why people are not doing intuitively what they want to do, involves money-based excuses.
They say, `Hill, I wanna start this business, or go to this school, or do this or that.’ We have learned to use money as a scapegoat and a proxy to stop living our true wealthy lives. I wanted to take the excuses off the table and help people “cure” that debilitating relationship with money.
What are some of the principles you espouse in The Wealth Cure?
The techniques involve a diagnosis of your fiscal health, a treatment plan, and compliance. It takes discipline, but if you maintain your financial health and wealth, then you thrive. It’s very old school in a way; this is a val-e based book that goes back to the basics: things like saving, and not cheating people.
Some may wonder if a rich celebrity can identify with the money woes of average Americans?
I wasn’t born with money. There were times in my life after college when I turned down a six-figure salary to take a job as a waiter to be free to go out on auditions and pursue my acting career. We all have fear around money. Those without it, want more of it. Those who have it, have a fear of losing it. Money is necessary, but there’s a place for it. If you don’t have things like your health, you’re not wealthy at all, anyway, and money doesn’t matter.
Speaking of health, last year you dealt with a stunning thyroid cancer diagnosis. You took a train trip that wound up being both a literal and a spiritual journey and shaped this book. How are you doing?
It was extremely frightening. The surgeons had to remove my thyroid and the surgery was sensitive. Had they nicked a vocal nerve, it could have had a catastrophic effect on my acting career. I’m doing fine. My father, uncle and grandfather died of cancer, but I am claiming good health.
You’re a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pledged years ago at Boston University. Now there’s a new King memorial on the National Mall. Do you think Dr. King’s legacy ties into your book in any way?
Absolutely. He was battling poverty, equality and justice and my book is all about dealing with those issues. One thing I talk about is building wealth generationally. African-Americans transfer the least amount of cross-generational wealth per dollar earned, of any distinct group. It’s almost as if each generation is starting at square one.
What do you think of the King memorial?
The memorial is awesome. I was proud to be the host and serve as a producer of a documentary called Alpha Man: The Brotherhood of MLK which is airing on BET. Dr. King gave the keynote at the Alpha’s 50th convention, and I did interviews with his last surviving line brother, Herman Hemingway of Boston, and others behind the scenes of the Freedom Rides.
Were you very familiar with the civil rights movement?
I knew about the movement, but not as much about the players and individuals who supported it on a deeper level and aren’t in history books. But for their presence — and their institutional, spiritual and financial support — the movement would not have happened and taken hold as it did. The monument is not only honoring Dr. King, but all of them, really.
All of your books are geared towards empowering others. You and President Obama are friends, dating back to your law school days at Harvard. Do you have any interest in running for office?
I don’t see that right now, though I always joke with the President that I’m the one with a Masters in government! [Laughs]. There’s so much power politics in this country, but I believe that I can engage and affect the best level of change outside of the political sphere. I’m trying to make a real impact by nurturing a sense of community.
The president has talked about the need for all of us to expand our circle of care. Ask yourself, ‘What can I do?’ That may mean volunteering at a local public school even if your kids don’t attend. You might think, `Why would I go, I don’t have a connection.’ But you do. We’re all part of a larger community.