By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on January 22, 2023
In 2013, I published a Facebook article on what African-Americans had to do to empower ourselves. The article was published In the aftermath of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the Trayvon Martin murder case.
The Zimmerman verdict made most African-Americans realize that we must empower ourselves in order to find, secure, and enjoy our rightful place in American society. It had become painfully clear that no political figure or governmental body would do this for us.
At the time, I pointed out that affirmative action was under fire. The Voting Rights Act had been been gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court. State and federal court systems were totally insensitive to our rights and needs.
Our major cities were bankrupt and dying. The official policy in Washington, when it came to African-Americans, was one of “benign” neglect. Everybody wanted our votes. but nobody wanted to hear our voices when setting a political agenda.
I noted that our civil rights leaders were worn out and irrelevant. Our political leaders at all levels of government had been neutered and were often nothing more than pack mules for corporate special interest groups.
Our religious leaders were busy building personality-based ministries. Our schools and communities were hunkered-down in survival mode. Our role models were athletes and entertainers.
Our teenagers were being slain in record numbers, all too often by other black teenagers. Our mayors did not have a clue on how to combat skyrocketing gun violence in their cities.
As a people, we were living for today, and not tomorrow. And, we were holding our breath everyday in the hope that we would not get fired from our jobs at companies we do not own.
This was the sad state of black America ten years ago.
On January 15, 2023, I published an article titled, "The Sad State of Black America in 2023." Everything I observed in 2013 is true today. However, we are worse off today because of (a) the rise of Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans throughout the country and (b) the complete absence of strong, effective, visionary, and courageous black political leadership, nationwide.
As was the case in 2013, we are desperately looking for somebody to do something to help us come out of this miserable state of being. Nobody will. The cavalry is not coming.
We have reached a place where we must act to save ourselves.
How will we do it? We must empower ourselves on a personal, familial and communal level. We have the ability to do this; we just don’t realize it, and we rarely use it. We did empowered ourselves once in Tulsa, Oklahoma during the early 1900s, and it was called "Black Wall Street."
For over a century, this chapter in black history was never taught in public schools. Now, we know why.
Here is a Practical Guide to Economic Empowerment for Blacks:
Empowerment takes focus, determination, discipline, and hard work. It is not for the weak or faint of heart.
We cannot sprint to a state of empowerment; it is a long marathon run to this destination. This may not be a particularly hard feat (given our current state of being), but it is certainly a different way of thinking for us.
Where do we start? We start with the realization that money is power. The more money we amass and control, the more power and influence we can wield.
Can we realistically amass significant amounts of money and wealth in our current state of being? Yes, we are one of the largest and most loyal consumer groups in America. Too often, however, our loyalty is to the wrong people, companies, and things.
Can we amass enough money and wealth to make a difference in our lifetime? Yes, we have a long and distinguished track-record of spending money in larger amounts during a much shorter period of time than other Americans.
How is this empowerment possible when we seem to be barely getting by each month? We must start by living below our means. Too often, we get caught up on spending money on non-income producing things like a house that’s too large, over-the-top furniture, a luxury car or two, designer clothes, high-end watches, expensive purses, etc., all just to dazzle and impress others. These things cost a lot of money, but rarely produce significant wealth.
An extravagant lifestyle may feel good, but this spending habit is not an empowerment tool. After we finish this spending spree, we have no cash left.
Next, we must give our children a head start in life. Rather than wasting our hard-earned money on must-have gadgets, shoes and clothes, we should give our children and grandchildren a savings account and fund it regularly with the “throw away” money we can save from reigned-in frivolous spending. Gadgets, shoes and clothes come and go, but money will always be fashionable and hip.
We also need to focus our kids on owning businesses, as opposed to becoming a permanent class of job seekers. We must break the generational cycle of shying away from the opportunities, responsibilities, and difficulties of business ownership. We have to think about creating jobs, not simply applying for them.
Additionally, we must expand the definition of success beyond our focus on professional athletes and entertainers. Only 5,000 or so of the more than 34 million blacks in America will find financial success as professional athletes and entertainers. Even then, very few of these individuals possess the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities to properly control, protect, leverage, and grow their money and other tangible assets.
We must create our own wealth to be respected and treated fairly. People of color around the world are doing it. African-Americans can do it too.
Now is the time for us to start controlling our economic destiny. We have to move from a population of unappreciated consumers to an army of valued business producers. Then, and only then, can we train and hire a workforce that mirrors us, provide major vendor opportunities for others in our business alliance network, contribute to and reinvest in the growth and stability of our neighborhoods, and get the attention of others who hold power.
The money we put in our children’s and grandchildren’s savings accounts will eventually become the working capital they need to launch their businesses and give them a meaningful chance in the new empowerment paradigm.
So, the next time you are tempted to buy another pair of red-bottoms or a Gucci purse, stop yourself and place that money in your child’s savings account. As for the money you would spend while pontificating about the lives of reality TV stars, rappers, and professional athletes on a bar stool during happy hour—put that in their savings accounts too.
Many of us need to rethink all of the money we are spending on private school education (grades 1-12) for our kids and grandchildren. Will this tuition money be more useful to our children in an interest-bearing savings account reserved for a future business venture (after college) than it will be for them to rub shoulders with a bunch of rich kids from the suburbs?
Which financial choice will give our children the best footings in life? Self-employment and the high self-esteem that comes from business ownership, or a daytime association with suburbanites kids who, like Florida governor Ron DeSantis and their parents, believe African American history programs lack educational value? If you struggle with the answer to this question, you are lost in the fog of a self-induced inferiority complex..
I believe that African-Americans must invest in ourselves and in each other. Every ethnic group in America has found empowerment and success this way. We must follow suit and harness our economic power.
Once we start producing money and wealth for ourselves, America will pay attention to us.
We must also treat each other with dignity and respect. When this occurs, we will be treated with dignity and respect by other ethnic groups..
In the final analysis, we must become our own calvary. There is no "savior" in the political world who will protect us and advance our cause for economic empowerment and financial independence. We must create, advance, and protect our own economic security.