Years after achieving the “dream” of integration, we have seen our poisoned and misguided financial chickens coming home to roost. When the 2008 economic crisis hit America, whites took a small hit and soon recovered, but black wealth dropped by over half. Also, black unemployment hit levels that we haven’t seen in over 30 years. The young men who should be heading our families are filling up the jails and prisons, and our public schools have become prisons with training wheels. There is nothing pretty about this form of integration, where even our best, brightest and strongest are in no position to help those of us who are struggling.
The fact is that we must critically assess the extraordinary work of Dr. Martin Luther King while simultaneously realizing that his work was not complete. He died at the young age of 39 years old, and was speaking boldly about the importance of economic sustainability as a critical component to achieving true equality in a capitalist society. As a finance professor myself, I am hopeful that we realize that this was probably the most significant part of Dr. King’s vision, and that it is the conscientious and intelligent allocation of economic resources that ultimately serves as the key to many of your most fundamental rights as an American.
As a community, each of us has a responsibility to teach our children entrepreneurship as an important part of their long-term economic survival. Learning to run your own business is as important as knowing how to grow your own food. We must embrace educational excellence as if our lives depended on it, but ensure that our children are taught black history and family values that they are not getting in class. We must target our spending to black-owned businesses whenever we can, and embrace the importance of saving, investing and ownership. Finally, since many of us spent $200 last month at Walmart without blinking, this means that we can certainly afford to give $15 to our favorite black-owned organization.
It’s time for a new way of thinking as it pertains to money and education. Ownership, wealth-building and self-sufficiency should be part of the consistent black national discourse. By re-inventing ourselves in a productive way, we can turn our darkest hour into one of the greatest periods in black American history. The time for us to do this is NOW.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, “Black American Money”.