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Past time for building Black wealth

If you think about the problems that plague Detroit — inequity, school closings, poverty, unemployment, emergency management, violence and predatory lending — these are conditions that increasingly define the lives of too many Black Americans.

As the wealth gap grows for all Americans, African Americans are particularly hard hit. From Chicago to Philadelphia, lack of Black wealth and opportunity is a persistent problem evidenced in our social and economic problems.

At this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference — where the business and political elite gather (who many could effectively argue contributed to much of the poverty in urban America, or at least Michigan) — offered a bright spot: the keynote address of Robert Johnson.

Johnson is the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), which regularly offered Black America music videos as programming but sold for a little over $2 billion in 2001. Johnson described his personal story of wealth building to the audience at Mackinac.

BET may not have brought us the best programming (which is expensive to produce), but like most things it wasn’t all bad.

The network hired and promoted Black talent — on-air and executive — offered some unique programming by and for Blacks, and made a few Black people extremely wealthy.

After his company sold, Johnson, in turn, says he made several Black multimillionaires.

Money-making is not the only goal in life, but let’s be real, lifting the economic conditions of Black Americans is a critical cause.

Johnson says an investor who gave him start-up money changed his life. By his own admission, he didn’t even have the experience. This is an awesome example of how opportunity can transform a person, family and network of people.

Johnson told all the executives, decision-makers and potential investors at Mackinac to consider doing the same.

He offered practical advice and the simple challenge of interviewing at least two Black candidates for every available job or, better yet, interviewing two potential vendors and small business owners for contracting opportunities.

We believe the true path to wealth is not just a job, which is a solid start, but owning one’s own business.

Whatever path you find yourself on, if it pays well and offers autonomy and opportunity, we know how it helps families, friends, cousins, mothers, neighborhoods, communities and cities.

In 2013, the economy has shifted. No one is bringing jobs back. Public policy is paralyzed by partisan politics and well-funded conservative causes. Don’t wait for government help. A focus on Black economic empowerment can change our communities.

Government is a mechanism for organizing wealth. If through the years, City Council and the mayor have taken this mandate seriously, think about how Detroit might be different.

Learn how to build wealth. Save money and stop using payday lenders — find another way.

Wealth building and ownership is something more Black Americans need to be focused on because it will sustain our communities and families.

This is the challenge for the region. Go to local leaders and remind them of Johnson’s Mackinac challenge.

We will all see the difference in our cities and state. And most importantly, support the businesses in your community.


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