Friday, March 31, 2006

We Finally Got Our Piece Of The Pie?


Today's supreme mathematics is Understanding Knowledge all being born to Culture. Put simply, what is the fruit of your knowledge? How has knowledge improved your way of life and the life of your family? Your community? If it hasn't, then you need to evaluate your foundation and what it consists of.

Last week, the New York Times and other media outlets reported that Bob Johnson (of BET infamy) plans to start a new retail and financial services company. The bank, which will be named Urban Trust, will be opening locations in Washington D.C. and Florida initially, with branches in other urban centers to follow. Now, I'm aware that any original person with a ounce of common sense or consciousness will cringe at Bob J doing anything to "help" black people, however we have to look at this in light of other factors. Consider the following

  • A Operation HOPE study reported that in a survey of 4,000 students, 86% of Black High School seniors failed a basic literacy exam, compared with 57% of White students
  • Black families have a larger rate of being targeted by sub-prime predatory lenders
  • The poverty rate among Black children is 37%
  • In some cities, over 50% of African American men are unemployed

When you look at our economic condition and see it's connection with health, education, culture, etc.., then the need to do something about our financial standing becomes clear. Will Bob Johnson be able to solve all this? Of course not! Fundamentally, financial literacy is a inside-out kind of thing, meaning that people learn it from others in their social circles. If the people around you aren't financially literate, chances are you won't be either. Also, it isn't like this is a non-profit altruistic venture here: The primary purpose here is to grow the business. There's also the issue of the term "Black-Owned Business". It's not entirely clear if he's doing this with his own money or even black money, due to his relationship with the Carlyle group and other financial giants. (Let's not forget, the largest investor in BET for many of the early years was white). More likely, it's an investment into a segment of the population who hasn't been targeted by others due to their spending and saving habits by a multi-racial group of investors with a black face.

Do we need Black-owned banks? I think there's a place for them if they are really looking to act in the best interests of the black community when it comes to loans, policies and outreach. We're way past the point where being black is enough. As Imam Jamil Al-Amin put "Being Black is necessary, but it's not sufficient". If true financial independence is the goal, then we have to start one family at a time. Things that we can do:

  1. Save 10% of your pre-tax income. You'll be surprised at how fast it grows
  2. Look to own vs. Rent. Home ownership is one of the primary ways to get out of financial bondage. In fact, home ownership (along with the GI Bill) was one of the chief ways that lower and middle class white families were able to escape poverty after WWII (redlining the suburbs so that only white families could move there and own homes)
  3. Invest. Look at the financial stability of all the companies that you support by buying their products. If they look to be healthy, why not invest? Someone else damn sure is!

Until the next time, P.E.A.C.E.!

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