I was born in the late 1950’s and I experienced discrimination at an early age. I’m old enough to remember racial segregation, the Black and white lines in the South, and the changes brought about by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Six years later I was one of the students bused to the newly desegregated schools in North Carolina. I saw with my own eyes what some of our parents did to keep the pressure on and move our community forward. Throughout history we’ve seen African-Americans unite to meet every challenge. We have triumphed over adversity, defeated slavery, segregation and Jim Crow; all of which affected not one or two generations of African-Americans but practically all Blacks well into the middle of the twentieth century.
Today we are experiencing a new trend, the merging of nations to compete in the 21st century global economy. It is plainly clear to see that economics and finance will be the new king around the globe. What will this mean for African-Americans here in the United States? It means that we have to get our act together because Economic Empowerment is going to be the most important issue that we have to address for our survival in this country in this century! I really hate to use the word economic empowerment because we have been using it for over a decade now. It has become a buzz word that is often meaningless for us because in many instances we are still as powerless as we were before this century. However, it does define our focus.
When you look back at our economic history African-Americans have made little progress in the areas of economics and finance over the last fifty years. Our parents were not in the position and did not have the luxury of passing down knowledge about investment instruments, finance, money and the economy. Many of them did not even graduate from high school and could not read or write. This is part of the curse of slavery, generations of African-Americans that where illiterate as a group were isolated from basic knowledge pertaining to money, investments and business opportunities which led to financial illiteracy for another generation.
The baby boomer generation was the first generation to be exposed to the tools of finance in large numbers. However, if your family was not exposed to lessons of personal finance you just did not learn about it. Only basic math was taught in the elementary schools in the 1960’s & 1970’s, and the only other high level math that was taught was geometry and algebra in high school. It’s a sad fact that even today on the college level business math or finance classes are not mandatory for all majors. So, if we are not taught this information in school or at home, where are we going to learn it?
I had the opportunity to learn about investments with my job with New York Life Insurance Company. I was able to get my securities license and my training right through the company. When I started working for New York Life, I began to see why we have certain problems in our communities like high unemployment and incarceration rates of our young men and women. The lack of jobs is a symptom of our lack of wealth, the dearth of businesses in the community, limited access to capital, and networks that can produce jobs.
It’s time for some serious dialogue focused on changing strategies to drive African-American progress in the 21st century. It is quite obvious that the strategies of the past are not working in the new economy. We need new strategies that must be based on facts and a basic understanding of our economic strength. We are living in one of the most critical periods in American history and the United States economy has been shaken to its core over the last few years. Only time will tell how this transition will affect the world economy over the long-term and who will be the players in the final outcome.
Carlton Banks is the founder and managing member of Globalfinet, LLC, a unique economic network dedicated to solving the Black financial crisis.