This coming Monday, Jan. 19, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2015, but we are still dealing with some of the same issues that my grandparents dealt with over 60 years ago. Racial discrimination, police brutality and an economic divide still persist. As recently as September, in a Washington Post blog post reacting to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' August 2014 jobs report, Phillip Bump pointed out, "The unemployment rate for blacks (11.4 percent) was more than twice that for whites (5.3 percent)." A year earlier, in another Washington Post blog post, his colleague Brad Plumer noted, "The black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for 50 years." But these problems can be remedied by economic freedom.
Full economic cooperation is what Black folks lack. It is the final stage for us Black folks to truly achieve real freedom. Of the three pivotal "freedom" events for African Americans, two have already occurred:
1. Emancipation: President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." At a minimum, we needed to break the chains of slavery if we were going to make any attempt at achieving the "American dream."
2: Civil rights: The civil-rights movement was designed to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans, and to garner federal protection of rights specified by the U.S. Constitution. For purposes of esteem and access to resources, it had to occur.
3: Economic cooperation: The African principle of "ujamaa" entails cooperative economics and the building, maintaining and supporting of community businesses. African Americans have been maintaining and supporting other folks' businesses for a long time, and it's time we focused on nurturing our own businesses and communities with intention and consistency for economic growth and prosperity.
Historically, America has been -- and will continue to be, for the foreseeable future -- the land of opportunity. Unfortunately for African Americans, it is the land of opportunity for every ethnic group that has hit the shores of this country but us, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. For generations, immigrant groups used and continue to use the African-American consumer dollar to build wealth. We've seen it too many times; there are too many ethnicities to name that have benefited from the Black dollar. The forecast has unlimited growth if we choose to support and benefit from our own.
I am an ex-Yahoo! employee, and I worked with many Chinese Americans. in Yahoo!'s Burbank, California, office. A co-worker of Chinese descent told me about his Beijing-born cousin who didn't speak a word of English but was planning to open a jewelry store in the Los Angeles area. I asked my co-worker, "Is your cousin opening his store in the Hollywood Hills or some other high-property-value area?" He replied, "Hell, no! Rich white folks would never buy from my cousin! He's opening his store in the South Central L.A./Compton area." I never followed up, but I am sure this Chinese entrepreneur made a lot of money selling bling in the hood. God bless him. Seriously.
It has been said that Black Americans don't have real spending power. Well, according to Nielsen, "African-American consumers are more relevant than ever." Nielsen writes, "With a current buying power of $1 trillion that is forecasted to reach $1.3 trillion by the year 2017, the importance of connecting with African-American consumers is more important than ever." Everybody knows this except for African Americans. One trillion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but what does $1 trillion look like? Well, I will tell you. We've all seen a $100 bill. It's thin, crisp and bears the face of our founding father Benjamin Franklin. If I created a stack of $100 bills, $1 million would be about waist-high, or about 3 feet. If I turned that $1-million stack on its side, I could leap over it with little effort, because it's only 3 feet long. But how long is a $1-trillion stack? If the $1-trillion stack started in New York City in Times Square, it would stretch south to Washington, D.C., and all the way back to New York City and nearly halfway to Boston. It would be over 650 miles long. That's a lot of money, and Black folks annually donate this 650-mile-long $1-trillion stack to everybody but ourselves!
With the current state of Black affairs, one might think that our Black leaders have failed us. That is up for debate, but I do believe our current Black leadership should have supporting Black-owned businesses as their sole priority. It can be argued that nothing is as important as this. It's not their fault, though. We needed these leaders during the heat of the civil-rights struggle, and they were effective then. Unfortunately, their agenda is better-suited for 1955 than 2015. It's time for new Black leadership. We need leaders like Sian Morson, who programmed the Around the Way app to locate Black-owned businesses using GPS. Women like Maggie Anderson, who spent one year buying only from Black-owned businesses. Men like Ron Busby, who is an advocate for Black-owned businesses nationally. Perhaps our Black leaders have not failed us. Perhaps it is simply time for a changing of the guard to usher in a new era of progressive thought and action with a core focus on economics for Blacks in America.