To whom much is given, medicine dosage much is required is a biblical principle. Lift as we climb is a call to reach back to give someone else a hand up or a way out and each one teach one underscores the power of giving back to others the knowledge that you have been given. Wealth inequality in America is out of control- a 30-year high. Since 1984 the racial wealth gap in the African American community has increased four-fold. This is according to a policy brief from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy in May 2010; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supported this research. The research uses the 23-year period beginning in 1984 to 2007 for the study.
Wealth is determined by what you make minus what you owe. This allows you to have money for homeownership, cure to send children to college, start a business and make investments towards the future. The government has created incentives in public policies and programs to help people to grow their assets and build wealth into the future because it is an imperative for economic health and stability. It also makes building wealth generationally possible. Unfortunately all citizens do not have equal access or opportunity to benefit from these policies and programs. The study shows that in 23 years the income gap between whites and Blacks increased by 75,000 dollars from 20,000 to 95,000 dollars. In 2007, this disparity was enough to pay 4-years of tuition for 2 children at a four- year public college or university; the wealth gap here assures that opportunity denied means racial economic inequality will persist well into the next generation. As Sojourner Truth said, “…dar is something; outta kilter!”
What can we do about it? Although unemployment remains high for all Americans at 7.9%, for African Americans that number is 13.8% and 23% for youth as compared to 7.0% for adult whites. That is nearly twice as high for Blacks as it is for whites. The ever-increasing gap between the ability to gain economic stability within the African American community continues to be problematic and yet we are the second largest consumer group in the United States. In 2007, we spent over 892 billion dollars combined and now it is closer to 1.1 trillion dollars. I am not discounting the high levels of unemployment, poverty, rates of incarceration, decreased levels of high school graduation or pursuit of higher education; all contribute to the numbers quoted above. Even so, I cannot ignore the fact that we are the nation’s 2nd largest consumer group. Clearly there are resources within our communities. Is it time to ask ourselves where is the money going and why do we continue to live more often than not a paycheck away from devastation?
We need to re-examine our priorities and recognize that “keepin’ up with the Joneses” is killing our future prospects and “consumerism” is a destructive force within our community. We need to use some of the principles our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers lived by and learn to pay cash, save for what we want and only buy what we need. They knew about delayed gratification. They didn’t believe in owing anyone, at least not for long. They paid one debt before making another. Although they didn’t have nearly the opportunities we have been afforded today, they didn’t allow themselves to be entrenched in the bondage of overwhelming and suffocating debt.
Our treasure is in our people, our talent, our ingenuity and resiliency. Our future is in our children and our ability to teach them how to transform skill, knowledge and ingenuity into capitol. We need to pass something on to them that will last – an inheritance. Our young people need mentorship on so many levels. My mantras have always been “I know some things and you know some things but together we know a whole lot more” and “knowledge is not knowledge until you give it away.” It is in that giving that you know that you know…that you Know! Within our community we have expertise and knowledge in every possible area of life, business and art. It is time we make a personal investment of time & treasure in our own community. We need to STOP the consumerism and begin to invest in our collective future. We need to get out of debt and begin to save in order to leave our children an inheritance. Every adult has something to give, to share, to teach. I know this to be true. What can you do to change the statistics that keep us bound? What can you do about the economic dessert of debt and endless consumption without investment? The future of our children and our community depends on your response.
Artistic Director and Founder of The Conciliation Project www.theconciliationproject.org and a Professor of Theatre at VCU