Fostering Black entrepreneurship

Armstrong Williams | 4/19/2013, 10:09 a.m.
If you do a search of the wealthiest Black businessmen, the results may not come...
At Thanksgiving, embracing the winds of change and increasing our faith

If you do a search of the wealthiest Black businessmen, the results may not come as a surprise to you. The list is dominated by athletes and entertainment figures. In fact, only two names consistently come up that are what you would consider traditional businessmen: Robert Johnson (worth $550 million) and Donahue Peebles ($350 million).

Oprah Winfrey heads the list with a net worth of $2.8 billion, followed by the likes of Sean Combs with $550 million; Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson each clock in around $500 million; and Jay-Z is estimated to be worth around $460 million.

Those numbers may seem impressive--and this is not to take away the business acumen of Sean Combs and Jay-Z--but if you compare them to the richest, they are paltry. Oprah is only the 502nd richest person. The big names at the top of the list include Carlos Slim Helu ($78 billion), Bill Gates ($67 billion) and Warren Buffett ($53.5 billion). In looking at the list, I cannot help but notice not only a huge difference in the amount of wealth, but also the industries: telecom, tech, fashion, investing, energy, etc. vs. entertainment professions.

This tells me several things: First, there is a lack of role models in the Black business community. When athletes, musicians and Oprah dominate your list, they are representing fields of employment that are not only extremely hard to break into, but the chances for success are rare as well. It is almost akin to winning the lottery because there is no real formula you can follow to become Michael Jordan--you either have the genetics to supplement the drive or you don't.

Second, potential business role models are not making themselves visible enough to the youth to show an alternate and more viable path. You see Gates and Buffett in the news all the time; Robert and Shelia Johnson rarely appear on mainstream news outlets to publicize their efforts and beliefs.

White, Latino and Asian kids are constantly exposed to examples of young entrepreneurs creating new businesses (especially tech) and making millions. In these communities, we have seen an explosion you could call the "Era of the Nerd." It is cool to be smart, invent something and make an insane fortune. Sometimes you don't even have to be smart--just savvy, persistent, hard-working or even simply support the right person. All of these examples come with the knowledge that you have to buckle down, work hard and be on the constant lookout for better opportunities and enhancing your business mentors. And your reward is not simply making a fortune for your self, but also creating employment and wealth for thousands of other people and possibly revolutionizing the world.

On the flip side, many Black communities see the "get rich quick" idea. Become a pro athlete and make a million by the time you are 22. Become a rapper or singer and maybe you'll get discovered. Become an actor and hope you get cast in that star-making role. Or, notoriously, turn to crime and get rich even quicker, even if your life expectancy drops dramatically, as does your chances of avoiding jail time. We can focus on the barriers to entry, differences in education and class or a myriad of other problems our community faces--or we can find solutions.