I am neither the anointed nor self-appointed Voice of African Americans. My opinions are varied and constantly evolving, because life is ever changing. However, one subject has remained fundamentally the same during my lifetime and far proceeding it: the need for self-sufficiency and self-empowerment in the African American community.

I have been to many cities in this country, north, south, east and west. Every place is different, with its own distinct flavor and personality. Yet, so many share some very unfortunate similarities. African American communities around this country are substantially not economically controlled by African Americans.

Of course we own businesses, but we hardly control the economic infrastructure within such communities. For example; there are few black owned banks still in existence. The commercial landlords in our communities are often not African American. We may own some of the corner stores, but rarely are the supermarkets owned or operated by African Americans. In many of the bigger cities, like New York, we do not even control or own the majority of the jewelry stores we shop at or the sneaker and/or clothing stores along with many of the hair care and beauty supply stores that we patronize.

The Nielsen Company produced a study that showed the 43 Million African Americans in the United States to have projected purchasing power of over 1 Trillion Dollars per year. Studies and statistics are often confusing and manipulated, but the fact is we are known consumers who need to recognize this fact and the power associated with spending that type of money.

This call to action is hardly original. When we realize the economic power we hold we enact real and lasting change within our communities. We need to invest in our communities. We need to spend our money in our communities. We need to force multi-national companies that come into our community to do so either through African American franchisees or upper management. We need to form multi-national companies that are African American owned.

I can already hear some of the detractors talking about why are we are calling for separatism. I respectfully call BS to those claims. Why must we apologize or stand defensive to calls to spend and patronize within our own. Name another ethnic or religious minority in this country that makes that apology. Hispanic neighborhoods are owned, controlled and patronized by their own. The same goes for various Asian groups. Koreatown, Chinatown, etc, thrive in their accommodation to the needs of their community. Look at Jews historically. To the extent that they have faced discrimination and prejudices, they stuck together, often combining their resources. They garnered respect, however begrudgingly (and eventual near total assimilation).

I am no economist, but the long-term benefits of African Americans, truly investing in their own communities are obvious. We are spending, that much is a fact. If a majority of those dollars are spent in our communities, with businesses owned or controlled by African Americans, then you will simply have more successful and affluent African American business and in turn individuals. More successful business should then mean greater employment of African Americans.

The ancillary benefits are less obvious, but no less important. A thriving African American community brings pride. The unemployment rate for African-Americans was 10.4 percent (We know that number is significantly higher when you factor in the chronically unemployed who have given up even trying to seek employment and are no longer even factored into those statistics), while the comparable rates for Whites, Hispanics and Asians were 4.7 percent, 6.6 percent and 4.0 percent, in that order, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last March. Those numbers are significantly higher for African American youth ages 16-20. People working instills self pride and a greater sense of community which then can lead to people having greater pride in their community. It is all circular logic for sure, but none of this is inherently complicated. Listen to the reverence people speak about Harlem back in the day. It was a utopia of self-reliance. Times and Harlem have changed. We are not as excluded from the rest of the city and society as we once were, and Harlem may not even be predominately African American anymore (between Dominican and Whites).

However, the concept and theory still remains. We must embrace our economic power and mobility and enhance our neighborhoods. If you live outside of a predominately African American neighborhood, unity still comes into effect by returning, when possible, to spend and invest in those neighborhoods. If not possible, make a conscientious effort to seek out and patronize African American businesses. This is not separatism in any form. A back to Africa movement nor a separation of the races is being called. Instead it is patronage of community that every other ethnic and religious group embarks on without question or hesitation.

We must remain vigilant in our quest to be more self sufficient as people. Not only less dependent but, striving to thrive. We must remain unapologetic in our quest for self-empowerment. Only an understanding of our economic strength and a redirecting of those dollars will make the establishment take notice of our true arrival and equality.

Richard Ray


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