Let me first say, I love my grandma. In fact, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love their grandma. And yet, we live very differently than the generations that have come before us.
The 21st century looks different for entrepreneurs, in particular entrepreneurs of color. And, as the digital global economy evolves, we are learning that entrepreneurship and enterprise are still your best shot at prosperity, systems change, and social equity.
We may live differently than Grandma did, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we live better. And this is our challenge — to make tomorrow more than different, but undeniably better. Here’s why rebuilding America’s Black Wall Streets is the win we’ve all been waiting for.
So, what happened to Tulsa’s Black Wall Street? The story of that terror is best told by Viola Fletcher, a grandmother in her own right, and a 107-year-old survivor of the Tulsa Massacre that demolished one of America’s foremost prominent Black Wall Streets in vibrant Greenwood, Oklahoma. “I have lived through the massacre every day…I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street.” she recounted in a powerful testimony to Congress.
To put it plainly, the form of terrorism Black folks endured in Tulsa was calculated (and state-supported). It did what it was intended to do; embed a permanence of fear and inferiority among Black people. In a visceral poem, AJ Smitherman penned:
“Kill them, burn them, set the pace.
Let them know that we are white men,
Teach them how to keep their place.”
Prior generations of Black Wall Streets across the country withstood violent racism intended to deny wealth-building and equity-based economic participation for their families. This includes redlining and the deliberate financial exclusion of Black banking and Black borrowers, a denial several historically disadvantaged communities still face today. Systemic racism prevented entire generations of Black Americans from building wealth, leaving behind a persistent and devastating racial wealth gap where the median Black family wealth is less than 15% than that of their white counterparts.
Many have tried to blame the Black-White racial wealth gap on Black ineptitude, but that’s misplaced propaganda. The greatest threat to Black wealth, historically, isn’t Black ineptitude; it’s White supremacy.
Creating and sustaining a Black economic ecosystem, where dollars are invested and circulated within a network of Black businesses and entrepreneurs, will look physically different than the Black Wall Streets of the past, thanks to the digital economy.
For example, paying for a vegan hot plate with Apple Pay, menus imprinted using QR codes, online retail, vertically integrated e-commerce, socialized media, digital marketing, streamlined manufacturing in an interconnected global economy, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and last-mile delivery are just a handful of the things that you wouldn’t have found on Black Wall Street back-in-the-day thanks to the internet and advances in technology. The post-pandemic economy sits squarely in this digital world and represents a golden opportunity to finally invite the permanent participation of firms, producers, technologists, and entrepreneurs who are Black, Black-led, and women-led.
In 2020 alone, we lost 41% of Black businesses between the months of February-April. Many of our brick-and-mortar mainstays didn’t survive the economic shutdown, particularly those who weren’t sufficiently tech-enabled. Many of those mom-and-pop shops or small-to-medium size enterprises (SME) have been subsumed under the new everyday economy. The everyday economy is now almost entirely digital, and the central reason we must tech-enable every Black business at little to no cost.
Rebuilding Black Wall Street requires long-overdue repair of many forms. Black communities have incurred compounding negative interest, while their counterparts have enjoyed opportunities to build incredible wealth.
To be clear, repair requires much more than access to capital. And access to capital does not mean high-interest loans or even loans at all. And money itself isn’t the only solution. What access to capital really entails is the relationship or proximity to resources. It means low-cost, affordable capital at every stage in the life cycle of a business. It also means knowledge sharing, access to technology, and proper participation in technology and supply chains. In short, it’s wholesale economic participation for Black entrepreneurs and enterprises.
Repair is also more than Black banking too. Repair requires the engagement of Black-led Venture Capital and Private Equity firms like High Street Equity Partners that are committed to “creating value with more than capital.” Repair is closing the Black-White racial wealth gap could unlock nearly $1.5 Trillion in untapped GDP.
Rebuilding Black Wall Street requires a shift in thinking that asset frames Black business. One that values Black life. Only then will we begin to heal the harm of violently systemic racism and create the opportunity for a world of better for generations to come.
Tristan is the grandson of sharecroppers and church folks. His background is rooted in public policy and political econ. He’s a Capitol Hill alum and campaign veteran-turned-entrepreneur and investor. He leads Think Rubix as Managing Principal and lives in Washington, DC.