If Bill Gates were black, it would be less important that President Barack Obama is black. This is no slight to President Obama. It is an acknowledgment that while the route to success has changed, for too many in the black and minority community, their game plan has not.
For much of the past century, African Americans pursued social justice through government intervention, the ballot box, and ultimately elective office. While the number of black mayors and elected officials in this country is impressive, the number of black entrepreneurs is not. As a result, job creation in underserved communities, and among the black middle class, is stagnant.
The main driver of freedom in the world today is not the vote but self-determination and access to capital. When I speak of capital, I obviously mean financial capital, but I also mean the Latin root word capitas, or “knowledge in the head.” That means financial literacy education, financial capability, and financial and economic empowerment. But you cannot have freedom and self-determination, in the 21st century (an economic age), without an opportunity for and access to some measure of financial freedom.
This means that financial literacy is the new civil rights issue for this generation. Or, put another way: If you don’t understand the global language of money, and if you don’t have a bank or credit union account, you are simply an economic slave.
What Black America needs is a business image of itself that matches its political image.
It needs images of black prosperity that have been attained through hard work, a level playing field, and inspired innovation, leading to products people want to buy. Sure we need jobs, but what we really need are more people like Steve Jobs—or Bill Gates.
Doing this would enable black communities to enjoy the ripple effects we see in Silicon Valley, Cambridge, Mass. (around MIT), Salt Lake City, and other hubs of mainstream entrepreneurship.
We might then build a culture of philanthropy that extends beyond the church, and embraces the idea that our goal is to give back and foster excellence among the next generation. And if Bill Gates were Black, he would be a multi-billionaire that in turn spawned hundreds of Black multi-millionaires. And where do you think their philanthropy would point? Communities with which they have a natural affinity. Boom.
So what about Oprah Winfrey as that role model? Sure. Oprah is a great role model. I have nothing but respect for her, and feel fortunate to know her. I was deeply honored when she awarded me the Use The Life Award on her show, and then even invested $100,000 to help me and Operation HOPE open our first office in Chicago. She walks her talk.
Oprah Winfrey is both a legitimate billionaire and change agent, who has changed the game in her industry and the world, and has done more than her part to make this planet a better place. She has hired and employees enough people to monetize and maximize her brand and run her business, and each of these jobs counts for something. In short, she is a role model for a generation. Particularly women and girls.
That said, what I’m really dreaming about here is a generation of more garden-variety young entrepreneurs, who in turn create tens of thousands of jobs, whose products become integral to the fabric of business and our lives, and most of all ~ whose very success makes young men and women appreciate the merits of school. They're relative and relevant, because they are the guy and girl next door. They make school cool, and success achievable and within reach.
When urban black and brown kids see these entrepreneurs, they think “being smart is cool; maybe I need to stay in school.”
We need to reconnect our American education with America’s aspiration.
And here is another thing. No different than when Bill Gates pivoted from being a successful entrepreneur and businessman, to being a game-changing global philanthropist, if Bill Gates were Black, he would be the fire-starter for hundreds of millions of dollars of private sector philanthropy, and hopefully thousands of youth business internships too.
All focused on third world countries right here in America. Our own poor urban, rural and underserved communities. Underserved communities like the one a Black Bill Gates might have actually grew up in.
At Operation HOPE we are trying to do our part. We have launched the HOPE 700 Credit Score initiative for communities where average credit scores of 500 to 550 doom them to the indignity of predatory subprime lenders, check cashers, title lenders, payday loans, and rent-to-own-stores.
We’re also teaching underserved youth financial literacy, along with a primer in entrepreneurship, seeding hope with 25 businesses that any youth can start with $500 or less. We call this HOPE Business-In-A-Box. And this is what we need more of—now.
So, what if Bill Gates were actually Black?
If Bill Gates were Black, my bet is we would have a lot fewer Ferguson, Missouri-type challenges here in America, as the root issue there is not race, but poverty.
It's a lack of jobs and of job creators, which are in turn small business owners, and local entrepreneurs. It's dying local GDP, dying opportunity and faltering economic growth. It's a lack of hope.
The problem in Ferguson, Missouri, is no different than the problem in the Middle East. Too many frustrated young people with nothing productive to do, or to look forward too. Why do Palestinian youth throw rocks at Israelis? Why not, is probably part of their answer.
Let me ask you the reader this question. Does anyone really believe that God only placed Bill Gates and Steve Jobs level talent, intellect and genius only in upper income, mainstream American suburbs? Of course not, is my answer.
This same genius, is literally everywhere.
But without the self-esteem and personal self-confidence, the proper business role models and role modeling, the environment for success and achievement, along with the aspiration (a code word for hope) and the opportunity, this same genius emerges in the form of what I call a brilliant illegal entrepreneur; think drug dealers. Or alternatively, the illegal union founder; think gang organizers.
I think it's fantastic that we celebrate the fact that President Barack Obama is the first Black President. It doesn't just say something about him, it says something good about America. And I am honored to serve him and America, as a young Black man too. But imagine this...
If Bill Gates were Black, the ripple effects could literally transform a generation, and help put a grossly under-utilized national asset (young Black and Brown youth) to work, rebuilding a nation for good.
One could even argue that having a Black Bill Gates around would have made being America's first Black President a somewhat easier lift. The President's My Brother's Keeper initiative, for instance, would have had very serious backup, job creation support.
While there is only one U.S. President at a time, and less than 50 in all of U.S. history (and all, generally unpopular while President too), you could literally have as many entrepreneurship-to-philanthropy leaders as you have people in America. This is only limited by how big we can dream.