By Jarrett Carter, Sr.
Ideas can be life-changing. Sometimes all you need to open the door is just one more good idea. – Jim Rohn
Oprah Winfrey (pictured above) – The only African American billionaire & HBCU alum. Her most recent Forbes’ net worth is $2.9 billion. Who will be the next HBCU alumni to join her?
Colleges With The Most Billionaire Alum & Combined Wealth:
- Harvard – 52; combined wealth of $205 billion
- Pennsylvania – 28; combined wealth of $112 billion
- Stanford – 27; combined wealth of $76 billion
- New York – 17; combined wealth of $68 billion
- Columbia – 15; combined wealth of $96 billion
- M.I.T. – 15; combined wealth of $114 billion
- Cornell – 14; combined wealth of $35 billion
- Southern California – 14; combined wealth of $32 billion
- Yale – 13; combined wealth of $77 billion
- Cambridge – 11; combined wealth of $48 billion
Last year, Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough asked newly minted (allegedly) billionaire Dr. Dre about the missing love for historically Black colleges and universities following a sizable gift he made to the University of Southern California. The question was legitimate from most cultural angles – how does a Black man who made money making Black music for Black audiences boost the endowment of a predominantly white university?
But the question also demands a broader perspective on Black wealth and how it is created. Dr. Kimbrough’s argument was for the sake of Black wealth remaining in Black ecosystems of wealth creation. The center of those ecosystems, of course, is the Black college. But can the Black college serve as an economic engine powerful enough to create the next billionaire, or handful of billionaires?
On its surface, the answer would appear to be a resounding ‘no’. The HBCU was borne out of a white elitist obligation to make of former slaves and their descendants the teachers, preachers, and farmers that would serve as a generational of professional midwives to a humble, quiet existence amid the burgeoning industrial revolution. Along the way, HBCUs evolved into institutions where African-Americans would train to become physicians, engineers, combat heroes, scientists, lawyers, and pastors – all of the makings of a generation of emerging wealth for Black communities.
But as that generation was coming of age in industrial and financial independence, the nation again divided on the common problem of race, requiring the whole of its brain trust to dedicate mind and money to the cause of equity for all. At the end of the battle, desegregation was won. But the casualty of the battle was the cultural allegiances that birthed innovation and productivity for Black communities, and took the precious, dwindling commodity of racial pride out into predominantly white companies, neighborhoods, and values.
Today, the HBCU attracts but a portion of the best and the brightest from Black America; the rest remain lured by the false promises of diversity, equal opportunity, and post-racial societal ease. The training, nurturing, and programmatic development of the HBCUs falls on only a small segment of Black America’s collective and emerging intellectual capital. The youth are fractured, their networks are frayed and the genius that is unbridled innovation is capped by the promise of a six-figure job at a firm or company that, in rare cases, is owned by an African-American. To the last point, there are 5.7 million American firms with paid employees, but African Americans only own 1.9 percent of them.
The question is not if an HBCU can create a billionaire, but rather, can an HBCU create the network that helps to spawn billionaire potential? Facebook was founded, in part, by a group of friends at Harvard. Apple was founded by a group of college students. In fact, Silicon Valley was founded by Stanford University and originally known as Stanford Research Park. Other notable companies that have come out of colleges Google, Microsoft, Dell, and FedEx. Sam Walton and Jeff Bezos, titans of retail, were able to begin their careers thanks to sizable loans from family. The latter founded Amazon with a $300 000 loan from his parents.
Do HBCU students, families, and communities have the kind of commitment to pooling human and financial resources to cultivating substantial wealth? The answer is yes; but have HBCUs been built and marketed to serve as the incubators for this kind of thinking and development? Based upon current teaching, social and cultural structures on the Black college campus, the answer is no.
And that is something even Dr. Dre can’t cure.
I think this is great article! I am glad someone is looking at this from a different perspective. Wealth building has always been an issue within our communities, primarily because this is something that is not taught at an early age. Furthermore, when you look at those who have created billion dollar companies while still in school, most of them came from some type of affluent background to which their hobbies turned into billion dollar companies. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs grew up with computers in their homes, which gave the an advantage in terms of learning their basic operations and computer coding. This helped them to become giants in the computer technology industry. If we want to produce more young African Americans who will become the next Bill Gates (billionaire) I think our HBCUs need to think outside of the box by investing in our youth at an early age, especially through STEM programming. Furthermore, the green industry is constantly growing and evolving and I have yet to see an HBCU jump on this trend yet. Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) have already created entire departments to prepare students for green collar jobs (a phrase coined by Van Jones). Finally, as I mentioned before, wealth building is not taught in our communities and I believe our HBCUs need to focus on this more through early intervention. Oprah learned the hard way and she took advantage of her success and built a media empire, which is something that she did not learn at Tennessee State University. If I were her, I would develop a partnership with TSU to create a wealth building program and fully fund it! (wishful thinking) Again…great article. I hope someone at an administrative level at one of our HBCUs reads this and will take that first step!
The “only” black billionaire in the U.S. is Oprah, an HBCU alum. Not far behind is Sean P-Diddy Combs, an HBCU alum, whose net worth exceeds $700m. Hence, the question presented by this article can only be viewed in its provocative context. That said, while there are many black multi-millionaires (stemming from HBCUs, PWI, or from the Sports & Entertainment ranks), there is no evidence that would suggest that blacks who attend PWIs (Ivies or otherwise) have or will become billionaires based upon their educational pedigree. This fact is evidenced by the “large number” of Blacks who fail to populate the Forbes 400 annually.
The 2012 Forbes’ list of “The Richest African Americans” includes FOUR (4) HBCU alums (H.J. Russell, Tuskegee; Janice Bryant, NC A&T). Sadly, most of the remaining individuals on the list are athletes and entertainers.
Why are there more black billionaires in Africa? In Africa, the billionaires did not obtain their wealth from the Sports & Entertainment Industries. Instead, they participated in other commercial industries such as the oil & gas sector, or the mining industry. When “that” question is answered we may see more black billionaires in the U.S.
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The time has come for us to stop using European centered, focused culture as the measuring stick and/or formula to evaluate the status of our economic prosperity, our educational institutions and our family value systems.
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WE CAN; AND WE WILL.
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