The Economic Empowerment Series

Part III
Barack Obama’s Lessons on Economic Justice

Never before in our country has economic empowerment in minority communities been more vital.

But in order to be empowered financially, it is important that we develop a well-thought-out approach to economic freedom. It will not happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and understanding. 

So, in what direction can we look in order to gain the wisdom necessary to achieve our economic goals?

We can look to the past and follow the words and actions of a few of the greatest minority advocates that our world has ever seen, one of which is President Barack Obama, who once shared his thoughts on how to fight for economic justice.

Rely on History

We know that we are bound to repeat history if we don’t study it.

Many of the most overt forms of racial discrimination and bias have faded, but yawning economic gaps have persisted since 1963, and there has been essentially no narrowing of the unemployment gap between blacks and whites.

Fifty years ago, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Today, it is 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks.

Over the past 30 years, the average white family has gone from having five times as much wealth as the average black family to 6.5 times as much wealth, according to the Urban Institute.

We can look to history to research the strategies that have worked and the ones that have not. 

Speak Out

Obama made fighting economic inequality a central goal of his presidency. He delivered forceful speeches and advocated policies aimed at shrinking the income gap and increasing social mobility.

Speaking honestly about income inequality among poor people in the U.S. galvanizes the masses. Using your platform to espouse your personal experiences connects people. It has the potential to break people out of melancholy existences.

It’s easy to look at our collective circumstances and feel that things are a certain way, and they always will be. But having someone with a platform, or more locally, the informed words of someone who has garnered the respect of your attention, is electric.

Speaking out forces everyone to confront the idea that the playing field is not even, it never was, and it must be changed.

Gain Skills and Add Value

According to William Julius Wilson, a Harvard University professor whose writings on race and class have influenced Obama for years, “The implications in navigating the forces that drive economic inequality, are greatest for African Americans.” 

In another quote Mr Wilson says:

“If you don’t have skills or a decent education in this global economy, your chances for mobility are limited. The problem is especially acute for low-skilled black males, and many turn to crime and end up in prison, which further marginalizes them and decreases their employment opportunities.”

Hard skills can never be taken from you. They stay with you everywhere you go. They infinitely increases your opportunities to add value.