Civil Rights Movement: Financial Literacy For African Americans

The Civil Rights Movement happened decades ago and we still are living on many of its fruits today. But now it’s time to go to the next level, and I have one tool in mind that will take us there and beyond.

Decades ago, hundreds of champions gathered to march through the streets of the South. The marchers were dressed to the nines: the men had on their suits, ties, and hats, the women wore their finest Sunday dresses, and they all had on their walking shoes. Some held up signs that stated their purpose.  As they carried on, putting one font in front of the other, they knew that they were bound to face opposition – but they kept walking anyway.

Firemen with water hoses and dogs, angry men with clubs, police with tear gas, and the threat of being beaten and jailed was not enough to keep these folks from pursuing their dream of freedom. And they did so relentlessly.

Even though legal discrimination is long gone, remnants of racism still remain.  But that will never negate the fact that Black Americans sure have come a long way since the days of the Civil Rights Movement.

Recent events have shown us that African Americans are still willing to stand up for what they believe in.  They still have the burn to be treated fairly, to be acknowledged, regarded, and esteemed in the same way that other cultures are.

Ever heard the old phrase “Money talks”? Well it’s true.

I believe that financial literacy for blacks today can catapult African Americans forward in the same way that the Civil Rights Movement did.

Trust me on this.

Let’s go back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. It was one of the events that spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement and positioned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as its leader. You know the story… a tired Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person, she was jailed, and in response blacks refused to ride the buses.

During the boycott, the blacks in the community walked to work, rode bikes, caravanned, and even organized their own taxis.  It wasn’t easy or convenient at first, but they pressed through until the end. Eventually, a Supreme Court decision ruled that segregation in public transportation was unconstitutional, the boycott ended and blacks were allowed back on the buses to sit wherever they so pleased.

But what would have happened if the bus boycott did not make it to the Supreme Court?  Consider this:  99% of blacks stopped riding the buses.  This equated to an estimated 65-80% revenue loss for the public transit. The loss in revenue was choking the transit company and although they wanted give in to recoup the money, the city of Montgomery threatened to arrest any bus driver that allowed blacks to sit in the front.

But how long would this have gone on before the city of Montgomery would have felt the effects of a fallen public transit system and needed to relent to avoid a terrible domino effect in the city’s budget? It is possible that we could have desegregated the buses with our purchasing power alone.

A Nielsen study says that the purchasing power of blacks was $646 billion in 2002, and it rose to $800 billion in 2007. But you won’t believe what it is today –– it is a stellar $1 trillion!

Like our mothers, fathers, and grandparents did in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, today we can use our money and our knowledge of our money to get to where we desire to be.

Financial literacy is simply the ability to make informed financial decisions and to analyze money matters. The financial terms and jargon that you hear are not just for Wall Street brokers – they are for you to know too. You can bring Wall Street to Main Street!

Financially literate individuals get the most bang out of their buck, they have a bigger bottom line, and that bottom line keeps growing. Financial literacy is empowering to the people that possess it, and it is a powerful tool to have at the ready.

We must always remember that education does not end with a diploma or a degree. In fact, we rarely learn financial literacy in school, and for many of us we didn’t learn it at home either. You will have to take initiative to take steps towards financial literacy yourself, read books on finances, follow credible financial gurus, attend workshops, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. What you don’t know can hurt you. (But I’m likely preaching to the choir, because you have already taken steps by reading this blog.)

Once your own financial house is in order, you will be empowered to use your money to influence your community, to give, and to invest in what matters most to you.

We are called to be the lenders and not the borrowers, the head and not the tail, above and not beneath. (Deuteronomy 8:12-13)  When we become financially free, we become champions, we can take control over our own future, and we gain the power all the more to dictate our desired outcome instead of relinquishing that power to someone else. When that happens, we can go back like the great Harriet Tubman did and teach others who are still strangled in debt, crisis, poverty, and financial illiteracy to do the same.

This, my friend, is how a movement begins: one person does something great, and goes back to teach others.  Those others do the same, and the cycle continues. Do you care to join me?

My mission is to help create one million millionaires. You can be one, and so can your children, your brothers and sisters, even Uncle Juni, and your neighbor too!  We can help move our people forward by making one of the greatest investments – in our minds – and how we so wisely think about and handle our money.



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