Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
As many Black Americans celebrated Juneteenth this year — a holiday and tradition that has been present in our communities for generations — we were also rightly cautious coming off last year’s national reckoning on racism in America, where many allies, large corporations and others claimed to be in solidarity with us and committed to dismantling systemic racism. This happened against the backdrop of a health pandemic that disproportionately infected us, killed us and put us out of work and school.
Dismantling systemic racism means building multi-generational wealth in Black communities. Why? Because wealth in America equals opportunity — the opportunity to thrive, create our own destinies and live freely. In the last year, we’ve seen philanthropy and corporate wealth pledge significant resources in pursuit of addressing systemic racism. According to a study by Creative Investment Research, companies pledged about $50 billion in support of civil rights organizations and toward diversity, equity and inclusion work last year. But sadly, most of that has been lip service and not enough action. (Only $250 million of that manifested.) And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the lack of action: we have seen economic uncertainty upfront and its disproportionate impact on our lives. Single Black women have a median wealth of $101 compared to white men under the age of 35 — a 224.2 times difference.
Black communities have seen this all before, but it’s time we stop waiting for large corporations, white allies and others to save us. We need bold solutions — and we are the solution we seek.
Building multi-generational wealth requires deep investments in Black woman leadership. For Black women, we have for too long been pushed to the margins of this nation and forgotten about in almost every facet of society from housing to health care to policing to public education and beyond. And yet, when we are in positions of power it is proven that we fight for the interests and policies that protect Black people and all underserved communities. We are burdened by student debt even though we earn 71% of master’s and 65% of doctoral degrees. We are pushed out of the workforce and only two of us are Fortune 500 CEOs, yet we always drive economic and electoral power nationally.
Black women have registered and voted at higher rates than their male counterparts in every election since 1998 — yet there are zero Black women governors and zero Black women U.S. Senators. We need more Black women in positions up and down the ballot — and leading every effort from health care to science to technology to criminal justice and everything in between.
Black women have been critical to creating pathways to multi-generational wealth. Many more people now know the story of Black Wall Street and the resulting violence that wiped away generations of wealth and success for Black people not just in Tulsa but across the nation. But many may not know that Black women were part of that story, too. Loula Williams owned the Dreamland Theatre in Tulsa. She and her husband, John, also owned an auto repair shop and purchased Greenwood’s first car. Loula also owned The Williams Confectionery, a store that sold candy and ice cream and was the site of marriage proposals and a space for young people. Their prosperity was a pathway to justice for all of us, including for Black women.
Painfully, the flames of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre still burn today — a systemic example of the ripple effect of injustice both in Tulsa and across the country. Almost 70 years since Brown v. Board of Education and America’s schools are more segregated than ever. In Tulsa, schools are incredibly segregated. Black students often attend schools in high-poverty areas and experience disproportionate rates of chronic absenteeism and dropouts. Black students in Tulsa are suspended from school much more frequently than white students. Nationally, Black students in Pre-K are almost four times as likely to be suspended as white peers.
The legacy of policing and not protecting our communities continues as well. In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, martial law was declared and the National Guard arrested anyone Black who wasn’t already imprisoned. And today, we continue to witness the horrific impact of police violence on Black people. In Tulsa, over one-third of the city’s budget typically goes to funding police. And the redlining practices that affected Tulsa in 1921 still impact Black Americans today with ongoing fair housing fights.
Loula’s taken legacy and Tulsa’s taken legacy represent an urgent need to reset the conversation on what it means to create multi-generational wealth in Black communities. Wealth is more than just money. Wealth is also about what has been taken from us, including our land, civil rights and prosperity. If Tulsa had been able to thrive alone without white violence, we might very well be having a different conversation about the racial wealth gap.
But today we are fighting for our ability to be socially mobile and invest resources back into our communities and families. It’s about our leadership, our ownership and our existing power. Black women deserve to be valued and to live a good, fulfilling life that includes resources but also the basic right to breathe — that means changing policy on the systems that continue to fail us including criminal justice, health care and public education.
We need social justice across every field and industry that centers our experiences and creates the policy changes we need simply to live. That means Black women must be in positions of power across our society. This is why I founded The Highland Project — a coalition of Black women working to address the racial wealth gap — to serve as a tool to bolster and leverage our efforts to change the trajectory of our lives when it comes to creating multi-generational wealth. We are the solution we need with our innovations, our creativity, our brilliance and our power. By investing in cohorts of phenomenal women every year from all sectors with capital and community support, we are closing the racial wealth gap one Black woman at a time and creating a coalition that is working to protect and invest in our future.
Throughout our nation’s history, Black women have often organized to support others. But real, meaningful work must be led by us, too. Together, we have infinite power to do so.
Gabrielle Wyatt is the founder of The Highland Project, an organization focused on building and sustaining a pipeline of Black women leading communities, institutions and systems, resulting in the creation of multi-generational wealth and change in their communities.