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Photograph: Sue Ogrocki/AP

September 9, 2020 – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom-X must be looking down on us fifty years later wondering if much has changed in America. Racism and discrimination against Blacks is well and alive. Racism has been in America from its beginning and will continue to exist. One of the ways to address racism is for the Black community to take control over its destiny and take care of its own. That will require a focus on Black economic empowerment and self-sufficiency as advocated by Dr. King and Malcom-X. One possible solution towards economic empowerment and self-sufficiency is through an Adopt-a-Zip-Code program. A zip-code represents about 10,000 people, which is large enough to develop a self-sufficient community yet small enough to manage.

The idea calls for successful Black Americans to come together and provide their know-how, resources, and wealth to help Black majority Zip-codes. They can be called Black Empowerment Leaders (BEL), defined as the top 1% of the Black Americans in terms of income and wealth. The goal is to start community banks, build manufacturing facilities, schools, grocery stores, and whatever it takes to make their Zip-code self-sufficient by adopting it. This program would show the people in Black majority Zip-codes that someone cares and that education and hard work does pay off. There is no shortcut to success in life, and having a real-life successful person from their own ethnicity mentoring them would trump any government program out there.

There are at least seven self-made Black billionaires and about one million black millionaires in America. Surely, we can find about 5,000 (one for every 10,000 Black Americans) of them to dedicate their time, money, and influence to change Black lives by adopting a Zip-code. Some of them have enough wealth where they can afford to give one year or more of their time to help their respective communities. They can make their adopted Zip-code to be the next Greenwood.

Mr. O.W. Gurley moved to Tulsa in Oklahoma in 1906 and bought 40 acres of land. Along with other Black entrepreneurs, he named it Greenwood. According to historian Hannibal Johnson, Mr. Gurley’s “vision was to create something of black people by black people… Greenwood was perceived as a place to escape oppression—economic, social, political oppression—in the Deep South. It was an economy born of necessity”.

Greenwood, a community of 10,000, was the best example of Black Empowerment set almost hundred years ago. It was one of the most affluent African American communities in America and was known as Black Wall Street in those days. There is no reason that this cannot be accomplished in this day and age with Black American economic power.

Black Americans represent $1.4 trillion in purchasing power, which would place them, as the 14th largest economy in the world by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is almost equal to the Russian GDP. Purchasing power is defined as the total personal income after taxes to buy products and services. The sheer size of this purchasing power can translate into more than 8 million jobs if spent in the Black community.

The basic premise of Adopt-a-Zip-Code is that Black Empowerment Leaders would commit at least one year of their lives to this endeavor and adopt a Zip-code. Just like adopting a child they would commit to see through that their Zip-code succeed and becomes self-sufficient. Ideally they would physically move into their adopted Zip-code, if possible, or at least have an office showing their commitment to that community.

Many athletes, musicians, and actors that fit the BLE definition were born in poverty and are giving back and making investments in their communities. Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, and Denzel Washington are among them. They are the embodiment of the American dream and serve as roles models for future generations. But that has not been enough to change Black American lives in any significant way.

The economic empowerment of the Black community will require a laser-like focus and commitment from the Black Empowerment Leaders. It demands a comprehensive effort by the BLEs to pool their resources individually and collectively to make their community self-sufficient. Once they become intentional, we can expect to witness hundreds of Greenwoods flourishing all across America. They can serve as a model for other communities to follow.

The BLEs would bring their talents and money to bear and focus on education, entrepreneurship, and mentoring while amplifying the human talents of their Zip-codes. One of the first priorities would be to keep as much of their $1.4 trillion in Black purchasing power in their community as possible. One way to keep that money inside the community is by helping local Black entrepreneurs to start companies, build manufacturing facilities and other businesses with the goal of creating jobs and spend it within their community. This could be accomplished by BLEs investing their own money or bringing outside private investments to establish community banks who then can lend money to local businesspersons. In some cases, business cooperatives can be developed where BLEs can invest themselves and bring in venture capitalists to provide seed money or loans to rising Black entrepreneurs.

The development of human capital is an integral part of building a self-sufficient community. Therefore, the establishment of educational and vocational institutions is vital. This can be achieved by either fixing non-performing public schools in their Zip-code or establishing alternative private schools to provide the best state of the art education to the next generation if public schools fail to do so. Vocational schools can serve as a bridge for adults to learn new skill sets for the 21st century in congruence with their interests and to earn a decent living.

As jobs are being created, the focus can move towards establishing the service sector to keep the money within the community. They could be beauty-salons, fitness centers, grocery stores, restaurants, logistics centers, and retail outlets among others so that the money can stay within the community. That money can recycle many times over and serve as an engine towards self-sufficiency.

For decades Black Americans have been trying to get the seat at the table where decisions about their lives are being made.

Wouldn’t it be better for Black Americans to set the table themselves so that they can make decisions about their own future and destiny?