As the nation approaches another election season, concerns about the economy are top of mind. Americans are grappling with a range in financial challenge, from mounting debt to limited savings. Out of necessity, historically underserved communities are finding way to normalize conversations about economic empowerment and money management due to the racial wealth gap.
According to 2020 U.S. census data, the median net worth of Black households is only $18,430, which is the lowest among any race or ethnicity in America. In comparison, the median net worth of all U.S. households is about 7.6 times higher than black net worth. Additionally, a startling statistic by the organization Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies, predicts that the median wealth of Black Americans "will fall to zero by 2053."
ABC Owned Television Stations, in collaboration with Microsoft Philanthropy, present "Our America: In the Black. This hour-long documentary special aims to drive conversations about building financial health and wellness in the Black community.
"The expression, in the black, is commonly heard in the financial world and refers to a company's most recent financial status, generally its last accounting period," according to Investopedia. "When a company is in the black, it is said to be profitable, financially solvent, and not overburdened by debt."
The special follows Microsoft Philanthropic specialist, Darrell Booker, across the nation on his quest to narrow the racial wealth gap through Microsoft's digital inclusion programs. Using the power of technology as a means to transform the economic outlook for small businesses and communities that have been disproportionately affected by economic disparities, Booker shines a light on organizations and individuals Microsoft supports in Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta that are actively assisting individuals at various life stages on their path to economic mobility.
"Within our philanthropies division, we're committed to leveling the playing field to put in the power behind the back of these organizations using our data and technology," Booker said. "And I hope all the nonprofits take advantage of our tech acceleration program."
Dr. Jatali Bellanton, known as Dr J, is a neuropsychologist specializing in mental and financial health. She joins Booker by serving as a financial expert throughout the special, offering audiences insights and tips toward what she describes as financial liberation.
As Booker embarks on his nationwide journey, he remains unwavering in his pursuit of uplifting individuals who are often overlooked by society, such as foster care students aspiring to attain higher education.
The first part of the special focuses on economically disadvantaged students looking to break the cycle of poverty by attending college. Booker's first stop is in Los Angeles, California, where he is introduced to Hannah, an excelling foster care student enrolled in Educating Students Together, a college access program that empowers economically disadvantaged students to pursue and achieve their college education dreams debt-free. The program, founded by Yasmin and Greg Delahoussaye, utilized Microsoft's acceleration program to scale their impactful nonprofit.
Recognizing Hannah's passion for STEM, specifically mechanical engineering, Yasmin and Greg advocated for Hannah to share her story in the special.
"Ever since I was young, I've always done things that involves building or drawing something I'm trying to build," Hannah said. "And I really didn't realize what like an engineer meant to be until I was in high school."
With the desire to attend Howard University's College of Engineering and Architecture, Booker arranges a surprise trip for Hannah to the prestigious HBCU, where they have the privilege of meeting the esteemed, award-winning actress Dean Phylicia Rashad and Associate Dean Denise Saunders-Thompson. They educate Hannah about the legacy and rich history where, since its inception, faculty worked in the hopes of disrupting the cycle of generational poverty.
"When my father was here in 1945, the instructors who taught them couldn't be hired at Harvard, or Yale," Rashad said. "So they taught in historically Black universities and colleges. And one of his classmates told me, he said, 'Most of us had come from poverty. And we were determined never to go back.'"
Feeling inspired and invigorated following the meeting, Hannah prepares to return to Los Angeles, but is met with another surprise from Booker. They have been invited to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida, where they are scheduled to meet with Disney castmembers Raevon Redding, Sr. Communications Specialist, and Dayna Lee Libby, Outreach and Engagement Director. The purpose of the meeting is to gain insight about Disney on the Yard, a program that was established to deepen engagement and relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
In partnership with HBCUs around the country, the program has strengthened its commitment to develop internships, mentorship, and career growth opportunities for HBCU graduates and Black talent. Libby explains how the internship program equips HBCU help the students to learn the basic foundations of financial literacy to prepare them for real world. Redding, who served as The Walt Disney World Ambassador at the time, takes Hannah on a VIP tour around the Disney World theme parks to expose her to the all the rides that required the skillsets of a mechanical engineer.
"To hear that Disney on the Yard helps actually with finances is really amazing," Hannah said. "Because then it's like, I'm [going to] get to learn what everyone else gets to learn. I'm [going to] be able to create the generational wealth that all the other people have that I really want to have also."
The exposure to the prospects of attending Howard and participating in the Disney on the Yard program leaves Hannah feeling empowered, motivated, and determined in her pursuit of obtaining a debt-free higher education.
Booker's next stop takes the audience to Brooklyn, New York where Darrell spotlights the nonprofit organization RISE. According to RISE CEO Diahann Billings-Burford, the mission of the nonprofit is to educate and empower the sports community, eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations. Billings-Burford connects Booker to Angel Mercedes, a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic who came to America in search of better opportunities and economic mobility.
Mercedes is a participant in a leadership program at Good Shepherd Services, which is Brooklyn Nets star Ben Simmon's foundation, which partners with RISE. He shares that he started his financial wellness journey through the guidance of Good Shepherd Services Economic Mobility mentor Ray Reinoso, who also has Dominican Republic roots. Reinoso talks about the significance of the work they do, particularly because of the alarming predictions about the median wealth of Black and Latino households falling to zero in coming decades if money management trends in the community do not change.
"It's very obvious that there is an inherent inequality in the way our Black and Latino families are being impacted," Reinoso said. "And one way that we really want to challenge that is through career exposure and career exploration. The program connects youth to paid internships in addition to providing weekly financial literacy programs."
Impressed with Mercedes and Reinoso, Booker arranges a meeting between them and Drew Hawkins, a renowned financial expert in the sports world and CEO and founder of Edyoucore. His company specializes in financial literacy for athletes and entertainers to educate them in financial literacy in efforts to ensure they make informed financial decisions to protect and enhance their wealth. Dr. J also participated in the discussion, providing Mercedes with actionable steps he can take to start saving and consider early investments in retirement funds.
Booker's journey concludes in Atlanta, Georgia, a city where, per census data, only 9% of businesses in the Atlanta metro area are Black-owned. Despite the small percentage, Darrell expresses his enthusiasm to end the journey in Atlanta due to the potential opportunities the city has created for Black entrepreneurs, merely through the power of community.
"This is a city in a community where Black and Brown people are really thriving, supporting each other, really excited for everyone to succeed and get to that next level." says Booker.
He felt the support for his own success upon moving to Atlanta where he met a few business owners. Onaje Henderson is the co-founder of Zucot Gallery, which encourages the Black community to expand their investment options by collecting art. Terri-Nichelle Bradley founded STEM toy brand Brown Toy Box to break cycles of poverty by allowing children to see themselves in toy characters who love STEM. Both entrepreneurs actively work with Microsoft's programs that support Black-owned businesses.
Recognizing the pivotal role entrepreneurship plays in narrowing the racial wealth gap within the Black community, Booker introduces the audience to Jay Bailey, CEO of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE). This organization prides itself in helping Black small business owners and entrepreneurs to scale their business to generate job opportunities and wealth creation. They attribute their success to facilitating collaborations, investments and mentorship, which Booker believes is critical to the success of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Booker introduces Meagan Naraine, a post-graduate student and co-founder of the startup Culturally Relevant Science, a digital platform which provides STEM education to children from historically underrepresented communities. Naraineco-founded this program with Tamir Mickens.
"If we're getting statistics, like less than 30% of women make up the STEM workforce, or less than 20% of Black kids are pursuing STEM degrees in college than what's already made, it's not working," Naraine said. "So I see our digital platform that we're currently working on being that one stop shop to reach those babies that need the most help."
Booker organizes a roundtable discussion for Naraine to meet with Bailey, Bradley and Henderson. The session is designed to provide valuable mentorship and guidance to Naraine as she navigates the early stages of her company.
As the special ends, Booker emphasizes that the key to building generational wealth is rooted in championing and supporting impactful organizations and programs in our communities across the nation. In essence, it takes a village to get our America in the black.
Start your journey in empowering your community to achieve generational wealth with Microsoft nonprofit resources at www.aka.ms/NTA.
Watch "Our America: In the Black" now in the video player above or wherever you stream this station on Roku, Apple TV, FireTV or Google TV. You can also find the special on Hulu's "Black Stories Always" hub, the ultimate streaming destination for Black stories and storytellers all year round.