Why are there so many Black folks unable to pull their resources together? This is a timeless question, a lot of pleople from all walks of life have been asking themselves, both openly and behind closed doors. I don’t think anyone can offer a definitive answer to that complex question. However, anyone with an analytical mind should understand that a number of oversimplistic answers based on gut feelings alone are potentially upsetting to many, and that the real answers lie in research and scientific studies. Those studies and research should take into account all the necessary variables. However, from an entrepreneurial standpoint, it’s best to start with the ‘person in the mirror’ and then, move on to your upbringing as you take a closer look at your extended family to make the determination whether there was ever a history of pulling resources together and a commitment to always do what’s in every member’s best interest. Entrepreneurship, most of the time, starts with a family structure that’s conducive to continually exploring new opportunities. This is often encouraged by the leadership, head of household or both parents that are the embodiment of fairness and team work. ‘Life is not fair’ is a constant, and equity within a functional family structure can vary but is paramount to its young members learning and developing the core traits of a good entrepreneur. A good entrepreneur makes it a top priority to protect the interests of everyone involved. He/she understands that family comes first. Moreover, he/she grasps the concept that the needs of the many supersede the needs of the few.
My formative years as an entrepreneur took me back when my entire family, with the exception of Judith who was forced to stay in Canada, got to live under the same roof for the first time ever. The year was 1978, and I still remember how excited we all were when we first moved to a five-bedroom house in the surburbs of New York City as one big happy family – i.e., mom, dad, and five siblings. Mom reminded us, teenagers, at every turn, she initiated the idea of buying a house and that she also came up with the down payment. Dad, on the other hand, almost in a whisper, told me on several occasions that his steady employment got us qualified for the mortgage. You see, he has been working at COSTCO Distribution for more than 10 years.
The honeymoon didn’t last long. You had 3 teenage boys and a young adult arguing over almost everything: The TV, what type of music to listen to, and what mom ought to cook for dinner. Mom and “Coye” as we all referred to dad, didn’t take long either to start arguing over the very same things that got them separated in the first place and kept them apart for 10 long years. Their arguments were intense. It seemed more than unresolved issues between husband and wife. The level of animosity between them got so high, it began to affect all of us. It became obvious that mom was settling a score, and they both were fighting over the control of our family. Coye wanted to hold on to traditional family values. But no avail.
In retrospect, spending my formative years in a large family led me to think about ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.’ Specifically, our first needs as human beings are physiological, basic and primal. Mom and the oldest brother, Gardy already in his 20’s, incrementally set the tone in our family based on a ‘modus operandi’ we all find abhorrent when seen in other Blacks but often fail to see in ourselves. It’s never easy to see the plank in our own eye.’ We will give you food, clothing, and shelter and even go the extra mile to help you as long as you take our side of the issue in every argument and accept that we are holding all the cards.’ Mom with the help of Gardy, on a Basketball scholarship at CW Post/Long Island University, relentlessly stayed the course of laying down the law. Consequently, the fights intensified between Mom and Coye and Gardy vs. Gerald-Herby. Looking back, Gardy with nothing but self-centered wants and expectations, tried on too many occasions to apply the power of persuasion to get the second oldest, Gerald-Herby to go along with the program. As a third child, I’d love to think that I became at that time the “voice of reason” between the various factions. I had two younger siblings to worry about. Being protective of my younger brother Nick growing up, is still a source of pride after all these years. Myriam, on the other hand, one of two sisters, and the only one living with us, had four brothers looking after her. It became common knowledge for us whose side to take in an argument. The fights got uglier and messier. Coye quickly realized that he was outnumbered and as a result, became detached and aloof. It appeared that mom was always angry with someone or something, and Gardy, her enabler, kept rationalizing everything by just saying, ‘Coye left me at 11 years old, man!, So I grew up without a father.’ ‘Just remember, who’s providing for you, bruh.’
Gerald-Herby, the second oldest, was considered belligerent for making countless attempts to have some of those family disagreements appraised on merit alone. As in many different cases, when emotions run high, most people are only interested in enlisting others to take their side of the issue whether they’re right or wrong. Far too many people in similar situations are not interested in a third and objective side of any argument for that same reason. Emotional people incessantly make decisions in a vacuum thinking their positions are justifiable because of past wrongs, knowing darn well, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’ You see, that was the norm in our household during those formative years.
By sharing some intimate details about my formative years, I can only hope that readers of this blog post begin to establish the right kind of correlation between a dysfunctional upbringing in some families and its members’ collective inability to pull resources together and having no sense of ‘common good.’ If you don’t learn fairness and equity in your own home growing up where exactly are you supposed to learn this key principle? Additionally, when there is ‘lack of leadership’ or ‘bad leadership,’ players become preoccupied only with their own interests and security. This is what a leadership vacuum looks like. It’s similar to what happens sometimes in American politics. For example, dog whistling and shamelessly blaming a segment of the population that doesn’t have a voice. This why so many families and businesses are hurting. Using a strategy that may get you votes but doesn’t bring about real solutions. It was as equally damaging when the oldest sibling continually appealled to the negative and arbitrary leader, a benevolent manipulator, only to package his self-interests as advice to ‘mama’ disguised as `it’s all for the betterment of the entire family.’ Don’t get it twisted! You can be a knucklehead, a total jerk, and a ‘dipshit’ to your blood brothers, denying them of their God-given rights and interests, and still be viewed by some as a nice guy. Or be a vicious coward toward Blacks, and still keep your Corporate job. But it sure doesn’t fly in the sphere of entrepreneurship, especially when selling goods and services to Black customers. For, a majority of the people that matter will know, ‘you don’t cut the mustard.’ And ‘you really didn’t make the cut.’
During my undegraduate studies, I had the privilege and rare opportunity to look at studies and research about American children of immigrant parents and African-American children from humble beginnings who went on all the way to reaching their American dream as entrepreneurs. When looking at those case studies, two things stuck to mind: 1st) a strong belief in the ideal that when you work hard and play by the rules, the sky is the limit, and 2nd) mutual respect was always prevalent when they were growing up. That type of respect with its share of disagreement, subsequently translated into always protecting everybody’s interest, respecting boundaries, and an unwavering loyalty to a working model or prototype.
As a third child growing up in a dysfunctional family, it was prudent to embrace neutrality. That position certainly didn’t help me with taking calculated risks. ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ Therefore, how did I evaluate those messy arguments mentioned earlier with my young analytical mind? I had to be neutral. If not, I was either ‘adding insult to injury’ or ‘adding fuel to the fire.’ This cowardly position may have sharpened my survival skills but didn’t do much for my honesty and sense of right and wrong. I am sure that I wasn’t the only one in that difficult predicament during my formative years. In fact, too many Black folks grew up in a negative environment trying to survive. We are on ‘survival mode,’ which impedes one’s ability to devote time, energy, money, and collective expertise to creating a separate entity, a special interest group, an enterprise with synergy that would meet the needs of the community, lobby state legislators, or supply the demands of many potential customers, to only cite a few examples.
A good understanding of money management is also key to pulling resources together. I was disappointed but not surprised, when my parents finally decided to sell the house they bought together in 1978, Mom insisted on getting $50,000.00 more than Coye. I was disappointed but not surprised when Gardy’s first marriage failed due to irreconcilable differences. According to his ex-wife Sheryl who later on became a friend, Gardy was too afraid of financial responsibility and too terrified to cut off the umbilical cord and venture on his own. Moreover, he never grasped the importance of declaring his financial independence from mama, provide for his immediate family, and indirectly create opportunities for the other siblings. I was disappointed but not surprised when Coye died in 2001, Nick sold his property and pocketed the money. According to one of my lawyers, he made $60,000.00 + from that transaction. Where is the financial intelligence and astute understanding of money management needed to pulling resources together? Where was the ‘fidelity to the working model’ that has brought prosperity to so many Americans for more than 200 years? So, if you grew up in an atmosphere where you contantly had to walk on egg shells, you may have a hard time accepging the best way to surmount any obstacles is by pulling resources together. Brainstorming and working together should always be about the betterment of the entire group or family. According to a study conducted by the Pew Reseach Center, most Americans think Blacks can’t get ahead because of their own failures. Therefore, it is safe to say, there is no real commitment and urgency in these United States to address discrimination on the job, discrimination in getting a business loan, to have criminal justice reform, curb the senseless violence in urban America, and stop the mass incarceration of Black men. Blacks who grew up in a functional and nurturing family structure understand and accept failures as part of the game. They will persevere, learn from past mistakes and failure, and stay the course of working with kindred spirits until they are back on the path to being successful. Whereas, Blacks who were exposed to only a selfish mindset, poverty, and a negative environment growing up, think racism is the only thing holding them back, and they, alone and by themselves, will find a way to get over the hump. ‘Pulling resources together’ is viewed as an abstract concept utilized by people of other races. This attitude will persist even when the data clearly indicates, the typical player and bad actor will more than likely fall flat on his face working alone. Once again, I was disappointed but not surprised, when Mom passed away in 2012, and found out beforehand, Gardy talked her into NOT writing a ‘will.’ What would he tell her to do the right thing? For, she agreed years ago to put his name on the deed of her house with right of survivorship. Lastly, was that an acceptable course of action for a mother of six? As I brought up several times in therapy, their relationship appeared symbiotic on the surface, but was really parasitic in nature.
Entrepreneurship accompanied with a renewed struggle for our economic rights should be our last frontier as a people. We should also keep in mind that it all starts with the family structure known as the building block of society. A functional Black family is a microcosm of what works in America. The American experiment, what has worked in the past, and American ingenuity revolve around good leadership. The type of leadership that demands every member face the brutal facts of his/her reality. Do we still have faith in the big plan that together we can and will solve any problems; a culture of selflessness where politics and ego take a back seat to what’s best for all members of the American family?