Whether it is a result of omnipresent, relentless marketing, or a natural fascination with chronological milestones, we are captivated by the impending dawn of the 21st century. The fact that the current century is drawing to a close in such exciting, amazing and unpredictable fashion, thanks largely to the revoluntionary impact of communication and information technologies, is a significant reason why we can scarcely imagine–or catch our breath for–the next.
When one looks at how far we’ve come during this century, it is reasonable to believe that our best days are ahead of us. We’ve gone from being all but excluded from American industry, to owning nearly a million companies, doing business not just nationally, but globally. The 270 companies featured on this year’s BLACK ENTERPRISE 100s listings, the centerpiece of our 26th Annual Report on Black Business, generated in excess of $14 billion in business and employed more than 60,000 people in 1997. We’ve also made great strides in increasing our income and building our consumer power. Our total money income is projected to exceed $459 billion in 1998.
However, there are critical challenges to be faced in the century to come. Despite our progress in generating income, there is still a chasm between the net worth of the average black family and that of the average white family. Our situation is not being helped by the fact that too many African Americans are failing to take sufficient advantage of the stock market’s bullrun past the 9000 barrier. We must make closing this gap our most important priority in the 21st century. Our imperative must be to create black wealth by building on the cornerstone of economic empowerment: education, equity, enterprise and excellence.
In the quest to build wealth, ownership of assets includes ownership of information and the means to apply it. In this new age of information and technology, training and education are assets as tangible as–and more valuable than–gold and platinum. The return on a lifetime of learning is the power of self-determination. The black wealth imperative requires that we be aggressive, even to the point of zealotry, in our efforts to acquire education and training, including the mastery of information technologies, for ourselves and our children.
As this century draws to a close, our focus must be on equity– on ownership. The power structure of this country, the one being adopted by nations the world over, has always rewarded those who work to own; it is benignly neglectful, at best, of those who only work. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should all quit our jobs to start our own businesses. Clearly, not everyone is willing or able to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed as entrepreneurs. However, the vast majority of us, through options such as 401(k) plans, dividend reinvestment plans, investment clubs, as well as brokerage firms, can profit through ownership of successful companies by investing in the stock market.
We must resolve, once and for all, to stop measuring our wealth by the size of our paychecks,