There are over 35,000 documented black millionaires living in the U.S–more than there has ever been at any other time in the history of our country. Many of these millionaires are self-made: men and women who overcame many adversities and broke through the barriers that tend to keep the masses of African Americans in perpetual poverty.

These men and women overcame the disadvantages that we know all too well–underdeveloped housing, limited recreational activities, underwhelming job opportunities, an inadequate education, (you know the story). They tell us how they traversed the pit laden roads in autobiographies, fueling our inner hope to one day escape the ghetto to live an affluent life somewhere in Beverly Hills or San Francisco. Similar to them, we are oblivious to the reality that instead of abandoning the cities and neighborhoods we were raised in, we need to change the ghetto, not flee from it.

Cultivating our communities is not a simple task, for if it was it would have been done already. There are obstacles that have been purposefully placed to keep the African American community downtrodden. We know about redlining, we know about mass incarceration, we know about the lack of jobs, we know the devices used to maintain the status quo.

If you lay a snare in the view of a bird you won’t catch that bird: we need to be wise as owls. We have the knowledge, just as we have more millionaires in our number than any other time, I would dare to say that we also have more academic blacks than we have had at any other time. And we need both to undo the damage that has cycled through our neighborhoods but nothing will change until we debunk this myth that the goal is to escape the ghetto. That is not the goal.

I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. As a child, I looked out to the abandoned storefronts and boarded up houses with curiosity. Questions ran through my mind about how and why so many of the buildings in my city were ran down, why so many houses were unoccupied–I wanted to do something about it.

But as I got older, I realize that the banks weren’t giving loans to blacks, especially those who desired to open businesses in the heart of the inner city; it wasn’t financially feasible for the banks to do so with all the crime and blight running rampant in the city. But then I was confounded by seeing so many dope boys and preachers driving in Bentleys and eating at Benihanas. They clearly have money, why don’t they start businesses, why don’t they rebuild the homes?  I thought. I realized that they weren’t concerned with life in the hood, they lived in West Bloomfield and in Troy.

I recognize that there are many affluent blacks that help struggling communities, their efforts don’t make front page news because society has a keen lust for drama and nonsense, but they are out there, giving substantially to nonprofits and organizations that do commendable good. The problem is there aren’t enough. ESPN did a documentary about NFL players going bankrupt after they retire, it was a morbid piece. Many of them black men, who spent thousands of dollars at bars, buying exotic animals, fancy clothes, gold chains, Rolexes, (hip-hop culture).

I’m not against buying nice things and certainly, I can’t tell the next man how to spend his money. But the same careless spending that causes black athletes to burn through their millions is the same carelessness that causes us everyday blacks to live paycheck to paycheck.

Changing our neighborhoods and communities has to start from within, it has to stem from individuals like you whose reading this to understand that the goal isn’t to move to the suburbs (where your neighbors won’t like you) and to leave your family and friends in the proverbial rear view. The goal is to bring change to your neighborhood. We as a people have to come together and work together to cultivate our schools, our neighborhoods, our economies.

I make mention of the 35,000 black millionaires because we need to petition to them the need for black enterprise. Go to see Beyonce in concert but also send her your business plan in the hopes that she will see it and feel compelled to connect with you. DM Oprah how much she has motivated you but also send her a grant proposal for the nonprofit you want to start.

Many wealthy blacks have money invested in stocks and trades because they can see the return of their investment–show them that there’s plenty to invest in within the inner cities. We have more assets as a collective group of people than we ever had prior. If we can’t use them to impact our communities then the huge banks and financial investing companies will continue to use their assets and gentrify the neighborhoods we refuse to cultivate.

William E. Lighten, managing director, Mortgage Capital Division, chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers Bank, Ernest Green, managing director or Public Finance, Lehman Brothers, and James F. Haddon, managing director, Infrastructure Finance Group, Citigroup, from left, pose at an invitation-only reception for Black Enterprise Magazine’s 75 Most Powerful Blacks on Wall Street list at Citigroup in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006. (AP Photo/Gina Gayle)

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