If you are born poor, you will probably stay that way. Where you start is likely where you will finish should you be a person created in and living in that circumstance. You don’t have to like it; you can reject it and fight it…but the data on this is pretty solid for people who are born into poverty. That isn’t my story, but it keeps me grounded and focused to do what I do and self-aware that my experiences can’t guide my justice.
When asked to think about what has been foundational for my economic life, I think about my dad who worked 50-60 hours a week during hours I was either at school or asleep providing our family a situation where we didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got pretty much everything we needed. Other adult working-class families in my social circle, lessons about working hard and being employable and all of that. I was taught to be a good example for my family name and for a race of people so I could gain favor from some benefactor that would probably not be in my cultural affinity group. Once I got into the workplace and became a non-student adult- what became another foundational building block were the tons of mistakes I made because never had anyone educate me on how to play this long game with money- why credit ratings are important, how money isn’t really money, it’s just a cycle of predictions of what these pieces of paper might be worth today or in 20 years, what goes into buying and owning property, how to leverage insurance, a ton of other things that hurt folks that are “working class” folks taught to work for someone, but never encouraged to be owners or “pivoters”… Foundational to this economic life was working in finance and social justice, caring for the under-served while barely having more net worth than the people I want to help- while working in institutions that claim to want economic justice for all while not interested in having real relationships with those same people. You learn a lot being close to well-meaning social justice warriors that personally have wealth, close proximity to wealth, proximity to influence, hanging out at the same country club as the corporate tycoons, aligned to the most evil parts of capitalism. I learned all of those things about how to manipulate and make finance work for you instead of me working for the finance. The bootstrap programming from my youth enforced by years and years of survival finally broke.
Since that day- almost a decade now, I’m dedicated to new norms and liberation as part of my personal and tribal journey. I’m self-aware enough to know there are places where I’m proximate to potentially dangerous people and organizations to people I care the most about, and there are communities filled with people who look a lot like me that I readily admit won’t ever be folks in my immediate social circles, but that’s ok if my work continues to be just.
We are all impacted as people and communities by a system that perpetuates a centralized mainstream. It also impacts by pushing some communities, usually ones who are filled with people who look like me to these margins in terms of resources, access, power, and respect. Our leaders and talented folks that “make it” have a responsibility to examine the behaviors and lessons we share with our children and others on what success really is. I’m dedicated to that. Intentional and strategic change has to occur at the individual, group, and systemic levels for all of us to live equitably.
I’m heavily involved in supporting communities of color that either want to be entrepreneurs or are transitioning their businesses to others in parts of my work, I fight to make philanthropy work in ways it doesn’t like to. I leverage relationships to gain new ones, support and critique community based health centers to keep brown and black people safe, fight for internet broadband policy, urge land rich and cash poor folks to think about commercial and internet farms, I want access to info to be free flowing with the fortunate to folks in the margins, persuade “influencers” to have real conversations instead of the ones they have now. We need that blueprint rich kids and others get that end up at Goldman Sachs too, but let’s just add a little justice and liberation.