Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009

Rising Black Wealth

By David Luhrssen
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In American history black was often synonymous with poverty. But there have been always been exceptional individuals and a documentary for CNBC shows that more African Americans are getting rich, spurred in some cases by black wealth fostering more black wealth. In “Newbos: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass,” Wall Street Journal reporter Lee Hawkins explores the role and growth of wealth among African Americans.

An R&B singer and Milwaukee Journal business reporter before heading east, Hawkins brings a sense of empathy to his subjects and sometimes an implied line of criticism as he sits down with some of the nation’s richest black men. With the exception of Bob Johnson (who sold BET to Viacom earlier this decade), most of Hawkins’ case studies are young and gifted in fields that have long served as ladders out of the ghetto—sports and entertainment.

Baseball star Torii Hunter, basketball star Lebron James, rap moguls the Williams Brothers (of Cash Money Records) and gospel star Kirk Franklin share similar origins in poverty, which they overcame through determination, savvy and probably a measure of luck. They aren’t eye to eye on all issues. Johnson notoriously backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. The Williams Brothers are big on bling while Franklin points out that for the cost of a single Bentley, an inner city school could be furnished with computers.

But as children of poverty, the athletes, singers and entrepreneurs share an appreciation for the lush lives their careers have afforded them. All claim to have helped family and friends while fending off sycophants. Perhaps Johnson, with his strategy of mentoring to broaden the scope of black wealth and education, is the most forward looking. In an era when an African American can be elected President, distinctions of race may eventually come to matter less than distinctions of class.

“Newbos: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass” airs 8 p.m. CST, Feb. 26 on CNBC.

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