I want to personally thank Dr. West and Tavis Smiley for bringing their “Poverty Tour” to my hometown of Detroit, Michigan in the first week of August 2011. Had I not taken the time to come to their stop in Downtown Detroit, Michigan I never would have had the inspiration to structure the “Less Talk…More Action” Empowerment Tour in this way.
I won’t go into detail about what I didn’t see at the Poverty Tour, but what made a lasting impression on me was a back and forth discussion between a young female entrepreneur who lives in Detroit and Dr. West. Below is my attempt to paraphrase this discussion:
“Hello Dr. West and Mr. Smiley. Dr. West…I am a social entrepreneur. You asked us to come out today to attend this discussion. I am here. What now?”
Dr. West, “My sister…I graciously want to state how appreciative I am that you have attended this session. What we are attempting to ignite within the people is an AWAKENING of the spirit!”
(Applause from the crowd.)
Young woman, “I understand that Dr. West. However, I have a company and am already awake. What am I supposed to do now that I am here awake?”
Dr. West, “My sister…if you are looking for a list of items, we will not be providing that. What we are looking to begin is a REVOLUTION of sorts to put an end to poverty!”
(Applause from the crowd.)
With that the young woman was asked to relinquish the microphone and with her head down full of disappointment she walked away.
It was at that moment I began to reflect upon the format of the “Less Talk…More Action” Empowerment Tour which was already being planned. As a result of attending the Poverty Tour, I realized that the state of mind of many within the minority community was not in need of awakening but definitely in need of nurturing and nourishment with tangible, substantial solutions to help them with resolutions and answers. Many in the minority community have brilliant ideas of starting a brand new business but need ideas on how to start it; some have already started a business but would appreciate some additional resources to help grow it; some are unemployed and willing to work but need direction on the best resources to get additional training or look for employment; many are gainfully employed but need to know the best ways to maximize their income and save in the most responsible way; or some simply want to be part of a tangible movement and need to learn the best ways to get involved in the empowerment of their community.
I thought a lot about the young woman and began to think of where and how I would be able to talk to people like her who are full of hope but could use a little help. At that point I decided that a town hall meeting was not enough, but in each city I should do as much outreach as time and budgeting allowed. In New York City I had over 20 sessions teaching financial literacy to multiple programs. In Detroit, in less than a week we had over 10 sessions for nonprofits, churches, unions, and community based organizations. Some of the sessions were as follows:
· I taught a financial literacy workshop for the Open Door Rescue Mission which gives emergency housing and programs for homeless women.www.opendoorrescuemission.com
· I gave a workshop for Focus Hope which has a mission to overcome racism and poverty by providing education and training for underrepresented minorities.
· I partnered with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (Detroit Chapter) and the Independent Retailer’s Association to assemble over 30 business owners to provide guidance and insight to how we grow businesses and work more effectively together. I also took some time to interview and make commercials for them in an attempt to help them get more exposure. We are doing this in every city but listed below are the Detroit based business commercials. (Other videos are constantly being added to the tour site www.lesstalkmoreaction.info. If you would like to create a free business commercial like the ones listed below email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.)
· I partnered with the Bank On Detroit initiative (www.bankondetroit.org) to work with other nonprofits that provide tangible services for the community. This effort will be continued during future trips. Below is a sample video of the work we have done with Bank On Detroit:
· We signed up many volunteers to become Financial Literacy Agents who wanted to teach others about the importance of financial literacy. (Visitwww.lesstalkmoreaction.info to sign up to take part in the “Train the Trainer” program.)
· Lastly we had a town hall meeting which was described by many who attended as one of the most tangible they have ever seen. Congressman John Conyers, Councilmember JoAnn Watson, and many others in the packed house who attended had their pen and pads writing as Dr. Chris Emdin, Dr. Boyce Watkins, Andrew Morrison, Manyell Akinfe, Gail Perry-Mason, Dr. Constance Banks, Yusef Shakur, Carol Mack-Wells, Richard Mack, and myself gave 30 day plans of action and pertinent information on how we can FIX the issues in the minority communities pertaining to financial literacy, unemployment, education, and incarceration.
This is not a criticism of the work of Dr. West and Mr. Smiley. There is an important role for EVERYONE who wants to move the community forward and there is no one solution that is necessarily better than the next. In a sense, their tour provided me the further awakening to do something more to empower the community and so their mission at least with me was a success. I would imagine many people left that town hall meeting feeling the same and I hope they acted upon their feelings. It is important that we must not compete against each other but to complement each other. There is no such thing as an initiative that is perfect so our mission in the community shouldn’t be to backseat critique each other, but take the initiative to fill the void where we all fall short.
I give praise to Dr. West and Mr. Smiley for their inspiration; I thank the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement for sponsoring this tour and for allowing me to bring it to my hometown; and lastly I thank the people of Detroit for showing me so much love. I know we have a long way to go, but each step we take toward a better today will take us one step closer towards a brighter tomorrow. We WILL get there. It won’t be quick, it won’t be easy, and we will make many mistakes along the way but we WILL get there!