How Today's Black Boys Could Be the Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow

They are competitive, creative, innovative, resilient and courageous. If those sound like core characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, they are, and we need to build on them.
by | July 18, 2013 AT 3:00 AM

It's no secret that America's black boys are considered the most difficult to educate, recalcitrant, truant, lost, confused, angry and dangerous demographic in the public-education system. The "school-to-prison pipeline" is an apt description for the millions of black male teenagers who must navigate the tumultuous channels of failed high poverty schools and communities without a committed, knowledgeable adult male to guide them through the daily dilemmas and risk assessments that far too often force them to choose between life and death. This horrific paradigm persists primarily because educators, policymakers, investors and CEOs have also failed at math and risk assessment.

One of the solutions to America's current crisis of flailing economics in its metro regions and flagging global economic competitiveness lies in the potential of one of the nation's most promising assets: black boys. America has seen consistent resiliency and success from black males in each generation, despite centuries of degradation and deliberate institutional hostility. In today's knowledge-based, tech-driven, globally competitive innovation economy, the key to discovering a solution to America's economic woes requires a different lens through which leaders view investing in black boys. That lens is math.

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Look no further than the athletic departments of America's largest institutions of higher education, such as the University of Texas and Ohio State University. These universities, with annual athletic-department revenues exceeding $160 million and $140 million, respectively, benefit greatly from the recruitment of black boys from blighted, broken communities and school systems. Such elite schools routinely invest more than $140,000 per student athlete. The success of athletics inures to the overall brand of the schools, investment in academic departments, spending on research and development, merchandise sales, television contracts and alumni giving. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and a landscape of other sports media are also built upon investments in covering competitive black boys.

America has long recognized that black boys are inherently competitive, creative, innovative, resilient and courageous, several of the core characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. America has known this for a long time, dating back to the era when it was against the law to teach black people to read. Athletics has simply been a relatively recent opportunistic entry point for black boys to compete upon a capitalist landscape. But there's little doubt they can be competitive in any game they are taught, including the game of economics in the 21st century.

The nation's highest growth in entrepreneurship from 2002 to 2007 was among black Americans: 60 percent, more than three times the national average during the same period, resulting in the creation of 1.9 million black-owned businesses. Yet that unprecedented level of entrepreneurial activity produced revenue amounting to less than 1 percent of U.S. GDP, and 1.8 million of those businesses were sole proprietorships with no employees. Isn't it time for economic policymakers and elected leaders to focus on fixing a broken economic system built upon exclusion, fear and bias? America needs more high-growth entrepreneurs. That entrepreneurial activity is already occurring in the nation's blind spot.

Businesses require capital investments to grow and produce jobs. America cannot afford to continue ignoring assets within its metropolitan regions, where more than 75 percent of black boys reside. America's economic competitiveness depends upon the success of more high-growth entrepreneurs. Black entrepreneurs are growing at the highest rate. Where's the investment in identifying, vetting and funding these existing assets?

To change the current economic equation, the nation needs urgent investments in seamless pipelines of entrepreneurial resources, starting with experiential project-based educational curricula in high-poverty public schools with a core focus on entrepreneurship.

Saving America's black boys, by investing in their innovative competitive intelligence through policies of inclusive competitiveness, would yield a future bumper crop of American innovators prepared to compete in a globally competitive, tech-based workforce and to become high-growth, job-creating entrepreneurs. Investing in saving America's most disconnected demographic is an investment in saving America.