In August of 2011 I sat on a panel discussion for a Poverty Tour in Detroit and I realized there was a need for a more aggressive level of action if we are truly going to combat the evil demon called poverty. Detroiters and everyone who suffers from an impoverished existence need to be reminded of their current economic state just as much as an Eskimo needs to be reminded that he lives in a cold environment full of snow. The Black community doesn’t need any more awareness meetings, it doesn’t need another wake up call, and it certainly doesn’t need any further paralysis of analysis of its current economic state. We have seen the statistics, we have complained about oppression, and we have an adequate update of the historical perspective of where we are today. I feel there is an overwhelming need within the Black community, and those of all colors who suffer from poverty around the world, to focus less on how we arrived at our current economic state, and to focus more on how we can provide tangible solutions to move the Black community forward economically.
This is why, after sitting on that Poverty Tour panel discussion in Detroit, The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment made a dramatic shift to increase our outreach to include measurable results when putting together the “Less Talk…More Action” Economic Empowerment Tour (sponsored by the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement). We kicked off the tour in October in New York City and it was certainly impactful!
It was originally to be just a town hall meeting but we decided to fill the month with numerous events within the community leading up to the town hall meeting. I traveled through homeless shelters, schools, churches, local businesses, unions, and more teaching the important principles of financial literacy while also carrying the universal message of the need for action. Altogether our nonprofit, The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment, Inc., had over 20 workshops and appearances during a 3 week time period in New York City.
A more detailed set of measurable outcomes that we will achieve in each city on the tour includes the following:
- At least 100 people in each city will sign up for and take the Money Movement pledge to be fiscally responsible (www.moneymovement.org).
- A resource video will be developed featuring at least 100 minority business links on the site from all cities visited. This video will be the result of contributions from at least 10 minority-owned businesses in each city. It will include promotional testimonies and business tips for established as well as aspiring entrepreneurs (to be seen on www.lesstalkmoreaction.info).
- A resource guide for organizations in various cities that provide services in the areas of financial literacy, education, employment, and incarceration will be compiled (to be seen on www.lesstalkmoreaction.info).
- In New York, the town hall meeting was reformatted. Rather than give traditional speeches, all of the speakers agreed to provide a 10-minute action plan for audience members to complete. Each audience member (200 participants) was given a pen and pad to take notes as they heard the following:
- I provided a 10-minute lesson urging audience members to complete my “7 Steps to Clean Your Credit”, the “Four Steps to Fulfilling Your Purpose”, and create a date to gather your peers to complete the outline of the “Family/Community Empowerment Program”.
- Manyell Akinfe delivered an inspirational lesson urging audience members to become more fiscally responsible and provided specific tips for them to not only empower themselves but their peer network as well.
- Dr. Boyce Watkins not only gave an insightful backdrop into the problems of high incarceration in the Black community, but he gave tangible tips to combat this plague that continues to haunt the Black community.
- Andrew Morrison motivated audience members with an inspirational lesson of entrepreneurship giving them guidance on how to do a variety of things including how to write their own book within 30 days.
- Dr. Chris Emdin gave a very poignant lesson full of tangible tips showing them how to hold their schools accountable and start the fight to reform education within the home.
- The panel discussion of local experts addressed the questions and provided tangible solutions for audience members. Stephen Powell, ED of Mentoring USA; Jacquette Timmons, founder of Sterling Investments; Martin Allen, founder of PPEE; and Dominique Reese, founder of Communitree, LLC contributed to the sense of empowerment experienced by the audience.
- A “train the trainer’ meeting was held on the following Saturday where we achieved our goal of recruiting 10 people who agreed to be “financial literacy agents” for a group of peers and/or associates. More financial literacy trainers are always needed; those who would like to be a financial literacy agent should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you the online forms to enroll in the program. Each trainer or financial literacy agent must volunteer time to teach a group of at least five individuals using our curriculum. The group of five or more people can be immediate friends and family, your church, your business, union, or anywhere you can gather a group of people for eight weeks (in person or via phone). This is a valuable component of the tour and we are trying to start a movement using this strategy.
We are adding cities as we speak. Just today as I write this, I confirmed Atlanta on November 18th through the 28th, Minneapolis on December 2nd through the 5th, and Austin from April 26th through the 29th. This strong demand points to the urgency that is felt in the Black community for tangible solutions. No more empty rhetoric, no more ambiguous statements that only serve the purpose of making the people stand and cheer but give no direction…it is time for action.
As I write this, I am in Detroit preparing to start another full week of going to prisons, teaching in shelters, empowering in schools, and doing aggressive outreach until the town hall meeting from 6pm – 9pm at Wayne County Community College District (Downtown Campus) on November 10th. The city is ready, the people are ready, and Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment is ready to take on the challenge…you are needed and I hope we can count on you!