Op-ed submission by Project 21 

Black History Month is an ideal time to measure progress. This year is especially appropriate as we embark on a new decade.

Some indicators of progress are how blacks are catching up with their white counterparts with regard to income, education and political participation. In the latter two categories, reports say blacks made marginal progress. But we have not yet really progressed on equalizing incomes. Some might argue this income disparity is of overwhelming importance and must be rectified immediately. They may contend it directly affects education and other opportunities.

Our nation’s unfortunate history of discrimination has residual effects that remain today. There are also post-civil rights era problems related to entitlements that breed a reliance on government. We can acknowledge these problems, but we must not dwell on them. To keep from spending the next 90 years debating reasons for this income disparity, let’s focus on what can be done to increase black earnings. Solutions include encouraging more blacks to train in the financial, mathematical and scientific fields. Entrepreneurship is also ideal – starting one’s own business to actually become the employer.  
Classroom education alone is not sufficient to boost income levels. There are too many blacks with doctoral degrees who lack jobs or have jobs that earn less than one might expect. Put simply, their degrees are not in growing or lucrative fields.  
Rather than focusing on great black scholars or heroes this Black History Month, why not focus more on black Americans who achieved financial success and how they did it? Think about BET founder Robert Johnson or the late venture capitalist Reginald Lewis. Americans earning the most money do not necessarily have a multitude of advanced diplomas adorning their walls. Instead, they are thinkers who bring about new wealth-generating ideas. They are go-getters with the drive and ambition who are willing to take the risks to get ahead.

This is not to say the most successful people aren’t educated. They can have such degrees, but their smarts aren’t always obtained in school. Think about how many university professors are very wealthy. Not many. What professors can do successfully is impart wisdom upon others. They can school someone about becoming a doctor or a lawyer or to understand the world of business. But what then?
It all comes down to how someone applies his talents. Anyone can do virtually anything when given the proper training. Oprah Winfrey, for example, was a television reporter who used her ambition and talents to become a media mogul. She did not enter her profession with a Harvard MBA. Black Americans must understand that anyone can do almost anything – from plumbing to nuclear physics. There’s little holding most Americans back if they are given the proper training and have the ambition to succeed.

Again, it’s not always education as much as it is training. Put a young mind that is willing to learn in the proper position, and that young mind will master the job. We can’t be fooled that one must first obtain a advanced degree to be a success. Those who know will tell you that, the first day on the job, even the newly-minted Ph.D. may be told by an experienced supervisor to “forget everything that you learned at the university.”
Black History Month should help to identify wealthy and successful black Americans. People should learn how they became wealthy and commit themselves to replicating that model. If we use self-study, mentoring and commit ourselves by supporting each other (especially black businesses), then we can certainly produce considerably more wealthy black Americans. In turn, those wealthy blacks can help other blacks become wealthy because “anyone can do anything”.

B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at http://www.blackeconomics.org/