by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr.
More than 30 years ago, I sat in a dorm room talking to a black, pre-law student from Detroit. As he glared at me, he said that it made more sense for us to think about being Republicans than Democrats because of the unique needs of our community in the 70s. That was out-of-the-box thinking at that time. Today this man is a successful investment banker, leading a powerful firm.
A few years later my first cousin, a Harvard Law graduate shared a vision of becoming a patent attorney and later a political leader. He spoke of shaking things up and making a lasting difference in our nation. As a result of his hard work, he joined a prestigious law firm at age 25 and was elected to the Richmond City Public School Board the same year. At age 32, he became a partner at the firm. He was nominated for the Virginia Supreme Court at age 34 and elected the first black Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court at 47 years old.
Today these stories sound like baby steps of racial achievement as we look at the emerging business, political, and religious leadership of blacks in today's world. The black community is changing overnight, and its leadership is finally experiencing a long awaited change. The breakthrough dynamic is manifesting in three major sectors of our community—business, politics, and religion.
Historically, the church has been the training ground for the nation's strongest black leaders. While this remains true, a black upper class is being birthed. A major glass ceiling has been broken. The new leaders that are emerging are prototypes for new approaches for black engagement in the culture. The most surprising new trends are in the business and political leadership realm.
A great book written by Lee Hawkins of The Wall Street Journal tells the story of a new generation of black entrepreneurs. Newbos: The Rise of America's New Black Overclass is an interesting, well-researched work. "Newbos," according to Hawkins, are young African-Americans who have used their careers in sports, entertainment, or media to bankroll their ascent into sprawling business empires. The book chronicles the fact that there are more black multimillionaires in the United States than ever before.
People like Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, 50 Cent, Russell Simmons and a number of black entertainers and producers are generating more personal income than their Fortune 500 counterparts. Because of my background, I used to place more stock in Kenneth Chenault's successes as CEO of American Express than Sean Combs. I was steeped in an intellectual bias against the new cadre of black entertainment-based entrepreneurs until I learned about how systematically many of them are expanding their empires. Think about this—in 2004, Chenault earned a total compensation only $21 million compared to Sean Combs' Bad Boy Records income of $36 million that same year. read more