By Michael Dermer, CEO of The Lonely Entrepreneur and Founder of The Black Entrepreneur Initiative
If we were to ask ourselves on the eve of giving Tuesday, “what one philanthropic vehicle has the opportunity to have an impact on every community, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, minority, geography, age, political persuasion and identity, what would the answer be?
Making an impact means different things to different people. But is there any greater impact than to touch the soul of a fellow human being. You see, being an entrepreneur is not a job – it is an identity. It is not about creating a business – it is about living a more fulfilling life. What higher calling can we have than to help individuals turn their passion into success.
But in many ways we have failed the entrepreneur. Despite the fact that we talk about how small business is the lifeblood of our economic growth, we never gave anyone a map. We said “just go figure it out.” Despite the fact that people are putting their heart and soul and money into their passion, we said to them, “as long as you have passion, grit and a good idea, you are good. Just bang your head against the wall harder or more often than the next person and you will get there. “Entrepreneurs certainly feel that impact.
For all the mothers out there, did you wake up the day after you had your first child and say, “I’m great at this Mom thing.” Of course not. Many Moms have told us, “I hope I don’t accidentally kill this little person.” But that is what we said to the entrepreneur, “give birth and then just figure it out.”
And this is even more true when it comes to our underserved communities. If our institutions of justice and capital and education are failing our underserved communities, how can we expect these communities to live a more fulfilling life? The answer – entrepreneurship.
Talent abounds in these communities, and yet we have fallen short. Do we realize that many of the trends in music, art, fashion and food started in our Black communities? Ever ask yourself why we wear sneakers with suits in 2021?
While we undertake the essential task of reworking our systems of justice and education and capital, we can unlock the talents of every black man and woman. As Professor Darrick Hamilton, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Race, Stratification, and Political Economy at The New School, said in a national town hall on equality in America:
“We need to stop exploiting, extracting and managing economically vulnerable people, but rather give them the resources so they can be self-determining and achieve the goals they define for themselves and be empowered.”
Len Elmore, Former NBA Player, ESPN and CBS Announcer, Harvard Law School Graduate, NBA Agent, President of NBA Retired Players Association, Columbia University Professor and commissioner of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, recently added:
As we lament the lack of wealth creation opportunities within the Black community, there is no better remedy than assuring more successful Black business owners by providing a roadmap for sustaining the success of those businesses.
The word “entrepreneur” was first used in the year 1762. And something else happened in 1762. Dr. ____ Durham became the first Black physician to own his own practice. That alone is groundbreaking. But so is the way he did it. Dr. Durham was a slave and bought himself out of slavery to start his practice. Now that is an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurial skills are no longer a “nice to have,” they are now key skills to help individuals realize their potential. Everyone is an entrepreneur, wants to be an entrepreneur, lives in the same house as an entrepreneur or dreams of turning their passion into success. And we are not just talking about entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. In every community, individuals of every shape and size are waking up before the alarm rings trying to bring their passion to life. In fact, many would never even call themselves entrepreneurs.
During the pandemic, like many others I left New York for the friendly confines of South Florida. When I returned to my New York apartment in the summer of 2021, I opened my mailbox and found 14 letters. I opened the first one. It was a handwritten letter from an individual who was incarcerated in the Texas prison system and had heard about The Lonely Entrepreneur’s Black Entrepreneur Initiative through the prison newspaper. And it read:
“I would like to receive any and all information you can supply to better my life.”
I opened the second. It was from an individual who was incarcerated in the Wisconsin prison system
“I’m African American and would like to obtain the tools needed to be successful in the community and beyond. Thank you for this gift.”
And then a third from a prisoner in Oregon
“I’ve been passionately working hard to thoroughly develop and adequately structure each business bringing them all together. But I have no resources, outside support or assistance and no business planning materials for a startup. Everything I know has been self-taught over 10 years…Please, I respectfully ask you is there anything you can do to help or materials you could assist me with to begin the next step?”
You see, being an entrepreneur is not a job – it is an identity. It is not about creating a business – it is about living a more fulfilling life.
Whether by choice or necessity, many throughout the world are becoming entrepreneurs. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, Black or white, young or old.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to have an impact. An impact on their economic future. An impact on their families. An impact on their potential. And perhaps most importantly, an impact on their soul.
The value we all feel as human beings is certainly different based on where we grow up and the opportunities we had (or didn’t have). But at the core, regardless of our respective stations in life, if we can enable our fellow human beings to feel “passion” when they get up every day, we will truly be making an impact.
After all, we know what divides us, but what unites us?