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In February, The Gatekeepers Collective were joined by engineer, ethnographer, and economics analyst, James Felton Keith and financial management specialist, Tamara Cantave in a dialogue on Building Economic Power in Black and SGLBT Communities.

Facilitator, Richard Pelzer opened the evening screening a 20” Ted Talk titled, My Black Year in which Harvard MBA, Maggie Anderson, (who also studied Constitutional law under Professor Barack Obama), talks about an experiment in which she, her husband John Anderson and their family, attempted to “buy Black” for a year.  Since then she has become leader of the conscious consumerism movement, “uniting consumers, corporations, and the quality Black businesses that can rescue struggling communities and provide role models to Black youth.” 

Following the screening, James Felton Keith shared with the group that he knows Maggie and John Anderson, offering that, “Their experiment was noble.” Then citing his own pedigree, Keith told the assembled that, before attending Harvard, he trained as an engineer at Tuskeegee University, and under “ex-special forces guys, who showed me how power works.”

He proposed that there are two schools of thought, “technological determinants, and social constructivists.” "Most people," he continued, "are social constructivists [who] think that culture drives everything…[and that] they can change the world through good community alone…I’m a technological determinist [who believes that] technology drives culture, not the other way around…[All] the language that we use is an agreement [on how we conceptualize the world]…Capitalism is the culture that is built around [this agreement]…Building economic power in SGL/LGBT communities…when we talk about how we transfer power…the best thing we can do is identify more ways to have an ownership stake in the changing world…[Towards achieving ] ownership…what we have a lack of in the same gender loving (SGL) community that every other community that migrates in[to our communities] gets, is subsidies…”

A participant says, “We have to assure that these ideas are not just ideas…”

Keith continued, “One cool thing that exists in 2016 is that we can quantify people’s intrinsic value through data, so they can be indemnified…[I] helped start the LGBT Chamber of Commerce in Detroit [because] the LGBT community had no equity…A chamber of commerce is a great way to rally economic activism…We built [on] an old economic model to infiltrate every [community]…as economic activists…I incubate companies…as a reluctant bully, thinking, how can we take back some of the intrinsic value?...[Among things] You need to be acknowledging [include] 1) Only through institutions can you distribute wealth…2) Organizing as a community…and 3) [You must] Establish a mechanism to extract value…Every data point you create is intellectual property…You must build institutions to organize the community… ”

“We don’t own, we don’t have capital, and we don’t invest…,” one person says.

Keith responds, “If we really believe people have intrinsic value, you have to wrap a fence around it…”

Someone else says, “The [TED talk] video is important…But, something critical that’s being missed is…Yes, it’s important that we seek higher education and expand our professional skills to generate more money…[But,] As we become better educated, that only benefits us individually…If the point of that video is to inspire us to [think and act collectively]…The critical dynamic is culture…All the groups that migrate into our communities and establish businesses [and who circulate their dollars in their communities for days and weeks before leaving their communities] all have a strong cultural identity which allows them to  keep their wealth because that is what they value…That’s why Asian money stays with them, because that’s what they value…In economics, it’s called the multiplier effect…If the money circulates in the community 5X [the community’s income increases]…The Indians, the Chinese, and the Jews have a culture that goes back  thousands of years…”

“And we don’t?!...”

“Yes, but our culture was interrupted…”

Tami Cantave shares, “I decided I needed to create my own income stream…I had a 401K [but] your money is in jail until you are 59…Someone introduced my mother to a macro-manager…[The manager began to coach me and] told me I was 'a potential champion'…There are a trillion barrels of oil off the coast of Haiti…Haiti should be the richest country in the world…[But,]We’re not familiar with the rules [Capitalism]…The coach began to describe this game…Players, penalties [etc.,]…We each [must] have a team…Our job is to make money…Our team’s job is to secure it, and run with it…It takes ten players…team mates…I had six, and no coach [1st team player]…2) The accountant is the biggest offensive player (who has to know how to work the taxes)…3) The banker, 4) the real estate agent, 5) the attorney, 6) the retirement agent, 7) the business adviser, 8) the life insurance agent, 9) the health insurance agent, [and,] 10) you are the captain…The tax preparer is [an] offensive player on all but one day, the day s/he prepares your taxes…Do I want a tax preparer, or tax planner who knows how to save me money to take to another member of the team [to invest?]…You may not need to borrow money, but it’s good to have someone on the team who can access it [the banker]…You must own a business that produces passive income [meaning] you can earn money whether you are present at the business or not [business adviser]…[The] Retirement adviser [counsels about] social security [which is not nearly enough to live on]…[Your] Life insurance is the first line of defense…Without protection, if you’ve only death benefits insurance, you’ve been fooled…Income protection [is what] life insurance is for…The health agent [advises about] long-term care [options]…Property and casualty…[The] attorney...proxies, health…wills…etc….”

“We’re never going to have any real wealth until we revisit the thing that slavery took from us…”

“What subsidies are immigrants getting that we don’t have access to [by which they can get business loans and other supports?]…”

“The best defense we have is to build trust…build businesses…”

“There are many African descended people of immigrant [extraction] who are not getting these subsidies…”

“If we wanted to build an SGL Chamber of Commerce, [how would we go about it?...”

“You go to the feds and register there…Then, go to the state and register there…[A] 501(c)6 is a membership-style tax exempt organization with a 501(c)3 under it…In doing that, you can reinvest the wealth you’ve captured…You have to trade with others [as well]…”

Economic Empowerment


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