Black leaders share advice on how to help Black Americans succeed

on Feb16
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In celebration of Black History Month, CNBC Invest in You is featuring weekly stories from CNBC contributors and members of the Financial Wellness Council, including the lessons they’ve learned growing up, their advice to Black youth, their inspirations and how they are working to close the racial wealth gap.

More needs to be done to help Black Americans find financial and work success, several Black leaders say.

That includes providing access to the same financial literacy resources and job opportunities that White Americans have.

Many Black Americans have been left behind in the economic recovery. In January, the unemployment rate for Black or African American workers was 9.2%, compared to 5.7% for White workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall unemployment rate was 6.3%.

Here’s what CNBC contributors and members of the CNBC Financial Wellness Council have to say on the topic, including their recommendations to those in power and the Black youth of America.

Akbar Gbajabiamila, ‘American Ninja Warrior’ host

Akbar Gbajabiamila, who was raised in South Central Los Angeles by immigrant parents from Nigeria, is a firm believer that financial literacy can help bridge the racial wealth gap.

“There are too many people in my community that the highest level of investment that they know of are CDs [certificates of deposit],” he said.

“The knowledge isn’t there,” Gbajabiamila added. “There’s this lack of trust.”

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Yet to become more knowledgeable about money, there needs to be available resources, said Gbajabiamila, who played football for the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins before he became co-host of “American Ninja Warrior.”

“Sometimes I wish I could just be the Black financial Superman and just go to everyone’s house and say, ‘Hey, here are the resources,'” he said.

Gbajabiamila believes people in power need to step up and help open up financial advising for everyone.

“We’ve got to tear down that wall,” he said. “I want everybody to get in. I want everybody to win.”

Helima Croft, RBC Capital Markets

Helima Croft landed on Wall Street after spending the earlier part of her career at the Central Intelligence Agency.

She hopes companies see that adding diversity within the workplace also brings the best views and ideas into conversations. For those Black men and women who won a seat at the table in corporate America, Croft wants them to always believe they have the right to be there.

“Silence that voice in your head that says you’re a diversity pick, you don’t belong,” said Croft, managing director and head of global commodity research at RBC Capital Markets and a member of the National Petroleum Council.

“Always know in your heart that you make that room better, that your views, your talent is important to getting the best outcomes for any organization that you’re a part of.”

Robert Johnson, BET founder

Robert Johnson, who became the first Black billionaire in the U.S. when he sold Black Entertainment Television to Viacam in 2001, is calling on powerful business people to help Black Americans advance in this country.

“They achieved their success by having opportunity,” said Johnson, now the founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies.

Those individuals can say to Black Americans, “We’re gonna give you equal opportunity that we had, we’re gonna give you access to capital that we had, and we’re gonna ensure that you have a chance and a fair shot at participating in the American dream and joining up with us in helping make this the greatest country on the face of the earth,” he said

Black workers hold just about 3% of executive or senior-level positions in Fortune 500 companies, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Jason Snipe, Odyssey Capital Advisors

Once you become successful, it’s important to give back to your community, said Jason Snipe, founder and chief investment strategist at Odyssey Capital Advisors

“It’s very easy to forget where you came from,” said Snipe, who was named by Fortune as a Top 40 under 40 Wealth Manager in 2020.

“There’s a generation that’s coming up behind us that we need to impart the same knowledge that was given to us.”

For those looking to break into a business, be curious, courageous and seek out mentors who have a vested interest in your success, he added.

Kourtney Gibson, Loop Capital Markets

To close the racial wealth gap in the country, several things have to occur, said Kourtney Gibson, president and partner at Loop Capital Markets.

“Access has to happen, opportunity has to occur and people have to sponsor, not just mentor, our young people to help them get into positions for growth,” Gibson said.

The median wealth for a White family was $188,200 in 2019, compared to $24,100 for Black families and $36,100 for Hispanic families, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, released in September 2020.

Gibson practices what she preaches. She’s a board member of the Dibia Dream Foundation, a program for underserved youth, and chairman of the board of the Chicago Scholars Foundation, which selects, trains and mentors students from under-resourced communities.

Degas Wright, Decatur Capital Management

Early in his career, Degas Wright, founder and CEO of Decatur Capital Management, knew he had a lot to offer his employers. That belief helped him during one particular experience, when he arrived at an office to interview for an analyst position.

“I was very excited about this opportunity,” he said. He was told to take a seat in the reception area to wait for the manager he was supposed to meet.

“I was the only person sitting there,” Wright recalled. “When the manager came into the reception area, he asked the receptionist, ‘Did Mr. Wright leave?’

“You see, that manager did not see me,” he said. “He did not see that the person sitting in that reception area was the same person that was described in the resume.

“But to me that did not matter, because I knew my value.”

— Reuters contributed to this report.

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