Updated: Apr 7, 2020
In part one of this two part series, I identified the path that O.W. Gurley took toward establishing Black Wall Street of 1907-1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In this segment, I follow up with a conceptualized illustration of a contemporary Black Wall Street of the digital age. My hope is to introduce this concept to my readers as an invitation to dialogue of future possibilities of a sustainable and exclusive Black economic community. It is my view that the Black community can rise without dependence on discriminatory organized institutions.
For Blacks in America, the contemporary economic circumstances they--by and large--find themselves in are the result of ongoing systematic constraints barring their full participation in the American economy. As Ta-Nehisi Coates observes in The Case For Reparations, Black communities have faced political violence and property theft since the antebellum period. Coates again notes in, We Were Eight Years in Power, that the “American law worked to reduce black people to a class of untouchables and raise all white men to the level of citizens. Here we find the roots of American wealth and democracy-in the for-profit destruction of the most important asset available to any people, the family.” It was only after post-slavery Jim Crow era that the nation saw the first official rise of a somewhat exclusively black economy. The divide of white and black wealth as a result of systemically discriminatory practices today remains widespread. For example, the downfall of minority economic wealth still means an increase in white economic wealth. Additionally, the health, generational wealth, and livelihood of people who belong to racial or ethnic minorities in America is systemically compromised by racially biased system structures. “White households, on average, hold seven times as much wealth as black households,” writes Coates, a difference so large as to make comparing the “Black middle class” and “white middle class” meaningless; they’re simply not comparable.” According to a recent study by researchers from Stanford, Harvard, and the Census Bureau researchers found that Black and American Indian children have much higher rates of downward mobility than other groups. Black children born to parents in the top income quintile are almost as likely to fall to the bottom quintile as they are to remain in the top quintile. In essence, the systemic widening of the American wage gap provides little opportunity of closure.
Currently Black folks in America have the buying power of 1.2 trillion dollars. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, our “Wankanda Flex” has recently evidenced a small portion of this power. Worldwide Black Panther has reached approximately 1.1 billion dollars in profit. Black Americans (and, indeed across the diaspora worldwide) have shown undying support of the positive black representation in theaters. Despite this kind momentum, Black dollars only circulate amongst the Black community for approximately six hours. Wakanda can be viewed as a fictional template for the future of Black people and economics as it relates to Black Wall Street. Consider if we used this energy to build our own Wakanda--an economically sustainable, technologically advanced, and multigenerational wealthy Black community in America.
One United Bank is both the largest African American owned bank in America and the first African American owned internet bank and Community Development Financial Institution. The primary focus of One United Bank has historically been to raise financial literacy in urban communities. On June 24th 1968, Unity Bank and Trust was established in Roxbury Massachusetts by African American owner Donald E. Sneed. They offered banking services to a neighborhood that was underserved by white-run institutions. Not to mention they provided jobs to Roxbury’s residents as well. The Bank was hanging by a thread with government banking assistance in 1971. Just 11 years later, in July of 1982, the Boston Bank of Commerce acquired the Unity Bank and Trust. In 1995, African American executive Kevin Cohee purchased majority controlling interest of the Boston Bank of Commerce. A year later, Mr. Cohee became CEO and chairman as a result of the bank’s profitability and growth. December of 2002, the Bank rebranded itself, changing the name to One United Bank.
Since its inception, One United Bank has steadily grown and this is largely because of their personable customer service experiences they provide. Their hands-on approach to customer service increases personal accountability over their customer’s currency. They offer deposit services via a live teller and maintenance at One United is completed by a human technicians rather than technological machinery. However, in today’s rapidly growing technological age, there is an opportunity for urban communities to utilize this business asset to conceivably change our economic circumstances with our currency and innovative ideas. Beyond their institutional growth, One United Bank has continued on a quest to develop urban communities across the nation. They have, for example, been instrumental in advocating in partnership with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and in 2017, they launched the #BankBlack Challenge, also encouraging the urban community to seek out black owned businesses and Buy Black.
I’d like to suggest one way toward resurrecting Black Wall Street through One United Bank. As I mention above the contemporary technological era has created an opportunity for Black communities to change our economic circumstances with innovative ideas about our currency. One United Bank could explore partnerships with coding and computer education programs —e.g., Vector90 and the Too Big To Fail Stem Center, to become the first African American owned bank to specialize in developing, distributing, and exchanging its own cryptocurrency akin to Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Ripple. Cryptocurrency is a digital currency or decentralized system of exchange that uses advanced cryptography for security. As cryptography is defined as the science or study of secret writing, especially code and cipher systems, its contains the unique potential for establishing an exclusive currency powered by its users with secret coding--currency that can be exclusively exchanged amongst Black owned businesses and communities. It has a few functions. It can be utilized for buying and selling much like investments such as stocks and it can also be treated like cash in exchange for goods and services. Marvel’s Black Panther presented a technologically advanced African tribe that possessed a powerful tool, “vibranium.” I propose an exclusive cryptocurrency as a real life vibranium.
In closing, I hope that my discussion here creates further dialogue. Black economic power has been well documented whether we are talking about the historical rise of Black Wall Street or the current spending power Blacks now exhibit. This power, combined with the potential that cryptocurrency now presents provide a platform for today’s Resurrection. Supporting black owned businesses not only provides the opportunity to reconstruct the political and economic lives of Black folks but also the black community at large. It is my hope that we can leverage resources like One United Bank to create and sustain new economic possibilities for Black people through cryptocurrencies.
Written By: Jessica McConico
Edited by: Dr. Justin Clardy