It’s Lonely At The Top: The Few Blacks In America’s 1% Are Giving Back To Increase Our Wealth

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We’ve been hearing a lot about the 1 percent, aka the wealthiest Americans. And for the few Blacks who make it to that level, it’s very lonely at the top.

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“To gain membership into this elite group in 2013, it required a household net worth of nearly $7.9 million, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. And only 1.7 percent of those who met that mark are Black,” reported KITV.

In other words, you can count the number of Blacks in the 1 percent. But the Black business people in this elite club are working to increase the numbers of Black members by giving back.

One such one-percenter is Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, chief executive of Salamander Hotels & Resorts and stakeholder in three professional sports teams (NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals and the WNBA’s Mystics). “There is a loneliness that very wealthy African-Americans do feel in their lives,” Johnson said. “No matter how much money you have as an African-American, you’re still an African-American.

“There were people out there that said ‘You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re an African-American woman. You don’t know about the hotel business. It isn’t going to work. I’ve never seen anybody Black do anything that has excellence,'” Johnson said of her success in the hotel business. It’s been a struggle to say the least, even with the millions she amassed from BET. In fact, it was difficult for her to get a loan to open her hotel. And she says the banks turned her down because she was a woman. “I watch men, how they’re able to fall on their face. Next I know, they got the next great deal going…banks will loan them money for a sniffle,” she said. “Banks turned me down because I’m a woman. I’m not that proven entity out there.”

Now Johnson is trying to help others make it to the 1 percent with the launch of the Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School, a program that connects young students with business veterans. Selected students get their tuition and fees toward a graduate program paid for up to two years plus a stipend of up to $10,000.

“The white kids that are out there, they got daddy’s law firm or whatever. They’re taken care of and never have to worry about it,” Johnson said.

Another member of the African American 1 percent is Eddie Brown, a Baltimore-based hotelier and chief executive of Brown Capital Management. He too, along with his wife, Sylvia, are giving back through philanthropy and other initiatives that provide grants for education, art and health initiatives that help low-income people living in Baltimore.

“I think it’s really incumbent upon [those of] us who have achieved some modicum of success to make it our business to mentor and to help uplift,” Brown said. “It’s a slow process. It’s a gradual process, but we have to reach back, take someone by the hand, show them the way.”

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