A Dream Deferred, No Longer

bob wynn Jul 23, 2020

Langston Hughes, in his poem, “Dream Deferred”, conveyed the desperate hopelessness one experiences when life’s potential and aspirations go unmet.  Hughes’ poem, was written during the height of de jure and de facto racism. And that was in the wake of the three hundred and fifty years of enslavement followed by “Jim Crow”. This ominous and angst-ridden ode is arguably the precursor of today’s popular slogan, “No Justice, No Peace”.

Rising out of this contorted past, is a singular voice, so clear in its simplicity, and so redeeming in its intent, that we should not miss this messenger’s clarion call.  Robert F. Smith, in a seminal speech to the recent Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy virtual conference, spelled out a “reparative” blueprint for Corporate America that should be followed to a tee.

In the same year that we coincidentally recognize the pillaging of Greenwood aka Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma, Robert F. Smith admonished his C suite audience to spend the next ten years investing directly in people and communities of color as a modest token to the three centuries of oppression, exploitation, and discrimination that African Americans have experienced at the hands of his audience’s corporations and their predecessors.

Robert Smith’s request is that America’s corporations, including banks that generated $968 billion dollars in net income over the past ten years, invest two percent of their profits for the next ten years in banks, entrepreneurs, companies, and institutions that primarily serve African Americans.  Smith noted that two percent of banks’ aggregate profits, based on the past ten years, would amount to $19.4 billion dollars. Ideally, this approach could be enhanced by channeling the donations to tax-advantaged nonprofit entities, and the funds could be leveraged by a government match or supplement to the private sector appropriations.

As Smith pointed out, this is merely a fair and just response to the historical systemic discrimination and exclusion that Black Americans endured for generations, even after the formal abolition of slavery.  The cost of this social and economic disenfranchisement, which was, in many cases statutorily sanctioned, is incalculable.  Even though a mere two percent is a fraction of the cost of true restitution, it would be a transformative start for the largest U.S. Corporations that, according to Smith, generated $1.3 trillion dollars in profits over the last ten years. 

This is a propitious opportunity for the sports industry to take the lead in making Robert F. Smith’s “game plan” a reality. While data on the profits of sports businesses is sketchy, we can extrapolate from just one company, Nike.  With sales in 2019 of $40 billion dollars (according to Value Line) at a ten percent profit margin, that suggests $4 billion dollars in profit, two percent of which would be $80 million dollars. Let’s say there are at least 100 sports organizations and companies that generate half that amount in the U.S.  That would amount to a $4 billion-dollar total for black organizations and communities from the sports industry alone. 

This societal moment is also special because athletes, from all sports, all levels and both genders, are raising their voice in support of change like other time in history.  There are many specific examples of athletes promoting social justice in various ways. Visit this blog space in the future as we will highlight some of these athletes amazing leadership initiatives. That being said, it would still be great to see athletes unify around Robert F. Smith’s plan and suggest that the buck starts with their own industry.

The authors of our great Constitution were flawed men, but their articulation of our country’s aspirational ethos was flawless when they penned that, “All men are equal and endowed with an inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This in essence is the American Dream. Woefully overdue for Black Americans, this is a Dream that need not be deferred any longer. 

Where there is justice, there will be peace

 Photo: Robertsmith.com



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