There are so few Black people that make it out of the hood and actually become successful or famous to any degree. Usually whenever there is a person that does make it, there is sometimes an unspoken burden that some people feel based on a sense of loyalty to their inner circle; the people who supported the rising star when they were unknown to the larger world. The person who “made it” sometimes mistakenly feels that because a partner was with them when they were unknown, they are a “real one” and can be trusted to go with the them into the life of celebrity or success. Some of them feel that the friends they had from a young age are their “true” friends and would never take advantage of or use them. And of course, where would any of us be without our family? The people who knew us before anyone knew us. These three types of relationships truly get tested whenever a person who has these types of people in their circle becomes substantively successful.
Whether it is becoming the first in the family to graduate post secondary education, being the first to buy a house, or the first to become famous either locally or internationally, Black people are typically never really allowed to celebrate their successes by themselves. This is true across the entire diaspora and within different geographical subcultures. Whenever one Black person “makes it,” there is this slight sense of entitlement that some family members, friends and partners seem to have. It’s as if everyone made it, instead of the singular person. While to some this may not seem like it is a problem because it’s seen as love and support, there is a very seedy side to this kind of behaviour. I was recently watching an interview that was done with Brandon Marshall and some former NFL players. They were reflecting on their experiences in the beginning of and during their careers of having multiple friends and family members around them who ended up in some cases looking for handouts or solely depending on these men financially. This is a very common theme amongst young Black male athletes, where there is this sense of duty when they come from poor or humble beginnings to take care of their families and their closest friends who have been with them from the inception of their career. I saw this so clearly evidence watching a show on Starz that focused on a youth football program out of a low income community in Miami-Dade County, Florida. I saw how young a lot of these players were starting and the kinds of pressures that were being put on these young men to get their families out of poverty. There have been countless stories told like these as players retire and open up about what their career was really like both on and off the field.
I have always been saddened by this type of behaviour within my community. In some cases, I can actually understand how it happens and why. Brandon explained how it happened for him. He shared that when he first made it and was making upwards of $10 million dollars a year, he had gone to his inner circle and had told them since he made it, if anyone came to him with a legit business plan or idea, he would front the money for it and help get it off the ground. After 13 years in the league and after leaving it, not one of the people in his inner circle ever came to him with a plan to do or be better. He was beyond frustrated at this, as he couldn’t understand why no one used him in a healthy way to help towards the betterment of everyone. He recalled that everyone in his circle simply wanted a handout; no one wanted to actually work for anything that was provided. His revelation had me reflecting on how many times in my own life I had seen this. One person becomes financially successful in their own right, and there is almost this sense from others that they don’t have to do anything anymore to better themselves, because their (insert name here) became successful. There’s an unspoken expectation that they will be taken care of. I’ve witnessed very unhealthy reflections of this with mothers and their children, fathers and their children, children and their parent(s), women with their men, people with their friends, and so on and so forth. I can’t imagine how that must feel to the person who has become successful; to once look around you and feel like everyone truly loved you and was riding for you but then to later realize that either by you providing ease and luxury for others they no longer valued the wounds and scars of the struggle. They became lazy in behaviour and attitude and started feeling entitlement towards the things you had and could provide. I personally feel like this is one of the worst betrayals that an inner circle can do to a person.
Yet, I know that people are human. That never excuses bad behaviour, but it does sometimes explain it. When you understand that people cannot exhibit healthy behaviours and coping mechanisms if they were never taught them, then you can understand how this can sometimes happen. There are people who have never been shown or told what healthy boundaries are. I have witnessed poor money management skills in parents be passed down and reflected in their children. So everyone in any given moment is doing the best they can based on the knowledge or instruction they received as a child. However, that does not excuse bad behaviour, nor does it not make people accountable for their decisions and choices as adults. We are all capable of doing better, and when things are brought to our attention that need healing or shifting, it is our responsibility to be open to receiving whatever guidance is given to fix the problem. As successful people, we also have a responsibility. First, to ourselves to not allow ourselves to be used by anyone for any reason that we are not consensually aware of or on board with. Second, we have a responsibility to people to not provide an environment where laziness and apathy can be perpetuated. One of the most powerful statements I’ve ever heard is “We teach people how to treat us.” When we do not setup healthy boundaries with friends, family and loved ones, we are prone to be taken advantage of. When children feel pressure and duty to take care of their parents, this in my opinion is psychologically damaging as it is NOT any child's responsibility to take care of their parent financially. Period. While I understand that there are extenuating circumstances and life happens, it is not a child's responsibility to take care of their parent. We are all responsible for taking care of ourselves, full stop. Within the African diaspora, because so many of us have been touched with slavery and in some cases genocide in our ancestral past, the effects of this have twisted a lot of cultural norms into unhealthy ones. While community and family is amazing and necessary, they should never be a point of pain financially for a successful person to have to navigate through.
To be clear, when I am referring to a “successful” person, I’m really referring to anyone who has accomplished a degree of mastery and recognition for their contributions to this world. That can be in big or small ways and depending on the success, can vary in impact and how it looks. But ultimately, a successful person is anyone who is living their dreams and being compensated accordingly for them. As a community, one of my biggest hopes is between generational wealth being created and financial education and literacy being taught, demonstrated and passed down to our youth, we will start to see these generational curses being lifted. I hope to see more and more Black business owners, and not just in restaurants and salons. I hope we as a people can get to a place sooner rather than later where we no longer put the owness on our youth and children to get us out of financial poverty or debt. There are parents exploiting their children on the internet for money, on platforms that do not support the Black agenda and have no problem shutting accounts down or blocking content whenever they feel it’s becoming a bit “too much” politically. We as Black people and parents need to hold ourselves to a higher standard to ensure at all times we are protecting Black youth. It starts by educating ourselves and ensuring we have our shit together. As we do, we will not just tell Black youth but actually model to them what healthy behaviours and boundaries and what financial discipline looks like. And as we do this with our youth, it will continue to spread within our community. We need more resources like financial education workshops, business planning workshops, and financial assistance to help Black owned businesses get off the ground and stay successful. As we build up ourselves and realize we can become successful in our own right, we no longer look to others in our family or inner circle to take care of us. We do exactly what Brandon was alluding to, which is taking advantage of an opportunity when someone we are close to makes it big and now they know that they have like-minded individuals around them who are going to hustle and grind to get the bag just as much as they are going to use their physical attributes or skills to do the same.
A lot of successful people are and would be willing to help others if they truly felt and saw the effort being put forth. So as a community and as a people, we need to start preparing ourselves much better and stop putting the responsibility of carrying people financially on one person. Every single one of us has the power and ability to be great. Great doesn’t necessarily mean famous. Great doesn’t even mean being known. Great is living your truth and living your passion. I truly believe that when you are doing what you love, the money comes. So let’s all make a decisions, if you haven’t already during this pandemic, to become the best versions of ourselves that we can be. If we are blessed to be alive, relatively healthy, have a roof over our heads and our basic needs provided for, then we have a responsibility to help others. We have all been helped at one point or another in our lives by others. We are blessed to be a blessing. Let’s start working together as a community to build our foundation of success in North America in a way it has never been allowed to be built or thrive before. This, in my opinion is one of the ways we will truly be able to reach the highest ideal of the American and Canadian dream for the Black community.