Are We Obligated To Reach Back When We Succeed?

The answer is yes, but how we give back matters most. An essay about reaching back to help those when you’ve made it.

Are We Obligated To Reach Back When We Succeed?
Photo by Jordan Opel on Unsplash

I’ve never struggled with whether I’m obligated to reach back when we succeed. I believe when a person makes it out of hopeless situations to become financially and intellectually successful; we must improve the lives of others.

The what to do and how to do it are the problems.

The real question I’ve always struggled with is how to reach back to aid and uplift those we leave behind when we make it. I struggle because I understand how important it is to build a legacy. I believe one time gifts are band-aids. I’m speaking of long-term aids and supports used in meaningful, systemic ways which can grow and sustain a community for a few generations to come, even if we somehow lose our ability to earn the incomes needed to embark on such endeavors.

Give a man a fish, they’ll return for more fish when he’s hungry. If you teach a man to fish, he can feed himself and his family a lifetime. In the Black community, we seem to have a problem with teaching our people to fish. We have become reliant upon someone else to teach us how to fish. Now granted, we have several obstacles, barriers, and historic challenges we must overcome due to no fault of our own, but we can do better than we do in caring for our own, reaching back, and developing our own infrastructures. We all have a role to play.

The Black community not only needs people who succeed to be the direction and trendsetters for the Black and African diaspora globally, we need to learn to do it without capitalistic and colonialist approaches which have done our communities a great disservice.

Black, African, and Caribbean communities need to do better or those left behind. We must do better.

Why Blacks Giving Back to Blacks Matter

Because colonization literally stole, raped, and pilfered Black and Brown communities before, during, and after it’s manifestation, they leave people living in places decimated by slavery and colonization with nothing to sustain themselves and leaving nothing for them to trade. Those countries making the ultimate decision to free themselves from colonialism and all of its oppressive ways usually pay dearly for trying to go it alone.

Those countries (also known as “shit-hole countries”) struggle to become self-sustaining, civilized, economies. The same thing applies to American communities made poor and non-prosperous by our very own governments. And since most Black people already know this, we must work twice as hard to undo the intentional sabotaging of black lives and livelihoods. Giving back matters. It’s a matter of Black life and Black death. Black people globally should stop looking for a savior to give them to band-aid. Blacks need to be the solution to the problems we didn’t create. Let’s pool our minds and resources like other communities so we can make ourselves better, stronger, and greater.

It takes a deep, enlightened, and intelligent person to create a plan to employ us, build our communities, create decent, affordable housing for us, and provide the supports necessary for us to become upwardly mobile while making a profit. Black people need to stop looking for a savior to give them to band-aid.

Why What, Where, and How We Give Matters

On my most recent trip to Barbados, I had a private tour of the island and was quite disappointed in the lack of infrastructure because of constant corruption. The people are powerless. I saw the struggles of the island (like most Caribbean Islands) and could speak with people on the ground who wouldn’t ordinarily be spoken to because they aren’t government officials or higher ups. I spoke with every day working folks who loved the island and love all those who represent them well. People are looking for help, especially from those who make it off the impoverished island.

For example, international superstar Rhianna is probably one of the wealthiest people to hail from the island of Barbados, and she is probably the most popular people from island to-date as far as the global stage goes. Rhianna has done several great things in the way of charitable endeavors for the benefit of island natives to include donating to the hospital annually, hosting charitable events with proceeds going to charitable island initiatives, and attending local events that help bring awareness to island festivities like their annual Crop Over Festival.

Because of her invaluable contributions, they selected her as the island’s ambassador for the tiny island Barbados, which I think is outstanding and well-deserved. She’s been donating to island causes dating back to 2010. But as I toured the island, I wondered what more could be done on a local level to develop the future and aid in some infrastructure issues the tiny nation has. Playgrounds are non-existent in the poorest parish communities, and there are few opportunities for citizens to make a decent living to increase the nation’s tax base. The minimum wage in Barbados is $4 per hour, and nearly everything islanders need to survive is imported, making the cost of necessities costly and in some case unattainable.

To watch people go about their daily business with the obstacles and challenges to living is humbling. The lack made me question how someone like Rhianna, with an estimated net worth of $240 million dollars according to Forbes, could be comfortable coming home just giving her hard earned cash and charity dollars to one of the island’s most stable hospitals year after year when there are so many other worthy needs. Extreme poverty makes people sick, so combating poverty is very important too.

And while Rhianna has attempted to do something for her people back home, is it enough? Is her giving the right prescription for Bajan suffering and inequality at the local levels? I say no. There were lots of things that could be done to improve the lives of the 280,000 people of the tiny island.

Rhianna can always do more, and so can we. We can always be more thoughtful and definitely more intentional about our giving. Young Black philanthropists must begin thinking more long-term and systemically to help us change our circumstances.

As I rode through the tiny country, I saw dilapidated and sparsely decorated playgrounds. If kids can’t play, they can’t develop the social and emotional skills and studies have concluded play is invaluable for learning. Why can’t Rhianna’s donate beautiful, safe, play grounds while working with the nation’s government to ensure they maintain the invaluable investment, with perhaps an annual report? Giving should never happen without accountability.

She could work with country leaders or individually as an entrepreneur to develop an agricultural hub, creating a new generation of farmers. Almost everything the island consumes is imported (i.e. food), which sucks up a huge portion of people’s wages. The island consumes more than it produces. No nation can be sustained this way.

Additionally, the nation’s sugar industry’s labor force deteriorated as the country became more developed and the population became more educated. Some people considered the sugar cane industry slave work, while others thought it was work for the uneducated.

Like in America, Black citizens were encouraged to go to school and pursue an education by the government and family members who wanted “better” for their offspring. Now the tiny nation is over-saturated with an educated workforce, and not enough employment opportunities for them, which is what happens when there is not enough diversity in economies. Everyone can’t work in business.

Black communities globally need to get back to the basics and have our own resources. We need to make our own way, feed our own people and make products for others outside of our communities to consume. We need to make our own stuff.

We all need to eat, and the tourism industry’s low wages don’t give people a lot of extra income to splurge on over-priced food. Rhianna could become a thoughtful philanthropist and create various agricultural eco-systems across the island to grow and sell food to residents of the island, resorts, and tourists while training her fellow Bajans to be honest, trustworthy entrepreneurs. They could also export goods to local islands.

Another thoughtful way to give back is to create a huge venue with accommodations to host entertainment events, helping to drive the tourism industry. Her intentional investment could employ Bajans, create a new destination for festival goers from any music genre to attend, and work with government, business, and tourism industries globally as the Ambassador of her country to ensure it went off without a hitch. She could also finally throw locals the concert they’ve been begging for. Or maybe she could create a manufacturing hub where all things Fenty beauty and Fenty wear is made only in Barbados. She could create sewing and distribution factories on the island, teach men and women how to sew, pay the people fair living wages, and sell your brand globally instead of having people in China, Indonesia, Thailand to make cheap clothes and sell then turn around to sell them to us overpriced. That’s what the fashion industry does anyway, so why not help your own nation, build your own economy, set up your own business and run it ethically with integrity?

Transportation is an issue for the poor unable to buy a car, so why not create a local bus transportation system that can transport people to and from work at a reasonable rate to ensure people can get to and from work since the public transportation system sucks right now?

Rhianna could be the light tiny impoverished Black nations need, and she doesn’t even have to use all of her own money doing it. She could get her famous Black celebrity friends to invest and have their stuff made their too. Jay-Z and Beyonce, or Drake could get their garbs created by Black hands in Black lands. That’s what I call intentional giving and Black economic development.

Black giving matters. How we give matters. What we give matters. Our intentions matter.

Black Charity Must Start at Home

It’s easy to throw money at a problem for sentimental reasons. There is a time, place, and season for that. But if we are ever to survive and thrive in the world, we must learn to take care of our own people. I’m all for going other places and doing things for the less fortunate in other parts of the world, but I’m all for taking care of home first. It’s a practice every Black should engage in. If your home isn’t healthy, how can you take care of someone else’s? As Black people collectively, we need to do better about taking care of our own communities.

We need to stop looking for others to save us and our communities. The world has it out for Black people, and I can’t figure out why. Whether it’s slavery in Libya, White folks telling Blacks and other People of Color to go back to Africa here in America, or Colonialism leaving Black and Brown communities and nations impoverished after robbing them blind. The world has shown us time and time again; they want to take from us, use us, and have us serve them on their terms. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can have a say in what happens to us, but we must be intentional in giving back.

The Black and African communities globally needs to search our souls and our motives. Are Black philanthropists doing what they do for a tax writeoff, for positive public relations (PR), or do they really care about the health, well-being, empowerment, and upward mobility of Black people everywhere. Anybody can “support” something (giving money). That “support” doesn’t always equate to intentional giving in meaningful ways. It doesn’t always equate to help, nor does it equate to improving the quality of life for the less fortunate. Sometimes support means helping those at the top look good, with very little help trickling down to those who need it most.

Donating money or your name, having a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, or doing a book bag giveaway are great starting points, but those things may not have the long-lasting impact of a school, creating a nonprofit grocery store or chain in low-income and/or rural communities, or creating entrepreneurial hubs to inspire ad employ poor communities.

It’s time for all Black people to be obligated to giving back. We need to be intentional in our giving; be systemic in our thinking and make certain our efforts will help us get the foot off our necks. Every other ethnic group practices group economics, group empowerment, group governance, group education, and group capitalism. Blacks are more likely to help directly or indirectly every other group except our own.

It’s time for us all to succeed. When reaching back, be intentional, think systemically, and think long-term. It’s time out for band-aids.

©2019 Marley K. All rights reserved.