One hundred years after a devastating massacre desecrated a thriving black community in Tulsa, Okla.’s Greenwood neighborhood, Hill Harper and his team are reviving the vision of "Black Wall Street" in digital form by creating a Black-owned cryptocurrency exchange and digital wallet.
The initiative aims to increase access to financial education in Black and other communities of color. In the words of Harper, “When we talk about financial literacy, to me it's about an ecosystem of problems that requires an ecosystem of systemic solutions. We start with financial literacy, we move to financial capacity building, ultimately getting to financial empowerment.”
We are entering a phase of increased collective consciousness but not without a wide wealth gap, institutional racism and proud racists surfacing. We have moved from a place of "racial paranoia" to being jaded by the widespread evidence of prejudice due to the proliferation of social media and other consequences of the Information Age.
This prejudice can be noted in practices of predatory capitalism that target minority communities. “When you really, actually peel back the onion, 90% to 95% of the financial products and services that have historically been offered to Black, brown and marginalized communities have been either predatory on their face or hidden predatory,” Harper told CoinDesk’s Consensus 2021 event last week.
As a community, Black folks have always strived to own and operate both infrastructure and the means of production but have been continually held back by structural inequality and attacks from extremists and the government alike. The Greenwood District, which was burned down 100 years ago this week, was densely populated with Black business owners, which enabled the community to keep money in local circulation.
“There were three pillars in my mind,” said Harper. “Number one was institutional ownership. Pillar number two [was] institutional trust. Pillar number three was the movement of money or capital within the ecosystem."
At present, a dollar circulates within the Black community for six hours on average before exiting. “I believe,” Hill argues, “if we don't own our own digital wallets and don't onboard and educate folks about digital currency and cryptocurrency concurrently, then that dollar will be leaving within six to seven seconds.”
Today, African Americans are among the biggest consumers in the U.S. but are primarily not the owners of infrastructure or rights to intellectual property. Despite being the frontrunners of cultural capital, the arts and innovation, Black folks don't often participate in ownership or distribution.
The Black Wall Street app hopes to be a safe and trusted place for the Black community to exchange and hold value developed from the ground up. As we enter the Web 3.0 era, the unbanked and underbanked must not be left behind as society moves away from fiat currency. Hill Harper, an actor who has appeared in "CSI: NY", "Limitless" and "The Good Doctor," is a Harvard-educated lawyer who sat in a class with Barack Obama during his time at Harvard Law. The app was engineered by CTO Brian Griffin, while Najah Roberts is the startup’s blockchain expert and chief visionary officer.
As the “great wealth transfer” shifts capital from boomers to their children, the Black community needs to be a part of it. The Black Wall Street App seeks to increase financial literacy among members of the Black community. The Black Wall Street app is not a get-rich-quick scheme nor will it be exclusive to the Black and brown communities. It will be available to everyone with all getting the added value of using the platform.
“Number one, we're going to be cheaper than Coinbase, cheaper than Cash App and we're going to give folks more for their money,” Harper said.
Hill Harper and Najah Roberts are currently on a 30-city financial literacy tour to engage members in the Black community across the country. “We don't want to set our people up to fail because they've been burned so many times," Harper said.
Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin can be an effective hedge against inflation given the finite supply of Satoshis and increasing demand. We don't want a wider wealth gap because underserved communities are not engaged in diversified investments, especially investments that result in increased spending power over time.
Multiplication works better than addition. Strategic investments that compound interest or favorable annual percentage yield (APY) are more effective than saving paper fiat under the mattress or paying the bank to invest your money for their benefit.
Minority groups need to own and curate wealth within their communities. “For too long, particularly in tech, we've allowed tech companies to monetize our community," said Harper. "And our communities are the community that's made apps like Clubhouse billion-dollar apps [and] apps like Twitter billion-dollar apps, yet we have never owned them. This is an opportunity for us to monetize culture and keep the money circulating within our culture.”