This thought has occurred to me before, but not so accutely felt as a few days ago, when sitting around the table with some of the young women Youth Outreach Coordinators at the DC Trust: my personal network is a mighty powerful thing!
I am in my late 30’s, have attended some of the country’s top schools, and am in an executive-level position at a reputable youth-centered non-profit in the Nation’s capital. My social circle is full of similarly-positioned people. To me, though, they’re just my friends–a village of really good people with whom I can have stimulating conversation about politics, policy, and culture; can battle on the dance floor at “ol’ skool” night at the club; can leave my 6-month old son, while my husband and I enjoy date night… Rarely do I even think about what it is they do for a living, the power they hold in their respective fields, and how to best leverage that power to build a stronger community.
But on this recent day while sitting in on a workshop a colleague was facilitating for a group of young adult women, I realized that I have been sitting on an untapped gold mine. The particular context that crystalized that thought had to do with helping young women of color become financially literate. While I am by no means “wealthy”, seven years ago I brought together a group of friends who were interested in learning how to build wealth to form an investment club–the Sista Millionaires Acquiring Capital (Sista MACs). Of the now 9 Sistas (all African-American), one is a Harvard-educated medical doctor/anthropologist and head of a local community medical organization, one is a senior researcher and evaluation expert for a nationally-recognized youth policy organization, one is an expert in women’s small businesses and travels the world educating state leaders on the value of women entrepreneurship, and so on…
Outside of what we do in our “9-to-5” (though often 24-7) jobs, we collectively have amassed a knowledge of how to analyze stocks to manage a portfolio that consistently sees profits at a rate three times that of the S & P 500. (Pretty impressive, if I must say so myself!) As the Sista MACs have mulled over various avenues for our club’s investments, we’ve talked about micro-lending to small social enterprises (which we did–supporting Aminata Brown’s Sista Works business), opening a bed and breakfast that employs local youth as guides and hosts, supporting a promising young artist whose early works might be very valuable in the coming years–in other words, using our collective dollars to help grow community (the principle of “ujamaa”, cooperative economics).
We also can share the knowledge that we’ve gained with other young women, doing as the National Association of Colored Women advanced–lifting as we climb. The young women Youth Outreach Coordinators were excited about the possibility of learning about money from other women, and about the idea of an investment club itself. When I shared this with my Sista MACs, they became excited about the possibility of sharing our knowledge with the next generation. We immediately began conjuring up images of circles like ours multiplying, of brown women becoming empowered with knowledge of how to ensure stable financial futures for themselves and their families, of small “Grameen Banks” opening around Wards 7 and 8 in DC (the most economically marginalized areas in the city)… Quite powerful thoughts!
I was at a conference recently in Los Angeles, and one of my luncheon tablemates from the Casey Foundation said “We [people of color] don’t know how to network.” He is absolutely right. For a person like me to only now be having a “Eureka” moment about how well-connected and well-positioned my friends and I are, and to only now be thinking of how to leverage our power is pretty ridiculous. In some cultures and households, this is taught and lived early-on. It’s how a young person fresh out of college lands a great first job at a well-paying law firm, how CEOs have risen, how political seats have gotten won, how capitalistic wealth has been created. Networking–taking your friend’s young, bright niece under your wing for a summer internship, supporting a local candidate because another trusted friend said she was “dope”, introducing cool folks who you battle on the dance floor who also happen to be brilliant engineers to other cool folks who happen to be brilliant educators–is how the power structures came to be.
Washington DC’s new Mayor is just a few years older than me. We roll in similar circles. I go grocery shopping or to a museum or to the farmer’s market, and I inevitably bump into lots of people I know. I am at the age of power. If my circle just leveraged our collective power, we could have great influence. Great POSITIVE influence to shape policy, create programs, build community wealth, and bend the arc of history towards justice.