Investment strategy

Black Business Leaders: Advice for the Next Generation on Overcoming Racial and Economic Inequity

Olivia Michael | CNBC

In celebration of Black History, CNBC Invest in You is featuring weekly stories from CNBC contributors and members of the Financial Wellness Council, including the lessons they've learned growing up, their advice to Black youth, their inspirations and how they are working to close the racial wealth gap.

Amid signs that the omicron variant wave is beginning to wane, Americans are returning to work, but not equally. The Labor Department reported on Friday an impressive jobs growth number that upended pessimistic expectations. The overall unemployment rate in January, meanwhile, edged higher, to 4%, but for Black workers, the unemployment rate remains much higher: 6.9% in January.

The coronavirus pandemic has had an outsized negative effect on people of color. Uncertainty about the length of the pandemic continues. CNBC recently spoke with Black leaders about defining career moments and lessons they've learned that can help younger generations achieve success.

The founder of BET and the chairman of The RLJ Companies, Robert Johnson, made history as America's first black billionaire when he sold BET to Viacom in 2001.

He started Black Entertainment Television with a $15,000 loan in 1980, and in 1991, he launched it as a public company — the first African-American-owned firm traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

"As an entrepreneur, there's some gene that floats around and inside you that makes you want to achieve things that others may feel is not possible. So my inspiration came from believing in myself, and having friends who encouraged me to be the best that I can be," Johnson tells CNBC. "And I think if more Black Americans had that encouragement, had that support and level of confidence presented to them, I think more Black Americans can achieve their success as I have."

After spending the early part of her career at the Central Intelligence Agency, Helima Croft transitioned to Wall Street and is managing director and global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

She is the daughter of longtime civil rights activist Howard Croft, who died at the age of 78 from complications of coronavirus in June 2020, and who risked his life in the early 1960s to register Black voters in Mississippi. 

For Croft, Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made by those like her father.

"Black History Month means so much to me. It's a time of solid reflection as I think about the individuals that risked so much to help us achieve the rights and freedoms that we have today," she tells CNBC.

"Individuals like Rosa Parks, but also the countless foot soldiers who risked so much in pursuit of racial justice. I think of my father Howard Croft, who was a civil rights leader who went to jail on multiple occasions. I think of all of these individuals who risked so much to help us get to where we are today."

Rising interest rates may be causing demand to slow down for mortgage refinancing, but the industry faces a more significant problem – discrimination.

According to some experts, homes in Black neighborhoods are underpriced by 23%, or about $48,000 per home, compared to similar white neighborhoods. Morgan Stanley estimates that racial housing inequality costs nearly 800,000 jobs and $400 billion in tax revenue. Homeownership in America is crucial for creating generational wealth.

CNBC contributor David Henderson experienced that same discrimination last year while having his home appraised. "My wife and I had our house appraised twice last year so we could sell it and the second time, it appraised almost $50,000 higher than it did the first time," Henderson recalls. "What changed? The first time we were home. The second time we made sure that we weren't. And we took down all the pictures of ourselves and our family."

His message to other Black Americans – discrimination still exists and you can't fix what you don't acknowledge. "One of the most important things you can do to improve the financial future for the Black community is recognize that discrimination like this occurs, because you can't fix what you won't acknowledge."

With over 25 years of experience in the financial services and investment management industries, Greg Branch is an experienced leader and hopes that fellow Black leaders continue to push for advancement within their communities.

A CNBC contributor and founder & managing partner of Veritas Financial Group, Branch knows that today's leaders can inspire the next generation of leaders. "I like to remind our current and future leaders during Black History Month, those of you who have broken down barriers and shattered ceilings and kicked down doors, that the community needs you to stay vocal, visible and involved. Your very example can help broaden horizons and aspirations," he tells CNBC.

Branch wants leaders to continue to share their stories of success. "Hearing how you got there can help engender the motivation and discipline needed to take advantage of today's and tomorrow's opportunities. And this is one of the most powerful tools we have in the arsenal that we'll use to empower the Black community."

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