Five Black Business Leaders on Reparations and Why Corporate America Needs to do More in Closing the Racial Weath Gap

Black business leaders.Photo credit: Getty and subjects; Photo Illustration: Elham Ataeiazar for CNBC Make It

As we honor Juneteenth as an official federal holiday for the first time, many are calling attention to conversations about reparations and the need to close the racial wealth gap for Black Americans.

Prior to the Covid-19 crisis and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, the median white household in America held nearly eight times the wealth of the median Black household in 2019, reports Brookings Institution.

While President Biden and his administration have unveiled plans to help close this gap, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, many people have also called on corporate America and its leaders to take a stand in speaking out against racial inequality and economic injustice.

Some leaders, like BET and RLJ Companies founder Robert Johnson, have openly talked about the need for reparations to help compensate Black Americans for years of slavery and unpaid labor. Other leaders, like The ActONE Group founder and CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd, have spoken about alternative solutions to reparations that still ensure Black communities are getting the proper resources and economic support needed to build wealth.

CNBC Make It reached out to Johnson, Bryant Howroyd and three other Black business leaders to get their insight on reparations, economic justice and the role corporate America plays in closing the racial wealth gap.

You can scroll down or jump directly to the following sections by clicking on their names:

Robert Johnson: Founder of BET and RLJ Companies

John Hope Bryant: Chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE

Janice Bryant Howroyd: Founder and CEO of The ActONE Group

Kevin Cohee: Chairman and CEO of OneUnited Bank

Michael Hyter: President and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council

Robert Johnson / Founder of BET and RLJ Companies

BET and RLJ Companies founder Robert Johnson.Photo credit: Getty; Photo Illustration: Elham Ataeiazar for CNBC Make It

Why he believes $14 trillion in reparations is needed

I called for a $14 trillion reparations payment for two specific reasons. The first reason is it would help to close the wealth gap between Black and white Americans which was fundamentally caused by slavery. [Slavery] deprived Black Americans of the financial benefits of their labor and was compounded in denying access to capital by over 200 years of systemic economic discrimination.

The second reason is for white Americans to express their request for forgiveness and manifest their atonement to Black Americans to show that they believe that Black Americans deserve both an apology and a payment for the country’s failure to live up to its founding principles of equality, due process under law, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without any form of racial discrimination.

The specific benefit of financial reparations would give Black Americans access to capital which is the primary driver necessary to achieve economic success and to build sustainable wealth. In my proposal, each Black American would receive $350,767, which they would use to acquire the same assets of wealth that white Americans have. The key assets would be homeownership, investments in stocks and bonds, investments in retirement savings and education for their children.

On if he believes reparations will receive the political support needed

No. That is why I have called on Congress to enact what I call The BOOST Act. The BOOST Act would invite investors to invest in Black-owned businesses and in return, they would be eligible for preferential tax treatment based on the profitable returns of their investment. Where reparations would be mandatory, The BOOST Act investment would be voluntary and would be an example of wealthy investors doing what they believe is in the best interest of providing Black Americans with access to capital and, therefore, closing the wealth gap.

John Hope Bryant / Chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE

Operation HOPE Chairman and CEO John Hope Bryant.Photo credit: Getty; Photo Illustration: Elham Ataeiazar for CNBC Make It

On if reparations is key to closing the racial wealth gap

I think that human dignity and common considerations are the key to closing the wealth gap. Unfortunately, human dignity requires that we heal the breaches of inhumanity between us — the very thing that opened the door to slavery in the first place. Common considerations would acknowledge Black slavery as the largest reverse transfer of wealth in American history. That won’t happen because it would bankrupt the nation if calculated properly. And so, the best the nation could do in the name of reparations is to commit to educate every Black child, kindergarten through college, and to treat it as a forward investment in the nation, by the nation, [and] in partial consideration of all those who built the nation for free.

All of this said, reparations alone are not even the key, but what was really lost was a measure of our self-esteem, and self-belief. We were never given The Memo (my last book), on how this free enterprise and capitalist system works. We were never taught, how to come Up From Nothing (my current book), and the necessity of this winning mindset. And, we never gathered the necessary relationship capital required to succeed in a capital system, [which] requires the right mindset and the access to sustainable opportunity…So no, money alone won’t do it, even though it would make many feel better. What was robbed must be repaired, and not simply paid for.

What Black Americans need today

What Black America needs now is a massive education on money and how it works (financial literacy); along with computerization and technology (both of these should be required classes before end of high school); an investment in graduating youth either through a dedicated internship for a corporate job; or an ability to create a job through the creation of a small business (with modest venture funding and technical assistance support). Operation HOPE has leaned in here, with our One Million Black Business and Entrepreneur Initiative (1MBB), backed by a $130 million commitment from Shopify.

Response to business leaders who feel racial and social justice issues are not their problem

Business leaders who do not believe that social justice and racial issues are their problem probably should just retire before they embarrass themselves in public. The reality is, the world just changed. Right before our very eyes, and it is not (thankfully) going back to the way that it use to be. Employees, customers and shareholders are demanding a different kind of thoughtfulness from their CEO and other leaders. They don’t just want to be sent a dividend payment, they want sustained and authentic brand equity as well. And one more thing — the math is against this type of leader. If you want to find economically prosperous and growing companies, cities and regions, look for those that are diverse and inclusive. This is not soft soap, wishful thinking, but the math of the matter. To quote my friend Mellody Hobson, ‘I like math, because it doesn’t have an opinion.’

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SOURCE: CNBC, Courtney Connley