Newsroom » Educating a Generation of Entrepreneurs: Part I

Educating a Generation of Entrepreneurs: Part I

Posted 01/27/2009 22:34

by Jayne Matthews
Baltimore Times

Other than Black History Month, the writings of African American scholars such as WEB DuBois and Booker T. Washington are rarely read or considered. I believe a discourse on the importance of educating young black entrepreneurs can best be put into historic reference by the words of DuBois in his 1903 landmark publication "The Souls of Black Folk". He writes the following in a chapter entitled "Of the Training of Black Men":

And men ask this today all the more eagerly because of sinister signs in recent educational movements. The tendency is here, born of slavery and quicken to renewed life by the crazy imperialism of the day, to regard human beings as among the material resources of a land to be trained with an eye single to future dividends. Race-prejudices which keep brown and black men in their "places" we are coming to regard as useful allies with such a theory, no matter how much they dull the ambition and sicken the hearts of struggling human beings. And above all, we daily hear that an education that encourages aspiration, that sets the loftiest of ideas and seeks as an end culture and character rather than bread-winning, is the privilege of white men and the danger and delusion of black.

Exactly 50 years before the Brown versus Board of Education decision that dismantled the legal basis of racial segregation in schools, DuBois spoke of the psychological shackles of racially motivated educational reform. Given the social resistance to allowing equal educational opportunities, his thoughts raises a debate for black Americans that continues today: which is more important for achieving success in American, education or entrepreneurship? Baltimore businessman, Jimmy Wilson answers that question by asking why do we have to choose?

This week Education Matters introduces James (Jimmy) Wilson, a well-educated, successful entrepreneur. Wilson earned a B.S. degree in Mathematics at Morgan University and a J.D. degree at the University of Baltimore Law School. Since 1989 he has been a strategic business advisor, specializing in commercial transactions, feasibility, merchandising and leasing. He is the founder and proprietor of an international business, which provides professional services to individuals, corporations, government and non-profit organizations.

Wilson's clients include The University of Maryland Medical Center, The Rouse Company, HEHCAC/Johns Hopkins/City of Baltimore Biotechnology Initiative, Walt Disney's Pleasure Island, Dundalk Community College, Bethlehem Steel and the Enterprise Foundation. Wilson is well-known for using his business expertise to assist clients in building alliances and relationships that ensure projects are completed on time and within budget. He has been equally active in mentoring young men and women who represent the future of minority business leadership.

"The big debate of which is more important education or entrepreneurship goes back to Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois. But the better question is as African Americans why do we have to choose? The world's most successful people pursue both with equal commitment. Could it be that the establishment doesn't want African American to figure this out? Our minds are limited by the notion that it has to be one or the other," says Wilson.

While I am an advocate for educational opportunities that met the individual academic needs of each student, I agree that more time, money and energy needs to be spent on an "entrepreneurial" education. Our success as a race depends on full, productive employment for all who are able to work. This must include identifying opportunities for starting and growing a viable business. This is especially true for young people who have struggled in school for years and are at increased risk for dropping out before completing high school.

As I read DuBois' words the first business that came to my mind is prisons. Since the abolition of slavery the correctional industry has grown steadily and is a big business in America. First, there were penal work camps and chain gangs. Southerners, many of whom were former plantation owners used the unpaid labor of poor, uneducated black men as a highly profitable, but disingenuous way to "sicken the hearts of struggling human beings" and amassed great wealth in the process.

Today, a record number of penitentiaries are being planned and built, primarily for poor, uneducated black men. A disproportionate number of African American men send time in prisons run by large companies who make a tidy profit from feeding, housing and providing health services to inmates. Are black males who drop out of school in the words of DuBois, regarded "as among the material resources of a land to be trained with an eye single to future dividends?"

Even for African Americans who not in danger of getting caught up in the criminal justice system, entrepreneurship can be a wise alternative. "Blacks own less than one percent of the businesses in the United States. This means that 99% of the time we work for someone. What is most troubling about this is that the day of big corporation looking out for individuals is over. So, even if you successfully complete school and secure a well-paying job there is no guarantee that you will not become unemployed when your company merges with a larger corporation or goes out of business," says Wilson.

Next week: Part two of "Educating a Generation of Entrepreneurs"

Jayne Matthews is a parent and an educational advocate who writes weekly about educational issues. Your thoughts and comments are welcomed at [email protected].

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