On a balmy September afternoon, I hopped on a call with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s newly installed CEO, Mr. David Hinson.
At the time of our interview, the former Obama appointee has served as the foundation’s chief executive for just two months and one week.
I asked if he felt pressure to perform at a prestigious organization with a nearly 50 year history.
“Pressure” he says, “is relative.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Africa. While I was there, I observed many students living in areas with no lighting in their homes. You could go to any neighborhood and see young people circling the street lamps, walking and reading, and finishing their lessons.
That always impressed me. What is the psychology of a person who won’t allow a lack of electricity affect their education?
Coming into an organization that is 50 years old– where a lot of work has been done by those who came before me– it’s challenging, but it doesn’t compare as pressure at all.”
Much like his former boss, Hinson is a storyteller.
The thoughts shared during our interview (as you’ll read below) are anecdotes rich with aspiration; meant to provoke thought and inspire hope.
If you haven’t had the pleasure, let me be the first to introduce you to CBCF CEO, Mr. David Hinson.
The following is a selection from our conversation (condensed for length and edited for clarity).
CS: What does this years’ ALC theme, ‘400 Years’ mean to you?
DH: “It pays homage to those who came before us. It acknowledges the resilient strength of a people.
These 400 years speak to an unbelievable amount of success and achievement. And it recognizes the need to say thanks to those upon whose shoulders we stand.”
CS: If you could choose just one, what do you believe will be the most important policy proposal for people of color in this upcoming election?
DH: “If you look across the challenges the black community faces– whether it’s healthcare, police brutality, or joblessness– all of them are rooted in one central thing: economic powerlessness.
So, to me, the most important issue– not only at this year’s ALC but of our time– is what are we going to do about the wealth gap in the African American community? This issue has to be addressed.”
CS: What is the difference between economic powerlessness and economic inequality?
DH: “Economic inequality speaks to where one is compared to other people. When that variation gets too large, it then goes into powerlessness.
The playing field has become so unlevel that for many in our community we are in a position of almost complete powerlessness. There’s literally nothing we can do to move ourselves up.
While there appears to be more opportunity, the ability to engage that opportunity has become much more difficult. Which is why we must ensure the next generation has a more level playing field than the last generation did.”
CS: I know Washington is often referred to as the swamp and the current political division has exhausted many, but is there anyone here you admire?
DH: “Lots of people. I admire the 55 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Many people outside of Washington don’t really know the work they do to create an environment for us that opens up doors. Nothing comes for free. Someone fought long and hard to create an environment where we can decide to vote or not.
We can decide to go to college or not. We can decide where we want to work.
So, when you go back and you look at the founders of the CBC, 12 men and one woman being Cherly Chisulm, you can only admire them for the tenacity, the focus, and the willingness to fight through very difficult odds.”
“If you want to have the greatest impact on your community, the most important thing you can do is to achieve financial independence.” – David Hinson, CBCF CEO
CS: Share with us the advice you give to the young people in your life that you care about. What do you want 20 and 30 somethings to know?
DH: “Oh, gosh, I hardly have that much time (laughs).
CS: We need a lot don’t we?
DH: “I can be cliche and say live your dreams. But I always tell the people I care about the most that if you want to have the greatest impact on your community, the most important thing you can do is to achieve financial independence.
Because unless you have independence you cannot have a voice. You cannot influence unless you have the economic freedom that allows you to influence.
Someone will come along and say, Ghandi or Martin Luther King didn’t have that. But it was folks with economic freedom that funded their operations.
People will say they can protest or picket to make their voice heard. And you can do those things. But they don’t have near the multiplier impact in that situation as you can if you have financial independence.”
CS: Has this focus on economic freedom been shaped by your international experience?
DH: “Yes, it has. I’ve had the occasion to engage people with substantial resources as well as people with extremely limited resources. And in every instance, in every country around the world, including the United States, people with substantial resources dictate the terms and conditions of life for those with limited resources.
It’s always been that way.
So if you don’t want someone else to dictate the terms and conditions of how you live, then you have to be in a position to dictate those terms yourself. The only way to do that is to have the financial independence that allows you to make those decisions.”
That’s why it’s the most important thing you can do if you really want to impact your community.”
CS: How did you grow up? What was the economic situation of your family?
DH: “Poor. There are two groups who say money doesn’t matter. The first are those who don’t have it and have no ability or interest in acquiring it. And the second is the small group of people who have a lot of it.”
CS: Outside of CBCF what are you passionate about?
DH: “I’ve spent my entire career focusing on wealth creation. But I’m also passionate about people. I am absolutely encouraged by what I’m seeing from some of the black entrepreneurs that are out here.
Within that group, I’m particularly impressed with young black women. They really do understand that the black woman in America is going to elect the next president of the United States.
So despite what we see in the press and the challenges our community faces, I’m betting my money on young black women every day of the week.