Durham, North Carolina
by Lynn Adler
Producer of Faith, Hope and Capital
the leadership of Martin Eakes, Self Help has helped thousands of unbankable
people become home owners. Now he's challenging commercial banks to pick
up the ball.
Read a portion below or go to a printer-friendly page of the full
ME: I grew
up during desegregation in the South, and it really was the factor that
shaped me. I grew up in a community that was predominantly black, on
the south side of Greensboro. The hometown where I grew up had always
announced to the world that it was one of the more progressive Southern
towns, in terms of race. When the Brown vs. Board of Education decision
was first announced, that city announced that it would be the first
But, like lots of other Southern city, it took many, many years before
that actually got implemented. It was really when I was high school
that the public school that I attended began to desegregate. Having
grown up in a community where my friends were unable to do the things
that I could do, always struck me as being morally corrupt, and still
does. Basically, we had a very naive vision that we wanted to do good
in the world and not much clarity beyond that. That's where we started
from and we bumped our noses on every single stone in the road that
could be bumped on.
Self Help first started we were interested only in starting small businesses.
We felt like jobs were the key piece that would make a difference for
most poor families. And, it took uswe were very slow learnerstook
us maybe five to six to seven years before we came across what I call
one of the key facts of Self Help. That fact is the disparity of wealth
between black and white. Now, I knew this personally, growing up in
a predominantly black community, but I didn't know it in an intellectual
What we found really startled us and made us angry really. We found
that black families, and minority families in general, have an average
net wealth of about $4400. Well, you can say that sounds not so bad,
until you then hear that the average net wealth of white families is
$44,000. That's basically an 11 to 1 difference between black and white.
That one factor translates into every single other dimension of economic
life that you can imagine.
We then found that 60 to 70 percent of the wealth of both families,
white or black, was held in the equity that people own in their home.
We ended up, not because we cared about shelter per se, but because
we found that for minority, and rural and women entrepreneurs to have
the kind of stake to get started in a business, they had to first be
able to own a home. So, we became preachers for the importance of owning
Really, I still think, there are two legs that any kind of economic
justice stands on. One looks at wealth, the other looks at knowledge.
Unfortunately, in many ways in this country, we are unwilling to talk
about either, about wealth or knowledge. I believe you can measure a
civilization by how well it creates opportunity for its bottom half.
You don't have to worry about the top half. The top half will always
find its own opportunities because it has wealth. So, for us, becoming
involved in home ownership was the single way of trying to undo the
legacy of slavery in North Carolina.
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