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Proud and Distressed: A Note From the Only African-American Bestselling Business Author in America

03/06/2012 01:32 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2012
  • John Hope Bryant Bestselling business leadership author and philanthropic entrepreneur

When my now bestselling business book, Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World(Jossey-Bass), first came out I wanted it to become an instant New York Times bestseller. It was not. Many other books out that fall in 2009 did, but not mine.

Being a typical type-A personality, I was not pleased with my performance (or lack thereof), but just about that time I received a call from my publisher saying, "Congrats John, you have made a coveted business bestseller list for Inc. Magazine's 800-CEO-READ. I did not have a clue what they were talking about, but soon enough it became clear that Inc. Magazine 800-CEO-READ business bestseller list was one that tracked bulk purchases of business books from leading companies and corporate leaders. This was a group I had been trying to positively influence as a thought leader over the years, and here I had achieved a pinnacle of publishing achievement -- and I had not even tried. Just goes to prove that old saying, "if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plan." He always has a better one.

As time went on, Love Leadership made the list for several months running in 2009, and then most of 2010, and even into 2011. In 2010, Love Leadership was one of the top 10 books for 800-CEO-READ, reaching the 4th top spot. I was on top of the world, until I received yet another call.

I was somehow the only African-American bestselling business author period, in mainstream business or leadership or alternatively, business leadership. I was speechless, but not for the obvious reason. Personal pride was not the driver in my initial response.

To be clear, there are countless outstanding and amazing African-American authors in areas including social justice, faith, community, civil rights, fiction, entertainment, politics, sports and the like -- but not business or business leadership. And business, I believe, drove or undergirded all of these things. Entertainment and sports are businesses. Civil rights was achieved in large because businesses took down those stupid "whites only" signs, and changed their policies (not local governments in the southern states). And where were we? More so, where are we now?

I don't believe I should be pegged as an African-American author, no different than President Obama wants to be pegged as a "black president." The president seeks to be a great chief executive who happens to be black, and he is proud of being black, but being black is not his badge or ID. The minute he becomes a black president, he will be a "done" president. He must be a leader of and for all people. That said, it is important that he is African-American, and it is important he is proud of it. It is also a powerful inspiration to others, and an indication of how far we have come in the public sector leadership space. From Dr. King seeking the same water fountain for his children, to President Obama seeking more freedom, opportunity and justice for all.

I am proud of being African-American, even though I don't believe that I or anyone else should be "black for a living." We have to be able to compete on a level playing field like everyone else, and we can. We have. We do. That can be a powerful inspiration to an entire generation of black and brown youth (and other mainstream youth too), who maybe believe that "they can" too. That is the good news about Love Leadership reaching #4 on the Inc. Magazine 800-CEO-READ business bestseller list. The bad news is almost everything else.

The current reality is that the global agenda has shifted away from issues of democracy, which dominated the 20th century, and towards issues of economics (and dare I say business), which increasingly dominate the 21st century agenda. And against this backdrop, I am the only African-American on the business bestseller list, in the largest economy in the world. Not good.

For years, we have had less than 10 African-Americans -- in the nation-- graduating from institutions of higher learning with a Ph.D. in economics. It got to my mentor and personal hero, civil rights leader Ambassador Andrew Young, so much that he has refused to sign future letters of recommendation for students who come to him desiring a law degree. He has nothing against law degrees, and heaven knows America would not have had a civil rights movement without them. He also knows that law degrees are great baselines in and for business. The reality though is that most people of color get law degrees to pursue careers in some form of social or judicial justice. Young wants these young people to stop and be "thoughtful" about the decision they are about to make. To quote Ambassador Young, "we must now find a way to make free enterprise and capitalism relevant to the poor, and ultimately work for the poor." I go one step further, suggesting that "if you don't understand the global language of money (financial literacy), and you don't have a bank or credit union account, you are simply an economic slave."

Greece's problem today is not a need for more judicial justice, or the right to vote, nor more democracy. All these things are critically important in the world of yesterday and today. That said, Greece's problem is simply too much debt, too little GDP growth, and a country that has respectfully lost its storyline. Retirement at age 55 (in Greece)? What the... Where did that come from?

Likewise, Europe's problem today is not social or judicial, but mostly economic. Their currency is sagging, their GDP is down and it is far too hard to become an entrepreneur there. Where did the word entrepreneur come from? France. Where is one of the toughest places in the world today to become an entrepreneur -- respectfully, France. Even Europe's "problem" with immigrants, and immigrants problem with Europe, has its roots in economics and business. At bottom, it is to quote my friend Jim Clifton, author of The Coming Jobs War, a "fight for an almighty good job."

Meanwhile, our friends in China and India are working from can't see in the morning to can't see in the evening, working to become the economic leaders of the next 100 years. And their children are going to school earlier, staying later, and schooling year-round.

What Africa needs now is not so much more aid or handouts, but simply more taxpayers and job creators. What Africa needs now is a generation of entrepreneurs, small business owners and self-employment projects. Do that, and there is a chance for more funded schools, more properly equipped hospitals, paved roads and distribution sectors across the continent and the like.

All of this comes back to the same starting point. Far too many people who look like me are experts in our civil rights (all good by the way), but are not even well versed in their silver rights, let alone being silver rights empowered in an economic age.

And so, I am honored to be the sole African-American bestselling author in America today, but I don't want to be so for long. I want someone to beat the pants off of me, and fast. Actually, thousands of those somebodies. That would tell me we have finally turned the corner, focused on what comes next for our people, our communities, our nation, and our world.

To quote my spiritual father the Rev. Dr. Cecil "Chip " Murray, "The best way to start living your dream, is to start by waking up."

Let's go.

John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine 800-CEO-READ bestselling business author of Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.