As we transition from January to February, each year I ponder my responsibilities as a successful older American of African descent. January is the month that I remember the contributions made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the quality of life for all Americans. February is the month that I consider the accomplishments of all Americans of African descent.
I’m extremely grateful to Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis and others. My comfortable life would not be possible without their sacrifices. I realize that I’ve accomplished far more than my parents could have dreamed. My children have many more opportunities than my parents could conceive. That brings me to Dr. King’s discussion of a Freedom Dividend. I first heard the term when I was about 14 years old. However, I had no context to use for understanding what it meant. The term Freedom Dividend had no relevance.
Fast forward to the presidential debate in December 2019 when candidate Andrew Yang referred to Dr. King’s Freedom Dividend. Mr. Yang suggested the Freedom Dividend is a guaranteed $1,000 a month income for every working American. I thought, “Is this what Dr. King meant? Is a $1,000 per month or $12,000 an annual goal that we should work toward? Would a $1,000 per month income even represent a living wage? Would $1,000 per month income support a family? How does this compare to the minimum wage? Should we aspire to earn more than a minimum wage? Is a guaranteed income (regardless of a worker’s contribution to an organization’s mission) social engineering?” Of course, Dr. King was referring to a $12,000 annual salary in 1965 dollars.
I’ve learned during my adult life that most employers will not pay more in wages than the economic utility that an employee provides. If you provide less economic utility than the minimum wage, you will be eventually replaced by automation, or the service that you provide will cease to be offered. McDonald’s and Wendy’s now use fast food apps. How many people order their food and pick it up from a kiosk with little or no human contact?
Full-service gas stations became obsolete during my driving lifetime. How many generation Xers or millennials have purchased gas where an attendant filled their tank, cleaned their windshield, and checked the oil? Consequently, I define the Freedom Dividend as a living wage on a job that simultaneously creates economic utility, value added and individual affluence. I believe however that there is nothing wrong with working a minimum wage job if you move quickly to a career with wages adequate to create affluence.
We are all, regardless of race, gender or national origin, obligated to take advantage of the opportunities provided through the sacrifices of Freedom Fighters like Dr. King and Congressman Lewis. Insist that your children graduate from high school and take advantage of post-secondary education and training. Insist that your children progress on schedule from one grade to the next. Use HOPE dual enrollment opportunities when high school students are ready to move on to higher education. Use the HOPE grant, the HOPE Career Grant, the HOPE Scholarship, PELL Grants, and student loans wisely and judiciously to acquire economic utility.
In my opinion, the Freedom Dividend is much more than a guaranteed income of $1,000 per month. I’m sure Dr. King would say that it is the opportunity to earn as much as your talents and ambitions will allow. The state of Georgia and the Federal Government have already created an opportunity for all to earn the True Freedom Dividend. However, we must pay forward and respect the principle of delayed gratification. In order to earn a $70,000 nurse’s salary, you must prepare for the rigors of the curriculum and invest at least two years of hard work. In order to acquire the Freedom Dividend of a truck driver, you must invest eight weeks in CDL training.
When I entered first grade in South Carolina in 1959, few Americans of African descent had graduated from the University of South Carolina or Clemson University. HBCUs in South Carolina offered only approximately 15 percent of the courses offered by historically white institutions. Only one technical school admitted Americans of African descent. The freedom that was to be derived from education was denied to 40% of South Carolina’s population. No such limitations confront our children or grandchildren.
Those who did not or could not take advantage of the Freedom Dividend because they dropped out of high school should Joint Enroll in adult and post-secondary career education using ATB HOPE Career and PELL Grants. I believe that Dr. King would be proud of those who have gained enough economic utility to acquire the True Freedom Dividend. I believe that he would challenge those who have not done so to take advantage of the educational opportunities that our great state and nation have already offered and continue to offer. In short, I believe that the Freedom Dividend is not money, it is the removal of barriers and the availability of resources needed to maximize economic affluence.