First Harvest Reaps Financial Freedom for All
Bitcoin’s recent bull run ushered in a new wave of uber wealthy whales. Early adopters who chose to buy or mine Bitcoin in the early years, and to HODL, have seen the value of their portfolios rocket beyond Satoshi’s wildest dreams. Bitcoin has gone from being valued at little more than one cent in 2009 to what J.P. Morgan Chase bank analysts, long-time skeptics of cryptocurrency, now say could triple in value and challenge gold. And if one Bitcoin address represents one owner, there are now 74,630 Bitcoin millionaires and 5291Bitcoin deca-millionaires [as of 1/1/2021 @ Noon Eastern Time], a staggering statistic when compared to the protracted timeline one ordinarily takes to achieve millionaire status with traditional assets.
But this new asset class comeuppance has largely benefited the privileged few-with exclusive access to tech and finance inner circles — which rarely includes members of the Black community. This is true despite the dogged libertarian principles of maximizing autonomy and political freedom, free association, live and let live individualism and voluntary association, from which Bitcoin emerged.
Past is Prologue
This year, The Hamilton Project released a comprehensive evaluation of wealth in the U.S. and found evidence of staggering racial disparities in generational wealth accumulation. For example, in 2016, the net worth of a typical white family was $171,000, nearly 10 times greater than that of a black family ($17,150). The report also shows that families with the same income can have dramatically different wealth profiles, thanks to lower debt, past accumulated income, inherited wealth and other liquid assets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a pernicious reality of significant systemic racial, economic and health disparities in our society. It’s been said that when America catches a cold, black America gets pneumonia. The Black community’s historical distrust of the centralized power of government, and healthcare and banking systems further compounds problems while widening the wealth gap.
Of Any Stripe
Another skeptical lot, from a very different community along the margins, who distrusted centralized government, big business and finance, albeit for different reasons: the cypherpunk community. In 1992, well over a decade before Bitcoin creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, launched the Bitcoin blockchain and minted the first bitcoins in 2009, these libertarian-leaning programmers — now known as cypherpunks- became laser-focused on autonomy and leveraging the power and promise of the internet’s global connectivity to avoid the global centralization and control of money, identity and data by governments and business behemoths. Cypherpunks sought freedom from control and censorship of the permission-based financial system.
Black to the Future
In Bitcoin and Black America, Co-Founder of KRBE Digital Assets Group, Isaiah “Bitcoin Zay” Jackson, reveals how he and his peers went from “broke to broken” during the economic crisis and recession. They eagerly explored ways to rise out of the paycheck-to-paycheck life to create economic stability and generational wealth. Jackson explains how the invention of Bitcoin in 2008 arrived during deep economic uncertainty in the U.S. and abroad. “The creation of a sovereign peer-to-peer money system,” Jackson said, “gave citizens of the world an alternative to the current financial system.” They, too, flocked toward autonomy, agency and financial freedom. The type of freedom found in economic self-determination.
Similarly, Kwanzaa was created to give Black people an alternative to the commercialized Christmas tradition often practiced by mainstream society.
Cypherpunk and Kwanzaa Principles Align
Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair, Department of Africana Studies, at California State University, Long Beach, as an act of “cultural recovery and reconstruction”, Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday, celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. It is structured around seven core communitarian African values. The Nguzo Saba (Swahili for “The Seven Principles”) are focused on “reinforcing family, community and culture”. It highlights African first harvest celebrations organized around five fundamental types of activities: ingathering of the people; special reverence for the creator and creation; commemoration of the past; recommitment to the highest cultural values; and celebration of the Good.
Each day of Kwanzaa is devoted to one of seven principles: unity (Umoja), self-determination (Kujichagulia), collective responsibility (Ujima), cooperative economics (Ujamaa), purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba) and faith (Imani).
The Seven Principles in Action
For perspective, I asked several African American thought-leaders in crypto, innovation and technology to share how the core tenets align best with the cypherpunk vision for community, self-sovereignty, autonomy and financial freedom.
Emma Todd, MMH Blockchain Group CEO, explains what drew her to blockchain “was the inherent advantages that Bitcoin provides to the working class.” According to the World Bank, sourced Todd, $508 billion in remittances were sent in 2020, mainly to low and middle-income countries. “One of the most promising and essential benefits for black communities throughout the Diaspora,” said Todd, “is to use cryptocurrencies to send funds [to family around the world] more affordably.”
Todd goes on to suggest the significant cost saving and efficiencies in turn “will help people retain more of their hard-earned money and the funds saved can be repurposed to help with the building and developing of the Black community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”
Self Determination (Kujichagulia) & Collective Responsibility (Ujima)
Akin Sawyerr, managing director of Feleman Limited, a venture advisory firm focused on leveraging Blockchain technology to create value in underserved communities, focuses on self-determination and collective responsibility. “These principles are two sides of the same coin. Both are at the heart of what the Global Black community has fought for and continues to aspire to.” Sawyerr is encouraged the cypherpunk movement and the emerging crypto community-at-large continue to advocate for community-based efforts that supports self-sovereignty identity for each member.
Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa)
Tavonia Evans, GUAPCoin creator, “believes Ujamaa encapsulates the synergy of crypto’s impact in the Black community.”
Jackson agrees. Because small businesses are the backbone of a strong community, “when people can support these businesses with Ujamaa,” said Jackson, “the cooperation and circulation of the ‘black dollar’ makes everyone [in the community] stronger.” Much in the same way, “Bitcoin and blockchain technology give our community the ability to practice Ujamaa on a global scale with a digital, peer-to-peer currency that can’t be taken away,” explained Jackson. “When nodes come to a consensus on the protocol and validate transactions, that is the essence of cooperative economics.”
Building wealth starts with attaining financial freedom which Sawyerr boils down essentially to “access, acceptance, and self-actualization.” These factors manifest in decentralized, disintermediated, permissionless networks that “provide the forum undergirded by unstoppable networks to attain, maintain and protect financial freedom and sovereignty,” said Sawyerr.
Tim “Mr. Future of Work” Salau, CEO & Co-Founder of Guide, envisions a world in which true wealth and opportunity can occur “when you embrace a decentralized, more open, more community-centered theory of wealth-creation and money management.” He added “the core principles of decentralization is what makes crypto and blockchain so special.” In contrast to the dominant approach in the Web 2.0 world, where Salau says, “so many data systems are often created around one central store of power or source of truth, now, as we enter the fourth industrial revolution ushered in on Web 3.0 infrastructure.”
Black to the Future: Permissionless Wealth
The world is on the precipice of the fourth industrial revolution and the demographics of the global marketplace are becoming more and more diverse, inclusive and reflective of, as SiriusXM’s Urban View talk show host, entrepreneur and Hunter College professor, Karen Hunter, often describes as the “global majority.”
Cleve Mesidor, founder of the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain and author of My Quest for Justice in Politics & Crypto concurs. This reality is “fertile ground for the products, services, and micro enterprises tapping blockchain across the nation and globally to thrive.” Black entrepreneurs, investors and innovators in the crypto ecosystem who understand that racism is entrenched in our laws and institutions, “are leveraging the transformative, decentralized technology to foster their own economic empowerment in the emerging innovation economy,” said Mesidor.
“The genesis of both crypto and Kwanzaa were borne from communities of people who grew tired of the treatment from the dominant society,” said Jackson. We’ve reached an inflection point — a critical moment in time that will define the role of technology, generational wealth and human interaction for decades to come. Access coupled with education and opportunity can empower black and brown communities that are historically marginalized and extend the benefits of crypto to people far beyond the fintech microcosm. When that happens, the crypto ecosystem will truly deliver on the promise of mainstream financial freedom for the other six billion people in the world; indeed for all.
About the Author: Tonya M. Evans is a law, innovation and intellectual property professor at Penn State Dickinson Law School, Chair of the Maker Ecosystem Growth Foundation, member of Bermuda’s Global FinTech Advisory Board and President and CEO of Advantage Evans, LLC, and online education platform that features courses on the future of money, entrepreneurship, and work. Visit ProfTonyaEvans.com and AdvantageEvans.com.