My great grandfather migrated to Bay City, Michigan from Brazil after leaving the Navy. Hence the last name Viera, originally spelled Vieira. It was in Michigan he met and married my great grandmother. Once he arrived to MI he found work at a local dry cleaners. Years later the owner of the cleaners sold the business to my great grandfather, and my great grandfather owned the cleaners until he passed. His wife was a talented seamstress and worked beside my great grandfather sewing and doing alterations. My great grandparents went on to raise seven children, one being my grandfather. The Viera’s were not a typical black family in the early 1920’s. They worked for themselves, were well off and owned an automobile at a time vehicles were rare. It’s not coincidental that they were well off and they owned a business.

Attending college wasn’t an option for my grandfather and his siblings. They were to obtain degrees without any questions asked. All seven of my great grandfathers children went on to become successful in various fields. Their children, my mother’s first cousins, went on to far surpass their parents achievements. Of the slews of degree and advanced degree holding clan, I only know of one rich relative. Many are middle and upper class, but only one is rich. I don’t think any of them are wealthy.

“A Lesson on Debt Pt. 1” outlined Teddy’s argument that a formal education isn’t needed to obtain wealth. In fact, he argued formal education is a “fallacy that exists to keep people average. To box you inside the middle class while the wealthy continue to exploit your need to be educated and employed by them.” He reiterated in all caps, “You don’t get rich working for others.” Perhaps Kim K. wasn’t the best example to support his argument. After all, she’s famous from a sex tape.

The double and tripled degreed folks in my circle felt some kind of way about Teddy’s theory. I can’t blame them.  Someone telling you your degree(s) are worthless, will keep you struggling and mediocre, when you have student loan debt up the wazoo is annoying.

Alima was slightly disappointed I didn’t tell the whole story. She hit me on BBM with the wait a minute sis conversation. Alima is an educator and has worked with youth in the public schools. She is beginning her PhD this fall to pursue her passion of educating. Her BBM message to me was as follows:

“While I do agree going into business for yourself is important, using Kim K’s formula isn’t a great example. A lot of people lack the very things that made Kim K. successful: white privilege and having a well-connected father [when he was alive]. It’s also important to remember how much money these celebrities are actually bringing in versus what’s reported they are making. While Kris Kardashian is the best pimp since pimping existed, you know she is not negotiating those contracts or checking the books. Kim may be getting a pretty penny of that 17 million, but think about all the people on her payroll. People need the whole story. Bill Gates may not have graduated, but he still attended one of the best universities in the country and got what he needed [from that institution]. Everyone doesn’t have to go to college, but it is important to have some formal education and the right team behind you. The “trial and error” that Teddy speaks of will leave you broke, busted and disgusted. We need to tell the whole story and not just what sounds good.”

This is why I love her.

Uncle V who I mentioned earlier has a BA in Economics and an MBA from Harvard. He has over 25 years of experience in his field. Wall Street was his former stomping grounds. Currently he is the CEO of his own firm. Was it Uncle V’s education or owning his own business that made him rich? It is likely it was both.

What’s important to note about Uncle V’s story is the type of degrees he pursued. A BA in Economics and an MBA are what I would call lucrative degrees. Uncle V didn’t rack up $75,000 in student loan debt to pursue teaching or social work (with all due respect to those fields). It is more than possible that he came out of graduate school working for a Goldman Sachs-esque company making $75,000 a year at the age of 23.

The financial crisis coupled with the Obama’s debt ceiling compromise has led to increasing coverage of the student loan debt, which economists are predicting to be the next financial crisis. Forbes “Deep in Debt” says student loan debt isn’t only the problem of the individual borrowers, but is putting all Americans’ futures at risk. Well just how many graduates are now indebted to the federal government? Glad you asked. From Forbes:

“A record high of one out of every 10 students who graduated from four-year colleges and universities in 2008 (the most recent year for which data is available) owed $40,000 or more in loans, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Overall more than two-thirds (67%) of students earning degrees from those institutions carried loan debt, owing an average $23,200.”

How is one expected to build wealth when they walk across the stage tens of thousands of dollars in the hole? We know wealth has mostly been gained through ownership of homes, land and businesses. Purchasing a home becomes an incredibly difficult task when you owe student loans that are more than your annual salary. “Good debt” is a fallacy.

We don’t have to guess who is suffering from the recession, unemployment, the housing crisis, etc. at alarmingly higher rates than any other group.  I’ll go ahead and say it…black folks.

Not to romanticize our communities with the then vs. now rhetoric, however, I do recognize the shift in ownership pre-integration vs. post integration. In owning businesses in our own communities (which now you’d be hard pressed to find because Koreans, Arabs, Indians and chains have taken over) or owning homes, blacks at the least had something to hand down to the next generation.

Alima was adamant about telling the whole story. Let’s.

One’s quality of life is greatly improved by having a college degree. Obtaining college degrees for blacks is important. It always has been. Don’t be fooled by the silly studies published to suggest blacks don’t value education. We have a long history of valuing education. But when we are urging youth to attend college we have to tell them the full story as Alima suggested. A part of that story is that owing tens of thousands in debt to pursue a Sociology degree and come out of school making $32,000 is not logical. Nor is it conducive to building wealth. By all means follow your passion, but don’t follow it blindly without careful thought.

I appreciated Teddy’s theory because it was against the romanticization of degrees. It dispelled this notion that far too many bright eyed college students have that degrees alone are the golden key to success. Getting the piece of paper isn’t enough. Your network is equally important, if not more.

When I think about the handful of wealthy blacks such as Robert Johnson, Don Peebles, Quintin Primo, Russell Simmons and Oprah Winfrey, they each own or owned their own businesses at some point. They created their own opportunities. Riches and wealth is not everybody’s motive. I’m one of those people. Success is also defined on an individual basis. The goal ought not to only be about obtaining wealth, but about having something to pass down to future generations.

The argument isn’t whether or not a degree is valuable. It’s not even about trading in a formal education for the entrepreneurship route. It’s about thinking beyond how we’ve been trained. Black people have to return to the mindset ownership through land, homes and businesses if we are to gain real wealth. Our kids and their children deserve more than the bragging right of, “my mommy had a doctorate degree.” What good was that doctorate if you were unable to leave your children anything that helped them build their own wealth?

What do blacks even own anymore? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.