There’s nothing quite like a wealthy person telling everyone else to give to charity, is there? It’s easy for us to say; there’s no future penury in the offing for us, no real possibility of need. And it feels patronizing in the superlative, the nobles foisting their own noblesse oblige upon the working class. By what stretch of the imagination, you may ask, does someone with more money than they could spend in a lifetime have any business telling everyone else what to do with theirs, especially considering the immense potential for good their own wealth would enable?
Usually, when I talk about philanthropy, I’m directing it at an audience of fellow CEOs, which is something I feel strongly about and advocate for passionately; there has to be a voice articulating why giving back is necessary, even obligatory, and not simply good public relations. But today, here at this moment, I want to address a broader audience. So, rather than preach about why you should give, I want to talk about why I do.
There is a deep, dark, and heartless strain of American capitalism that simply does not recognize this fact; you only need to look at the rise of crypto and NFT markets, where nothing is being bought, sold, or produced and immense environmental harm is done for the sole purpose of making a number go up. Half the reason gas costs as much as it does right now is financial speculators buying and selling it before it even gets to the gas tank, artificially choking supply. These are people enriching themselves while providing no public benefit at the cost of the livelihoods and well-being of millions upon millions of regular folks. This sort of racketeering, this gaming the system, gives capitalism a bad name; there is no possible world where anybody needs a billion dollars when millions of Americans are one surprise medical bill from financial ruin.
I have always believed that wealth isn’t an end, it’s a means to an end, and that end is building toward a better future for all. It’s not something that should be tallied up like points in a game; it’s there to be used for good.
That fact, that very fact right there, is why I place such a high importance on cycling my wealth back down. By what right are so few able to control so much? By what measure is that healthy for a society? For a democracy? Doesn’t simple justice obligate us towards each other? In an ideal world, we would have public measures in place to prevent homelessness in a country where there are more houses than there are unhoused, or ensure everyone has access to quality healthcare, but at this moment in time, we don’t yet have those critical safeguards. That obligates—obligates—those who have to provide what we can in a time when even middle class status is frustratingly out of reach for more and more people. Because we live in a society.
Because we live in a society, there is no such thing as a self-made person. My company would have been dead in the water without access to the infrastructure of life, from roads to public education to the postal service to telephone lines and on and on and on, each of which exists because society has collaborated to make them. I have benefitted, am benefitting, from the work of countless others. Doesn’t that demand reciprocity? Isn’t that justice?
I still feel like I’m only just starting, but I left the private sector and went into philanthropy in part because I knew I could be helping out so much more. When the pandemic hit, it was immediately clear that no level of federal support was going to sufficiently cover our ever-widening gaps, and so I focused my foundation’s efforts into a project to identify and fund frontline, immediate relief, to help those in critical need now. I support The Campaign Against Hunger in its work to bring meals to those struggling with food insecurity in my community. I’ve partnered with the American Heart Association to help give women the tools they need to take care of their cardiac health, as well as with the AHA’s Bernard J. Tyson Social Impact Fund, which supports critical community initiatives throughout the country to address healthcare inequity head on. Most recently, I’m a founding member of BasBlue, a new women’s center in Detroit supporting entrepreneurialism and economic advancement. And still, I know it’s not enough. There’s no such thing as enough. So I will keep pushing forward.
My hope is that more of you will too. Because we have to come together on this.
I don’t say all this to pat myself on the back; as I’ve stated here, it’s my view that this work is simply part of my obligation to those with whom I get to share this world. No, I talk about these initiatives because I’m passionate about the work being done and because I hope to inspire others to use what resources they have to fight for the world they want to see. Afterall, we can only really thrive when we all thrive.
The issues facing this country, and this planet, are absolutely critical. Those of us who are able need to step up rather than shift the burden to those with exponentially less resources. This isn’t a call to action to you, reader, except this: remember this obligation, whichever side of it you end up on. And don’t be afraid to fight for it.