Boyce Watkins is not one to mince words, so while some of the things that come out of his mouth may sound shocking, those familiar with his message of Black financial empowerment are not surprised when he says things like this:
“People are used to looking at Black people as sort of their political and economic side chicks,” Watkins said. “The side chick is somebody you expect loyalty from but you don’t owe her no loyalty back. And Black people accept that role. We never say, ‘you should be doing something for us. You owe the community.’”
This is just a part of the message Watkins delivered when his Black Empowerment Festival rolled into the city earlier this month. For three days ending on July 8 at the University of Pennsylvania, Watkins held forums, delivered speeches and sold books and DVDs geared at building wealth, financial responsibility and entrepreneurship in the African-American community to about 500 attendees.
Watkins has more than 20 years experience as a finance professor. However, in 2014 he walked away from his teaching position at Syracuse University to practice the entrepreneurship principles he preaches daily on social media platforms such as YouTube (228,173 subscribers), Twitter (69,203 followers) and Instagram (75,800).
“Academia is racist,” Watkins said. “You would think that getting a high level of education would help you to escape some of the nonsense that we experience in the workplace. You’ll find that academia is a lot like the prison system in that there is not a lot of oversight there. The problems that exist in the arena can go unchecked for decades. I didn’t want to be a part of that.
“But I’m a scholar and I wasn’t going to let any institutions tell me that I couldn’t be that,” Watkins, on the Black Economic Empowerment Festival for a second year in a row, continued. “The purpose of the tour is to get in the faces of the people and let them get in my face. Sometimes on social media you can get caught up in numbers. It’s crucial to get out, talk and give instruction.”
The tour will hit Brooklyn, N.Y., Houston, Memphis, Tenn., Louisville, Ky., London, England and Oakland, Calif., wrapping up in mid-November. Watkins funds the tour out of pocket through his book sales — he’s written seven — and through the proceeds generated from his widely popular Black Business School. Watkins says that more than 40,000 students are enrolled in online courses, where Watkins gives instruction mostly to entrepreneurs but also to those interested in securing their financial future.
Some of the course offerings are as little as $29.99 a month.
“It’s like an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) online,” Watkins says. “I’ve been in academia for years and I know what it takes to educate. What we do is provide the technological infrastructure and don’t add in the high cost of having to take a student loan to attend.”
Watkins is part of a growing list of young African Americans who are highly trained in finance but are opting to grow a business teaching other Blacks how to reach their financial goals via the internet and social media outreach.
That list includes people such as Jay Morrison (real estate), Andre C. Hatchett (real estate), and Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche.
“They are currently in this space and doing great things,” Watkins said. “But I honestly took my cue from people like Minister Louis Farrakhan and Dr. Claude Anderson,” he says of the leader of the Nation of Islam and the author.
This past weekend Watkins also got the chance to meet Kenny Gamble, the world-renowned songwriter and founder and chairman of Universal Companies. Watkins was familiar with Gamble as a songwriter. However, he was blown away by what Gamble has done as an entrepreneur in housing and education. Gamble was a panelist on a discussion about the music industry.
“I was blown away by everything that he has done, and I have to confess I was totally ignorant of the things he’s accomplished,” Watkins said. “Everyone knows about the music piece. But he’s done so much more. He’s an example and a teacher right here in the city.”
During one of his addresses, Watkins outlined three tenants of financial literacy, advising those in attendance to develop “multiple sources of income, save your money so your money can save you and always own something and understand the value of ownership.”
While he did not advise Blacks to join the Republican Party, Watkins believes African Americans are too beholden to the Democratic Party, which he says “will talk about Black people’s voting rights but will never talk about Black people building true power because they need you in a position where they can control you.”
And while he is a proponent of education, he made it a point to say college is not always the answer for everyone.
“Figure out your purpose,” Watkins said. “If you want to be a doctor, a lawyer or a professor, then yes, you do need college because college will give you a specific skill that will give you a higher earning potential, which will in turn will allow you to pay back those high student loans. But if you are talking about spending $120,000 to study philosophy I’m going to look at you kind of funny. I think education is essential; college is not.”