I recently met a very impressive young man while visiting with my father, Mr. Johnnie Will Smith, in Los Angeles, California. This young man, who lived next door and is the son of one who helps to care for my proud and still self-powered father of 88 years young, possessed incredible vocal, musical, and even writing and producing talent. In other words, he could not only sing and dance, he could 'think,' analyze and strategize too. The only problem with this young man's life success plan, as I shared with him, was that his primary dream plan did not have a practical backup plan. And worse from my perspective, his backup plan, should really be his primary plan instead. Let me explain.
Responsible rap (meaning rap that is true to its origins and roots), Hip-Hop, the broad world of celebrity, and our varied professional sports, are so very important to cultivate and carry forward as part of the larger African-American and minority success story framework for a race. As Quincy Jones repeatedly burns into my soul and pounds into my thick head, "music, art and culture shapes the soul, helps to heal and bring together our world. They help to shape more well rounded people." I agree with Q 100%.
That said, having a career in music, the arts, entertainment (in front of the camera) and sports as the primary life success solution for more than 30 million African-Americans alone in this country, is just plain dumb. Sure, a few lucky ones will make it through, but I would argue that most of them are not in fact all that 'lucky,' at the end of their career-day. A couple facts.
70% of all professional football players file bankruptcy within 5-years of retirement from the game, and there is a 100% injury rate amongst professional football players.
70% plus of all professional basketball players file bankruptcy within 5-years of retirement from the game.
And a vast majority of the "celebrity" artists, from rap to Hip-Hop and beyond, find themselves dead broke after a short, and often even highly visible career.
The successful-to-dead-broke examples in each of these categories are just too numerous to mention, so let me simply say this; talent is not enough. Not enough to make it in the first place, and certainly not enough to stay in place should you get there. And if you are financially illiterate while still a so-called successful artist years later, you will still be broke, 10-20 years later. The lawyers and agents will be fine, but you won't be.
This generation needs an economic backup plan that becomes their primary life plan, and that's called an education, combined with a marketable skill. Business, for instance. Education, personal confidence in oneself (real self-esteem, not ego), and a highly marketable professional skill, are effective hedges against poverty for this generation.
50 Cents has been remarkably successful as an artist, and that musical achievement should be celebrated and held up, but remember this -- 50 Cents has made a vast portion of his fortune selling Vitamin Water, not selling music CDs (respectfully stated). The same is certainly true for Dr. Dre (his headphones I used just yesterday on my flight from Atlanta to South Africa). Or look at my mentor and friend Quincy Jones, who has had an incredible 50 plus year successful run in the entertainment business and more Grammy Awards than any artist in history, but his real brilliance is understanding that entertainment is a business (my family uses Q's incredible headpones, and I keep a pair at my offices). And then you have my new friend Russell Simmons, who started out dancing and singing on stage, moved on to financing the stage and those on it (Def Comedy Jam), and now is even involved in banking and finance itself, amongst a wide variety of other successful ventures.
If you want a career that lasts 30 years instead of only three, or real, sustainable wealth, versus flash in the pan temporary riches (think leased cars you cannot afford, and mortgages on mansions that get foreclosed on 5-years later), then go get an education in parallel with the pursuit of your craft. And I don't mean a high-school education either.
I am talking about an advanced college degree from a 4-year college or university. At the very least, get a practical skills degree from a 2-year institution. But for God's sake, gain an expertise and a universally respected credential in a space or sector you can actually be employed in after the rap game ends (which it will), and the parties are all over.
Better still, earn a real business degree and gain the confidence to become a businessman, businesswoman or entrepreneur yourself, actually owning the enterprise, and creating real jobs for our community. That's what I did. And thankfully so, because I cannot sing.
If you are in 4th grade through 12th grade and you are dreaming about YOUR backup plan, check out HOPE Business In A Box today. It will be coming to a community and school near you, soon. I believe, in you. You should do the same
Onward and with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum. Mr. Bryant is a thought leader represented by the Bright Sight Group for public speaking. Mr. Bryant serves on the board of directors of Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation (NYSE: ACRE), a specialty financ e company that is managed by an affiliate of Ares Management LLC, a global alternative asset manager with approximately $59 billion in committed capital under management as of December 31, 2012.