Q: What do you stand for?
A: I stand for fairness and doing what is right. I am not a Finance Professor who happens to be black, I am a black man who happens to be a Finance Professor. There is a great deal of inequality in America that runs along racial lines. This is due to the fact that our country has built a 400 year social, financial and educational infrastructure that promotes the advancement of one group over the other. It is my job as a public scholar to challenge this imbalance and work to find solutions to these problems. My primary tools of choice are education and economic empowerment. I work hard to teach youth, especially African Americans, the value of being highly educated and the additional value that comes from becoming Financially independent and empowered. Those were the choices that changed my life and gave me the freedom and strength to express myself honestly, creatively and (some think) intelligently.
I also want to challenge the NCAA to rethink the way it treats college athletes. As a Finance Professor, I am not sure how we can justify earning millions for our coaches and administrators, while allowing the sources of labor (the athletes) and their families to live in poverty. This is wrong and unAmerican, for capitalism should give us the rights to freely negotiate our wages. When we engaged in our campaign on CNN, ESPN and CBS to challenge the actions of the NCAA, people thought I was trying to attack them. The truth is that I don't enjoy attacking anyone, I only want to fight for fairness. One thing that my students have always said about me (whether they love me or hate me) is that I am fair. I call it for what it is.
Q: Your work can be controversial, why do you do it?
A: I ask myself that question every single day! Personally, I believe that the role of the black scholar in America is to work hard to uplift our communities. Our intellect is needed, and in addition to engaging in scholarly research that lies in dusty academic journals, we should become active in our communities and throughout the world. I believe strongly in the concept of Scholarship in Action. The thing about Scholarship in Action is that it requires the combination of intellect, creativity, curiosity, commitment, passion and courage that stands at the root of all true genius. I do not consider myself a genius, but I wake up every day thinking "I am one day closer to my last day on this earth. How can I get the best return on my investment?" That is what keeps me going.
Some days are tougher than others, like when people confuse black love with white hatred. I learned from the lives of Martin Luther King and others that people will always confuse the two. For the past 20 years, most of my students and classmates have been white and I spent much of my childhood in a white neighborhood. So, to be honest, I know as much or more about white culture than I do about black culture. So, like Barack Obama, my mixed background helped me realize one thing: We are all human and we all make mistakes. The problem is that in America, the mistakes of black males are interpreted differently than the mistakes made by others. My work has, in part, been meant to point out this contradiction.
Q: Where are you from and what is your background?
A: I am originally from Louisville, KY. My father abandoned me when I was born, and my mother was 16 years old when she got pregnant with me. My mother met and married a man who became my "real father", when I was 3 years old. I struggled through school, getting far more Cs, Ds and Fs than As and Bs. I was not, according to my teachers, cut out for college and my teachers even recommended me for special education and medication for ADHD. What I didn't know at the time is that black boys are 5 times more likely to be placed in special education than kids of other ethnicities. At the age of 18, I discovered this amazing, secret invention called "sex", which led to me having my first child. We all make mistakes, and I have made my share. However, I truly believe that the mistakes you make, if studied properly, can become the tuition that you pay in the school of life. It is by paying this tuition that we gain wisdom and strength during the journey. The year I had my daughter was also the year that I changed my life. I found my way onto campus at The University of Kentucky, where I became a straight A student for the first time. I then continued going to school for another 12 years, earning a few masters degrees and bachelors degrees, along with my PhD. Falling on my face over and over again taught me that being perfect is not the requirement for being a victor. The key is learning how to keep getting back up. Also, my humble beginnings taught me not to look down on those who make mistakes. Instead, I seek to uplift those around me by saying "I am a great man when I do my best, and we can all be great if we try." I don't get much of a thrill from condemning, chastising, or pretending that I am better than anyone else.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Education changed my life. I never did well in school as a child because I did not know what education could do for me. I also did not believe that I could be very good at it. My experience, and what I discovered when I learned the power and freedom of education, is what inspired me to write my first book "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About College". The book was meant for those kids who don't think college is a reasonable choice for them. I am also inspired by the fact that life is short, and I don't want to waste all of that time trying to fit in, or just "get along". My goal is to do all I can to make the world a better place when I leave than it was when I arrived. That is my sole and primary objective, no political games and no B.S. included. Education, economic empowerment and having the chance to change the world keep me pumped up like the Energizer Bunny every single day.
Q: Who are your greatest heroes?
A: My father is #1 (the one who raised me). He is a strong man and although he thinks a lot like Bill Cosby (a man I don't always agree with), I learn from him. Even though he didn't spend a lot of time with me, I always respected the fact that a man who didn't give birth to me was willing to give me the best years of his life. By watching my dad (a police Major and Vietnam vet), I learned how to be strong and focused, and how to look right through the "haters" that we all must endure (sort of like Tiger Woods and his army dad). My father also makes me defensive whenever someone attempts to say that black men are collectively poor fathers and bad role models. Most people don't know what it's like to be a black male in America. Next, there's Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. These are my "adopted dads", who taught me how to manage the challenges of being a black man. When I run into a scenario where the rain is pouring a little harder than usual, I read about their lives and what they went through to find the strength to move on. My other respected colleagues are Michael Eric Dyson and Julianne Malveaux (the ones who inspired me to become a public scholar in the first place), Tiger Woods (for his awesome mental focus, not his politics), and even Kobe Bryant (I did not enjoy the negative allegations against him, for I think he made a lot of mistakes. But I respect any man who hits rock bottom and rises back to the top. Kobe saw his team drop to nothing, all of his endorsements go out the window, and he was hated by the public. However, through consistent play and focus, he rose back to become MVP, carrying his team to the championship again. This is a reminder to all of us that if you keep focused and remain consistent, you will obtain whatever rewards you seek).
Q: Do you ever want to go into politics?
A: No, because I enjoy being honest. Politicians have to lie to pander to a constituency. If you know me long enough, you will eventually disagree with something I say. I am not a liberal, and I am not a conservative. Some of the liberal ideas in America don't make much sense to me. I am also not a fan of many conservative ideals, which sometimes border on the same racist, sexist, classist foundations on which our country was founded. I would say that I enjoy being "the people's scholar" because I want to give a voice to those who don't have one.
Q: You're a Finance Professor - Do you Love Money?
A: As a Finance Professor, I understand money quite well. I also respect and appreciate the power of money. The truth is that we live in a capitalist democracy, and the capitalist part is sometimes stronger than the democratic part. I also understand money well enough to know that it can either be a tool for building or a weapon for destruction. I've seen people sell their souls, their happiness and their integrity for money. That is what led to my book "Financial Lovemaking 101". I've seen the impact of "capitalism gone wild", in which wealth gaps between the rich and the poor serve to destroy the security of a society. I personally feel that one way I can contribute to the advancement of Dr. King's vision is to find ways that Democracy, Capitalism and human compassion can work together to make our country better.
Q: Do you love America?
A: Yes, I do. I feel that America has the potential to be the greatest country in the world. In fact, when we put our best foot forward, we are the greatest country in the world. I also know that there are some things I can say in this country that I could not say anywhere else. Finally, I feel that it is my duty as an American to use my freedoms to speak out if necessary, to help our country heal, improve and overcome the crutches of the past. I've learned that many of the most significant figures in African American history, those who've endured opposition for their efforts, were also the most patriotic Americans. The role of the scholar, in my opinion, is to use academic freedom to engage in intellectual leadership. Leadership doesn't imply that you follow the crowd. Rather, it implies that you lead people where they might not want to go. You must truly love a country if you are willing to suffer to make it better. I want our country to be great.