The first of three parts on what “Go Your Own Way” really means.

To make a difference, you must first see the world as it is, with all its institutionalized injustices, then work to improve it by going your own way.

The office I work in in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 30 miles southeast of Nashville, is located across the street from a Confederate graveyard. Down the street in either direction, located less than a mile away as the crow flies, are advanced check cashing retail locations, the all-too-common physical manifestations of an industry with its historical roots in east Tennessee.

Many of my students – specifically African American students – commonly use these locations. They either aren’t aware of other options or they really don’t have a choice. Why? Some don’t have a relationship with a bank, which in turn means they don’t have common everyday conveniences like the majority of us have, and some don’t have direct deposit and debit cards.

What does any of this have to do with my blog? My common refrain both in this blog and in my classrooms is for students and people to “go your own way.” Some people assume I’m asking them to do something radical or completely outside the normal scope of acceptable behavior in order to make their imprint in the world and find personal success.

I’m all for radical approaches and pushing the social envelope for personal success and societal gain, but that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is to find opportunity in problems through thinking in ways that might be unconventional. Don’t let standard practices box you in and diminish your hope for a better future for you and others. In other words, live in inspiration.

I recently was introduced to a company that impeccably characterizes what I mean by going your own way. The company and its mission not only break the mold of standard practices, but importantly, they also do so in the name of societal change for the better.

The company/organization I’m referring to is Halo4Empowerment. HALO stands for Hope for African American Leadership and Opportunity. The main objective of this company is to create brands or to support brands that specifically support African American people.

Now that is out of the box.

African American consumers spent $1.3 trillion in the U.S. marketplace in 2016. That equates to 25 percent of the total commerce spent. But it was done so by a demographic that represents just 14 percent of the population.

Incredibly, only about 5 percent of all advertising dollars specifically targeted the African American population in order to get that 25 percent market share. What that means is that African Americans as a people are giving away or not making people earn their business.

Halo is all about correcting that problem. Read on in part two of this blog to understand exactly what HALO4 is doing, why it is the right thing to do, and how it perfectly embodies my mantra to “go your own way!”

Research shows that nearly 15.6 million African Americans in America are unbanked or underbanked and that 94 percent of young African American adults between the ages of 18 and 26 don’t have a bank account.

That is, simply stated, ridiculous. Meanwhile, as my introduction alluded to, you almost can’t throw a rock without hitting a check cash or payday lender serving a largely African American population on the streets of just about any American city.

Why? It should be obvious given those statistics that the advanced check cashing system subsists on the premise that this demographics’ youth continues to grow up without a banking system and thereby has to rely on theirs instead.

Jeffrey DeHaven, the founder of Halo4Empowerment, calls this “an outright financial prison being developed to hold our communities in financial incarceration.”

He’s not alone. Politicians, church leaders and activists alike have spoken out to Congress on this epidemic only to have their efforts drowned out by powerful lobbyists hired by these lenders to hush the cry for greater governance.

Ironically, the traditional banking industry also contributes to the disproportionate use of check cashing operations. As DeHaven describes it, unpaid, bounced checks are a primary reason many are unbanked.

“The overdraft business is worth $12 billion, business being run on the public’s back, they are constantly reminded that they must have more — no matter if they have the funds to purchase it or not,” he said. “Once someone bounces a check and does or doesn’t clear it up, they go onto check cashing systems to eliminate the opportunity of that individual of getting a new account somewhere else.”

What’s the resulting impact? To understand the gravity of what’s really happening societally to these unbanked individuals, one must understand that this phenomenon is occurring alongside another significant trend in America. And that is that we are moving into (or have moved into) a society referred to as CNP – or Cardholder Not Present.

Essentially what that means is that in society today, as commerce increasing moves online, one will be severely handicapped if they don’t have a Visa or a MasterCard. You’re just not going to be able to function in our society without one of the two. Think about it. Why will big box retail stores continue to operate under the weight of high retail real estate costs going forward when they can much more easily and cost effectively overnight their product right to your doorstep in the color, size, and quantity you want?

The question then becomes, what happens to the members of our society without the “plastic” needed to participate in this new world?

To allow a generation of African Americans to wither on the vine in this new retail environment is the equivalent not of cardholder not present, but conscience not present. Because setting people up like this to fail from the very beginning in an ever evolving society is unconscionable.

At the nexus of this injustice is where Halo4Empowerment enters the picture. What the company has done is to innovate within this unconscionable space and create a solution. One might say they have gone their own way.

Halo4Empowerment went out and interviewed all the prepaid card companies in the U.S. with the idea to develop their own card for African American’s. As representatives of the demographic that purchased $1.3 trillion in consumer goods last year, representing 25 percent of U.S. commerce spent, they wanted to know what each of these major bankcard companies were going to do to earn their business. Less than 5 percent of advertising dollars went to secure 25 percent of the total spend. That means the African American people are either giving their business away or not making companies earn it. This is what HALO4 is all about.