In pursuit of financial freedom
Jamaica's former ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks, has challenged Jamaicans in the diaspora to pursue their financial freedom.
She was addressing the recent third annual Debt-Free Financial Freedom Conference held at the 7,000-member First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, New Jersey, pastored by Dr DeForest Soaries who is of Jamaican descent.
Ambassador Marks drew upon her entrepreneurial experience as well as other successful ethnic groups, noting that, "many immigrant Asians and Middle Easterners who are now reaping success were from very poor origins, but had travelled thousands of miles with nothing but the clothes on their backs to make a living in unfamiliar, economically challenging, foreign language-speaking lands."
She said that, despite these challenges, they quickly brought together their families and worked painstakingly to build a business, lived together in the most humble homes, many times directly above their business establishments, drove second-hand cars while slowly building tremendous savings over many years.
Marks cited a United States 2012 Pew Research Report which identified Asian Americans as the highest income earning, best educated and fastest growing racial group in the United States. In general, it is believed that the success of this ethnic group is based on three values - pursuing an excellent education, saving for a better life, and caring for family and friends. They also believe in delaying short-term gratification in favour of investment for their family's future.
In response to Dr Soaries' question: "Why is being debt-free important for people in developing countries?" Ambassador Marks said, "Debt free is important because it affects the fundamental issues of dysfunctional behaviour, which leads to overwhelming debt by individuals, organisations and countries. This is a behavioural issue," she said.
"The culture of 'bling', where individuals and entire groups live beyond their means, is ruining families as well as entire communities and countries around the world. In Jamaica and elsewhere, this mindset has led to stringent belt-tightening and imposed financial restructuring on these nations' financial affairs by organisations like the International Monetary Fund. This brings forcefully to reality that nations, their people and businesses can become trapped in 'the emperor's new clothes," Marks said.
Citing US economist, Paul Krugman's words: "the debt that American families have run up is the root of the country's current financial troubles, moving from 83 per cent of income in 1987 to about 130 per cent of income in 2007," Marks noted that this situation disproportionately impacts African Americans who are over-represented in the lowest earning categories while being under-represented in the highest earning categories.
More than half of all African Americans, working full-time, earned under US$35,000 in 2008, while just 3.3 per cent earned $100,000 a year or more. A census report notes that the shortfall may be traced to lower levels of educational achievement and lack of family wealth, which restricts opportunities and access to better schools and higher paying jobs.
Marks encouraged her audience to take things to the next level to ensure a better future for generations to come by understanding who they are as human beings.
"This starts with our thoughts, what we think about and give attention to. If we focus on what we don't have, we will only attract more lack. Instead, we should focus on what we have, what we want our future to be, and use our creative minds to build upon that.
According to the ambassador, everyone has the inborn capability to take their lives to the next level if they know who they are, manage their thoughts and words, and live with passion and purpose.