Recently I had the opportunity to watch a movie starring Denzel Washington by the name of American Gangster. While the name suggests that this movie would glorify shooting and killing and all the other staples of American media, this movie encompassed so much more. Perhaps it was the different perspective that this movie took on because it highlighted the main character as essentially a CEO of a very successful distribution company during an era in American history when blacks controlled very little. The movie centers around Frank Lucas who started out as a henchman for a highly-influencial gangster in Harlem who recently dies. What Frank realizes very quickly though is that in order to be profitable in a world controlled by other groups, he must own the distribution channels. A part of me feels guilty for even liking the character. I mean after all he’s a heroine dealer who has no problems with killing people who get in the way of profit. I suppose that the trait that I most admire in Frank is his ability to focus on the goals at hand.

Think about this for a second. Frank Lucas was considered to be operating one of the most profitable drug businesses in the United States. This was being done in the late 1960s and early 1970s- a time when blacks in this country were just barely being granted civil rights. He was able to employ numerous family members and people within the neighborhood and was engaged in international trade agreements in southeast Asia way before we even started talking about a global economy. In essence, Frank Lucas was a dark-skinned, well-dressed version of Sam Walton (Walmart founder).

The flipside of my experience in watching this movie is that unfortunately blacks in the United States have not grasped a lesson that Frank Lucas laid hold of over 30 years ago. If we’re going to see any great strides in our financial state then we must start controlling distribution. What does it matter if you the most talented basketball star on the court but you never get a chance to own a basketball team. What does it matter that you can demand top scale every movie that you act in, but you can not control the number of screens that that film will premiere on. What does it matter that we are purchasing over 35% of hair care products in total if we do not own and control the distribution of the very product that we use in our hair. Who cares that the Cosby show with the number one show on television for many years if and when Bill Cosby seeks to purchase NBC he is ultimately stopped.

I for one and ready to see a paradigm shift in the way the African-American community earns and spends its money. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to be taught a lesson on such a wide scale. American gangster was a very entertaining movie but for me with more educational than entertaining. Hopefully we can walk away with some lessons that will impact our financial well-being in the days ahead.