They are young, they are wealthy and they are Black. Meet the NEWBOs—the New Black Overclass, a term coined by Wall Street Journal reporter and CNBC correspondent Lee Hawkins. Basketball star LeBron James, Gospel legend Kirk Franklin, and NFL great Terrell “T.O.” Owens are just a few of the NEWBOs Hawkins profiles in a documentary airing Thursday night on CNBC. All of these brothers became self-made multimillionaires before they turned 40 years old, grew up poor and acquired the bulk of their fortune mainly through sports or entertainment deals. ESSENCE.com turned the interviewing table on Hawkins to find out more about the rise of America’s new super class.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you come up with the idea of the “New Black Overclass”?
LEE HAWKINS: I grew up in the hip-hop culture, worked in the media and had this curiosity about how much wealth these young African-Americans were acquiring. We see the wealth on “MTV Cribs” and in pop culture, but there is very little talk about the implication it has on these individuals, their families and on the Black community. So I pulled data and found out that Black athletes in the NFL, NBA and MLB made 4 billion dollars on a salary basis alone last year. Plus, as an African-American you get sick of reading about how poor Black people are. This is a phenomenon that bucks the conventional assumption.
ESSENCE.COM: How did you pick the people you interviewed?
HAWKINS: The documentary is largely based on my book “NEWBOs: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass” which will be available in September. It wasn’t about the money but the mindset of people from this younger generation that look at being the owner rather than being an employee. As much as we are raised to get our education and look towards the professional class as the road to the American dream, there are so few of us that have taken that route and broken through the higher echelons of corporate America. Suddenly, there is this wave of young African-Americans who use the Sean Combses, the Russell Simmonses and the Tyra Bankses of the world as their examples. They take the sports and entertainment business seriously and see these industries as a way to forge ownership.
ESSENCE.COM: How come there aren’t any Black women included?
HAWKINS: That had a lot to do with the amount of access I was granted. I definitely sought out some high-profile sisters that are comparable to the men, but this NEWBO phenomenon honestly is primarily associated with Black men. Thousands of African-American men are building and thriving in sports and in entertainment, but you’re not seeing enough Black women becoming leading ladies in Hollywood or compensated with the large-scale athletic shoe deals.
ESSENCE.COM: Who do you think will be the next Black billionaire?
HAWKINS: Tyler Perry. He’s a classic example of someone who believes if we don’t succeed then we will not survive. When you start to turn the negativity of your life into fuel for success then you see exactly what NEWBOs do. The important thing to remember though is that most NEWBOs are still works in progress.
To learn more, watch CNBC’s new documentary “NEWBOs: The Rise of the New Black Overclass” with Lee Hawkins Thursday night at 9:00 P.M. EST.