The racial wealth divide has reached alarming levels. According to a Brookings study, it’s worse today than before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The income ratio between Black and White Americans is 6 to 1. Economists say absent radical intervention, the Black community risks permanent relegation to the lower class. This is not hyperbole. It’s not a drill. In one generation, we stand to give up hard-fought advances it’s taken more than half a century to gain.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots or the chain of harmful effects befalling the lesser end of that equation. Bishop T.D. Jakes is sounding the alarm. “The stats say by 2050, the median income for African American households will be at zero. That scares me to death,” he told ESSENCE.
Beyond using his platform to bring awareness to the issue, the entrepreneur — known as America’s pastor — is taking decisive action. The urgency of the moment, he says, necessitates broader interventions. Jakes’ recently announced partnership with Wells Fargo aims to do just that.
The first venture, a mixed-use housing multiplex, is slated to break ground in Atlanta later this year. The partnership between Wells Fargo and T.D. Jakes Enterprises aims to fill food deserts and provide access to affordable housing and employment opportunities, injecting up to $1 billion into Black and underserved communities over ten years.
It’s the latest of many commitments made by companies since “the racial awakening” of 2020. As corporations reconcile legacies of institutional racism, many are investing in DEIB and social impact initiatives to stimulate the Black economy. But not everyone is sold on the partnership. Media outlets and social media users point to Wells Fargo’s history of discrimination.
According to a Bloomberg analysis, Wells Fargo received the lowest rating among major lenders in approving refinance applications from Black homeowners. In addition, last year, the bank agreed to a $3.7 billion settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over customer abuses. Jakes acknowledged that problematic past in a CBS Mornings interview, saying it’s why he previously declined business opportunities with the bank. During the interview, he said, “That settlement that came out came from the previous administration. They have a new leader now, they have a new administration, and they’re beginning to right some of their wrongs.”
Critiques are fair; what’s not fair is that solutions to systemic plights are rarely without compromise. It’s an unfortunate reality intersecting capitalism and racism, but a reality nonetheless — one T.D. Jakes is willing to navigate to create upward mobility for Black communities. “I am passionate about this,” Jakes shared. “I want it to be my legacy.”
Legacy isn’t written by individuals but by their survivors. The pivot to social entrepreneurship may seem a stretch for Jakes, whose ministry made him a household name. But the Bishop begs to differ. “When people say, ‘T.D. Jakes is a preacher,’ I tell them, yes, that’s fine, I am. But please put a comma, not a period, after that statement because I am also a person, and I’ve been a business person longer,” he said. It’s a tale of two Jakes’— the Bishop and the businessman.
ESSENCE spoke with the leader about his legacy of entrepreneurship and ministry and what inspired him to take up the mantle of narrowing the racial wealth gap.
The Past: Ancestry and Entrepreneurship
Thomas Dexter Jakes is about his business. “Entrepreneurship is part of who I am. It’s inherent in me,” he said.
Indeed, ownership is core to the Jakes family ethos. “The moment my ancestors were freed from slavery, they started owning businesses. So without exception, we’ve been entrepreneurs from generation to generation,” Jakes shared. “My father started a business with a mop and a bucket and ended up with 52 employees in the 1960s. My grandmother owned her own business. And, her father owned 180 acres of land and mined timber until he died at 103.” That entrepreneurial spirit began long before his ancestors met American shores. “I am almost full-blooded Nigerian from the tribe of Igbo,” he said. “They, too, are known for entrepreneurship.”
Whether by nurture, nature, or a bit of both, Jakes was profoundly impacted by his family’s example. “You know, growing up listening to my mother and father debate at the kitchen table about how they would file taxes, who owed what, and so forth and so on—I never knew that was penetrating my pores and getting into my DNA,” Jakes said.
With companies spanning non-profit, real estate, and multimedia, Jakes has stewarded that legacy. And the Wells Fargo partnership isn’t the first time he’s leveraged powerful connections for broader reach. Last year his record label, Dexterity Sounds, inked a distribution deal with Roc Nation.
The Present: Faith and Action
For nearly three decades, from his platform at The Potter’s House in Dallas, Bishop T.D. Jakes’ fiery sermons have galvanized audiences to renew mindsets, deepen faith, and engage in purpose. With over 40 book titles, the New York Times best-selling author pens practical guides empowering readers to live better, more purposeful, and spiritually whole lives. But the businessman preceded the Bishop. “People don’t realize TD Jakes Enterprises is older than The Potter’s House. It wasn’t born out of The Potter’s House; it wasn’t an offshoot of the platform. Entrepreneurship didn’t come from the ministry. I arrived in Dallas, an entrepreneur,” he said.
For Jakes, business and ministry are not at odds, on the contrary, faith without works is dead. For years, he’s led seminars, published books, and hosted leadership conferences; the latest of which was held May 3rd. The recently launched the Good Soil Movement is a national effort to spur Black entrepreneurship. The one-day seminar, preceded his annual International Leadership Summit. It’s an extension of the work he’s been doing for years; networking, funding, and providing services and training for founders, small business owners, and leaders.
The Pivot: Building a Lasting Legacy
Minus reparations or coordinated federal intervention, the wealth gap is left to private industry, facilitators, and targeted communities to resolve. Within this ecosystem, each contribution buttresses the last. “We’ve got 40 million African Americans in this country. So, I know I can’t do this work alone,” he said. “My little contribution is just a dent, but it’s a good dent.” Through the partnership with Wells Fargo, Jakes aims to enlarge that dent on a broader scale.
The pivot toward social entrepreneurship isn’t much of a pivot at all. These days, the Bishop is thinking about legacy. So he’s putting his hands to projects he hopes will outlast him and sustain impact for future generations. “You don’t get my age and start trying to get richer,” he said. “I’m scaling down, not up.”
Skeptics gonna be skeptical, but on motive, he has this to say: “At 66 years old come June, it is my way of saying thank you to our people, for all the doors they opened, for all the books they bought, for all the movies they attended, for all the conferences they came to. There comes a point where you have to say thank you in a tangible way,” Jakes told ESSENCE.