Hughes: There’s a well-known saying in community work: “Power is organized people or organized money.” What does this mean to you?
Allen: That’s the quote that actually defined my career. There are a lot of people trying to organize people, but there are very few people who are trying to organize money. That really pushed me to think about philanthropy. I was trying to figure out how to use these institutions that hold wealth. How do we begin to use that wealth to lever additional money and capital to change issues? My responsibility is to build, exert and share power. I think if we can do those things in the pursuit of a common good then we’re creating a more just society.
Hughes: In terms of power, can you break down the different phases of power in your mind?
Allen: I would like for us to be more intentional about building black power. I think when people hear that they think about nationalists. I actually don’t think about black power in that way. I think about it as having the ability to re-write the rules and having the ability to have significant influence and not be looked over. I think in the ‘60’s through the ‘80’s we did a pretty good job of trying to build political power in the black community. It’s more important for us to build economic power. Political power is fleeting. You want political power to be anchored in the self- interest of community. I believe that comes from economic power. We know that when we have businesses in our communities that they hire people in our communities. We can begin to create that economic ladder. Wealth is created in 4 generations, not in one. At one point, Detroit was a very prosperous place and as a result of us not thinking about it from a generational perspective we’ve seen a lot of that dissipate and it’s time for us to reclaim it, and do that with a long view.
Hughes: Investing in youth leadership today is important. In what ways as growing leaders and entrepreneurs do our part?
Allen: We need to change our narrative when we talk about young people. I hear so many people talk about how they’re going to “save our youth” our youth don’t need to be saved! They’re full of talent and curiosity and they’re trying to navigate life. I think that We need to give young people opportunities to lead today. This whole notion that they are ‘leaders of the future’ is incorrect. They are leaders of today. Almost every social movement that’s ever happened in this country was driven by young people. No one gave them permission to do it. Young people don’t have to ask for permission to lead. I believe that we need to embolden and enable them to lead today. We also have to contribute, though. You can contribute with your time, your talent or your treasures. It’s important that we support high quality youth development programs by putting money in them. It’s also important that we’re spending time with our young people through mentoring. Small things make a big difference in the lives of people. Close the gap and create opportunities in big (and small) ways.
Hughes: How must we re-imagine education to meet the needs of a rapidly changing economy and society?
Allen: Most of us don’t understand that we’re in a knowledge economy and we’re quickly moving into an autonomy era. Most of our children who will be starting school next fall – all of the jobs that they will have haven’t even been created yet. If we don’t begin to think about what their experiences are going to be and understand that technology is no longer doing production it also does cognition. It knows how to think just as we do. Not only does it think but it’s picking your brain every single time you use it. That’s what artificial intelligence is. We’ll be seeing a lot more automation and cognition happening in technology. With that being said, many of the jobs that we think of today will not exist in the future. We will have a cyclical nature of work and that requires a cyclical nature of education. It’s imperative that we focus on how we equip our young people to exist in that nature and not to be discouraged by it.
Danielle is an award-winning ‘Chief Changemaker’ committed to developing young leaders across the nation. Follow her @DanielleDHughes to say hello