Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

We need an asset-based view of the Black community. 

Two kids.

One makes straight A’s. The other steals cars. 

Right now we would provide resources to the kid that makes straight A’s and we take the kid that steals cars and essentially punish them by taking time away from them through some form of incarceration.  

Or at least this is how it was presented at one of the Black agenda one-on-one and small group meetings I participated in last week. 

The point made me pause. 

Of course we want to invest in the kid that is making straight A’s. They are doing what we want them to do. In fact, we actually need to do a better job of highlighting all of the positive things our youth are doing. 

Celebrate the kid who gets straight A’s.

But the kid who’s stealing cars — it seems like we are missing out on an opportunity. We don’t want kids stealing cars. 

But right now we treat the straight A’s kid like an asset and see the kid that is a risk taker, out of the box thinker and possessing mechanical skills — or at a minimum a good knowledge of cars as a problem because of what they do. 

We don’t see that child for what they could be — an opportunity youth. 

I used to think that phrase was merely a euphemism for at-risk youth — a way of not saying kids are bad. 

But it is more about a way of thinking about the community that admittedly I struggle with. 

I’m an optimist, and asset-based thinking shouldn’t be confused as optimism. I am motivated by the challenges because almost implicitly I believe any challenge can be overcome. This isn’t asset-based thinking. 

Asset-based thinking is different. 

It sees low-income people as resourceful because despite their limited resources they find a way to make it with what they have. No, the reality is that low-income people need more income — asset-based thinking doesn’t mean ignore that reality. But if we are thinking about how to help low-income people, offering low-income people financial literacy training is wrong headed because it focuses on the deficit — they are already making what they have stretch as creative financial managers. 

An asset-based view of a low-income community might study how people figure out how to get by and potentially how folks share resources; and build that communal resourcefulness. We would discover how communities of people generate and transfer “community wealth.”

We need an asset-based view of our community as we move forward with the Black agenda because while inclusion is positive objective — self-sufficiency should be our ultimate goal.

I don’t think I know all of the assets we have in our community, but I think we can figure that out together. 

What I’m hearing …

Kudos to the thousands of teachers who participated in Red for Ed. I don’t understand how anyone can have a problem with teachers advocating for our kids to have more resources — and of course they need to be paid more. 

My hope is that the legislature notes what happened in Kentucky when a now-former governor decided to fight the teachers and lost. 

Superintendents and school boards need to be put on notice too. Ultimately, the superintendent decides what teacher pay can look like in a district in their budget, which is submitted to the school board for a vote. 

There were increases in education funding last year, but some of that was at the expense of the state legislature erasing poor kids — basically the legislature played with money for education funding last year.

If money does go to education we will be watching to make sure it actually makes it to the classroom.  

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at

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