Newbos: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass

Tonight on CNBC we have an amazing documentary premiering called,“Newbos: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass.” It is reported and hosted by my colleague and friend, Lee Hawkins of the Wall Street Journal and a contributor here at CNBC.

The documentary is based on some of the reporting Lee has done for his forthcoming book of the same title.

And - as if he doesn't have enough work to do - I asked him to write up something about his book and tonight's show.


In the 1980s, the fictional Huxtable family offered a window into the lives of upper middle class professional African American families. But the sports, media and entertainment industries have spawned a new class of young blacks whose fast wealth has thrust them into the highest tier of the black financial strata, sparking unprecedented challenges and opportunities in their lives.

The New Black Overclass, aka NEWBOs, is the subject of my CNBC original documentary and book, which will be released later this year. The project examines the experience of NEWBOs — young black athletes, entertainers, and creative entrepreneurs – who often struggle in the earliest stages of their wealth, but have the potential to benefit themselves, their families and the black community with the right amount of financial literacy, economic collaboration, intergenerational mentorship and social awareness.

Newbos captures the pressures and prominence of the fascinating Newbo class and includes data about the wealth and financial impact of black athletes and entrepreneurial black music moguls in America.

Contradicting old-guard leaders who assert that Newbos offer little to the black community as a whole, I try to put the spotlight on the entrepreneurial, social and charitable efforts of several Newbos and their contagious financial power. I show their success stories like NEWBO pioneers Oprah Winfrey, BET Founder Bob Johnson and ex-NBA star and entrepreneur Magic Johnson to illustrate the potential of the generation coming behind them. Will these young stars squander this opportunity or will they seize it and build upon it?

The documentary offers behind-the-marquee stories on several high-profile Newbos, including NBA superstar LeBron James, Major League All-Star Torii Hunter, The Williams brothers of Cash Money Records, Dallas Cowboy star Terrell Owens, billionaire entrepreneur and Newbo pioneer Bob Johnson and musician, Multiplatinum gospel star Kirk Franklin, and television network owner Wyclef Jean.

There are more black multimillionaires and potential billionaires in the United States than ever before, and a startling new black overclass has emerged out of these three industries, generating billions of dollars of income per year.

I was assisted by a research team of student researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and together we found black athletes in the NBA, the NFL, and major league baseball earned more $4 billion in the 2007 and 2008. The top 20 black hip-hop moguls America earned more than $500 million.

Newbos exposes and chronicles the experiences and insights of these men and women as they move from relative poverty to fantastic wealth at a very young age. I show you how the Newbos’ unconventional paths to success have become blueprints for broader independence and entrepreneurship, and how this segment of black society has a disproportionately heavy influence over millions of people. This influence most often translates into powerful brands, which enable Newbos to acquire even more wealth outside of their core businesses, and to grow that wealth as well.

But in the age of Obama, who has widened the range of role models for African-American youth, it's time to turn the spotlight on some of the nation's highest profile athletes and entertainers, to ask some of the poignant questions they are rarely asked.

How exactly have they built their brands and their businesses, off the court or the stage? Does their fame and status insulate them from the problems of the broader black community?

-Do they feel they have a responsibility to the rest of black America?

-How important are social awareness and charitable involvement?

-What do they think about Barack Obama?

-Will they rise to the challenges and opportunities that accompany their wealth and fame or will they squander their clout in frivolity?

Over the next year, I hope to inspire a national conversation about these issue, and to shine a brighter light on one aspect of black celebrity and creativity that hasn't been examined nearly enough.

“Newbos: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass” premieres Thursday, February 26th 9p | 1a ET

Questions, comments?