*The Michigan Chronicle is discussing generational poverty in Detroit, and its history at large in this four-part series during Black History Month. Stay tuned for the fourth and final part to learn about how we move forward.
There are levels to his story. And those multifaceted elements in his life all tie back to doing one thing: building generational wealth for his family.
Detroit resident and business owner Kenya Jones, 48, of Rubin’s Plumbing & Heating Co., Inc., is financially prudent while running the 65-year-old company that he received 12 years ago from his former boss, Jack Rubin (now retired). Rubin took over the business, which started in 1955, from his father in 1966. Jones said that Rubin’s father, who called him grandson, was also a man on a mission to succeed financially despite the odds stacked against him.
“Mr. Rubin was Jewish when he came to this country [at 27 years old in 1949],” Jones, who started work there at 18, said of the company founder. “He had five dollars in his pocket and his wife and his son — they started this from the mud. Where I pride myself is, they entrusted me with the company. I pride myself on being able to bring it back and put it in different markets.”
Bring it back he did. Jones said around the time he took over the company in 2008-2009, the “world collapsed” around him due to the global financial crisis. But Jones said he didn’t let those obstacles stop him despite not having all the financial tools he needed.
“When I started this company, I didn’t have a nest egg of $100,000,” he said. “I lost $14,000 at a time when I couldn’t afford it.”
Jones said that as a Black business owner, the biggest thing Black people run into is not having the financial backing and resources that his counterparts have.
“And most plumbers they all start off as working class,” he said, adding that when he took over the business he had to rebuild and start anew. COVID-19 hasn’t helped his finances either. But he’s pushing ahead. “I feel great it’s a heck of a feeling.”
Jones added that personally, each generation in his family has grown “a little more” when it comes to breaking generational poverty patterns.
“I think that it’s a mind state,” he said, adding that when he left the “four corners” of his apartment walls, he grew. “I started seeing life differently. I think if more people get out of their neighborhoods and to venture off and get out of that environment they will get farther ahead.”
Jones got ahead and is bringing his three sons, aged 21, 24 and 26, along with him so they can inherit the business when the time comes.
“Right now, one of my sons works for me and a family friend. I hope when I’m done that they do take over and so forth,” he said. “Outside of Rubin’s Plumbing we also buy property and I hope that they take that over, too.”
Last year Jones’ company purchased a brick-and-mortar in District 4 at Gratiot and Van Dyke. The building was formerly home to Singleton Cleaners, a Black-owned company that was around for decades.
“In the pandemic, we’re still doing things,” Jones said, adding that the building has a lot of history. That was a huge company back in the day. [The owner] built his empire from the bottom … I remember him growing up in the 80s… I remember the commercials. When I walk in that building [I] can feel that vibe.”
Jones added that he hopes to similarly build his business empire and continue to do great things for his company for his family and children, including his granddaughter.
“That’s all we’re trying to build is generational wealth,” he said, adding that it’s important for local businesses to not give up.
“We are struggling right now. I know that I won’t struggle forever,” Jones said.
According to http://blndedmedia.com, 2019 data from the Small Business Administration shows that just over 19 million businesses, or 70.9 percent of all U.S. businesses, are white-owned. Black-owned businesses account for about 2.6 million businesses or 9.5 percent of all U.S. businesses, and Latinos own 3.3 million businesses or 12.2 percent of all American businesses. The data showed that 19 million white-owned businesses have 88 percent of the overall sales, and control 86.5 percent of U.S. employment, while Black businesses have only 1.3 percent of total American sales, and 1.7 percent of the nation’s employees.
Entrepreneurship, according to the article, can help close the ever-widening racial wealth gap, which is seemingly ever-increasing.
Data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (2014) shows that Black households have fewer than seven cents on the dollar compared to white households. The white household living near the poverty line typically has about $18,000 in wealth, while Black households in similar economic situations typically have a median wealth near zero. Meaning that many Black families have a negative net worth.
On the other side of the financial coin, Black households make up less than 2 percent of those in the top one percent of the nation’s wealth distribution. Meanwhile, white households make up more than 96 percent of the wealthiest Americans and are among the nation’s wealthiest households.
During a January virtual roundtable panelist discussion, Millennial Money: The Financial Glow Up, conversations surrounded generational wealth. During the nearly one-hour program, the moderator asked financial experts if there is another path to generational wealth and if there is another path toward the American Dream.
Area Certified Public Accountant and panelist Leslie M. Jones said that that question should be asked to people individually.
“What’s important to you? What does your American Dream look like because I don’t think it’s a one size fits all,” she said, adding that the American Dream for some could be working 30 years and having a pension or retirement plan. For others, it could be taking over a family business or starting their own business. “Doing a lot of self-reflection and figuring out what’s going to make you happy, what’s going to give you satisfaction in your life — once you get into that space you can take your dream to another level and that becomes your dream instead of the one-size-fits-all American Dream.”
Farmington Hills-based GreenPath Financial Wellness CEO Kristen Holt spoke on the nightmare of debt issues.
“I’m sure many people are buried under, I’m sure, what feels like an insurmountable amount of debt,” Holt said. “We just want you to know that you are not alone … there are ways to move forward and we talk to people every single day who are in that place. And after they get done talking to us, we are able to help them craft a path forward so they can start feeling better and removing that financial stress.”
Holt added that there are steps that everybody can take, especially during COVID-19 where people’s finances have been “thrown a massive curveball.”
Her tips include eliminating any extra expenses that you can and find out what is owed and when it can be paid off.
“This is something GreenPath can help you with, one of our tools like a debt management plan can help you pay off that debt significantly faster than on your own because we are able to renegotiate interest rates,” she said. “There are steps you can take forward and you are not alone.”
For more information visit https://www.greenpath.com/.