Because I was born rich, I was able to attend private schools. My parents believed that a good education was the most important thing that one could give a child. And they sacrificed many of their own personal wants and expectations to see to it that their children would get a chance at receiving a good education. It is a privilege but not one that came without their personal sacrifice.
Because I was born rich, I learned the value of hard work. My parents had been poor as church mice when they were young. And they had no intention of giving me something simply because I asked for it or wanted it. As a child, when I wanted something, my dad would require that I write an essay explaining why. I know that while hard work may not make one rich, it makes a person worthy of his or her riches because what one earns is more valuable than what one is given.
Because I was born rich, I was able to eat nutritiously but not excessively and I had more than enough but never too much. I had an upbringing which viewed excess as a form of indiscipline. My parents are for the most part, minimalists. They do not believe in ostentatious living or living beyond one’s means. They value experiences more than things. And they believe their fortunes, material and non-material, are only useful if they help those around them.
Because I was born rich, I was able to travel. I was able to experience the world in a different way. I was given the opportunity to learn new languages and see the world from multiple perspectives. I recognized that wealth meant different things to different people. And I realized that to some people, the fact that I was able to eat three square meals a day, have clean water, and receive any education at all, made me wealthy.
Because I was born rich, I am not in debt. My parents assisted but I also earned scholarships, grants, and assistanceships to help pay for all of my education since staring college. When I graduated college, I thought I was going to law school but my dreams took a different direction. I crashed with one of my brothers for eight months while working at a start-up where what I learned made up for the little I earned. I began to understand that no matter how smart, talented, educated, and privileged one is, unless you have followed your dreams with your own labor and found your own voice, you will never truly be respected by others.
Because I was born rich, I have known from an early age that the world is unequal and unfair. I learned that that you have no control of the race, gender, class, and nationality you were born into. I learned that one’s upbringing is an accident of birth. And I also learned that you can look at your upbringing as your reason to fail or the reason why you have to succeed. I learned that while I always had to assess and be aware of areas of privilege and disadvantage, I would not be apologetic to others for either. I would simply use both my privilege and disadvantages as a reason to make the world a more equal place.
I have to admit though, I manipulated the truth. I wasn’t born rich; certainly not in material terms. My parents have done well for themselves but neither Forbes nor the World Bank would call us rich. They also had five children and being African, they were responsible to not just a nuclear family but an extended community. So as my dad would say, “I would have had to be a millionaire to be well-off.” But I know my parents value most what they have invested in people. So I have always felt rich. Rich because I was raised by two people who were both born to abjectly poor, unschooled parents. Yet these two people managed to overcome their upbringing in order to achieve the highest education in their profession, and create a life better than the one they were born into.
I have felt rich because I know that health, happiness, usefulness, and helping others are of far greater importance than any material wealth I could ever obtain. Rich because no matter what I want to accomplish, I was taught and I believe that not being born into a wealthy family is not an excuse to not at least try to transcend one’s accident of birth. Rich because I know that the measure of one’s true value is not in financial statements but in what one has contributed in their time on earth. And whether that contribution has made life better for those around them. Many have not been given much and this will never be fair. But many of us have also been given a lot; maybe more than what we “deserve.” And to not be able to recognize what we have been given, and what we are capable of doing with what we’ve been given, is great poverty.