Former NFL running back now aims at the racial wealth gap Jason Wright, a McKinsey partner, co-authors new study detailing why black families are financially so far behind whites

Jason Wright always saw himself as more than a football player.

While playing at Northwestern University, the former running back led the local chapter of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. During his seven-year NFL career, he was a union leader who went on to launch a charter school network in Cleveland.

His football career ended in 2011, and Wright, 37, is now a partner with McKinsey & Co. And, no surprise, he sees himself as more than your ordinary management consultant.

Former NFL running back Jason Wright co-authored a report released Tuesday that lays out the broad scope and troubling implications of the racial gap.

McKinsey & Company

Wright, who has an MBA from the University of Chicago, is leveraging his company’s reach and expertise to tackle one of the nation’s most critical problems: the vast wealth gap separating African Americans and whites.

Wright co-authored a report released Tuesday that lays out the broad scope and troubling implications of the racial gap. The typical black family has a net worth of just $17,600, one-tenth of the wealth of the typical white family, which in 2016 had a median net worth of $171,000, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The gap widened significantly in recent decades, and it is showing no signs of closing. The biggest reason is that the typical African American family faces an array of obstacles that often work together to thwart wealth creation.

 

“There is a galvanizing case for change. When we look specifically at helping black folks across the country, the result is it helps everyone because the entire economy benefits.” — Jason Wright

For one, the report says, two-thirds of black families are concentrated in 16 states where, taken together, the overall economy is weak and educational options lag behind those elsewhere in the country. Most of those states are in the South, where economic opportunity, health care and even access to fast internet service is not always a given.

Meanwhile, black families in relatively prosperous urban areas or states tend to live in low-income neighborhoods where home values typically grow slowly, crippling one of the main sources of wealth creation. In addition, black families are far less likely than whites to own homes. More than 10 years after the Great Recession, the home ownership rate for black families continues to decline; it is down to just over 40%, while more than 73% of white families own homes. As recently as 2004, more than 48% of African American families were homeowners.

Another factor contributing to the gap is that African Americans tend to come from families with scant wealth to begin with, leaving them with little to build on. Just 8% of black families receive an inheritance, for instance, compared with 26% of white families. And when black families do inherit money, they get less: The typical black inheritance is just 35% of the average white inheritance of $236,000, the report said.

The lack of wealth hits hard at black college students. Blacks are much more likely than whites to incur student debt, and when they do, the debt is higher. Too often, it proves to be unpayable. Overall, nearly half of black undergraduate borrowers default on their student loans, some 2.3 times the white default rate, the report said.

Many other African Americans are living outside the nation’s financial mainstream, a troubling fact that impacts their ability to get mortgages, consumer loans or even credit cards. More than 1 in 4 African Americans do not have a credit score, and 17% do not have traditional bank accounts.

On top of all that, black workers typically have unemployment rates that are double the rates of similarly educated whites. Among those that are employed, blacks tend to earn far less than whites, in part because of lower educational levels.

If economic trends continue as they are now, the outlook is bleak for African American workers, who tend to be overrepresented in professions like truck driving, for instance, that face increasing competition from automation, the report said. Meanwhile, fast-growing fields like software programming and artificial intelligence have relatively few African Americans.

It is a gruesome picture but one that Wright believes can be improved. He noted that there were periods in the past when the gap had closed somewhat. He said improving educational opportunities, making consumer credit more widely available, ramping up consumer education and devising economic strategies to uplift lagging regions can all make a substantial difference in closing the wealth gap.

“There is a galvanizing case for change,” Wright said. “When we look specifically at helping black folks across the country, the result is it helps everyone because the entire economy benefits.”

Later this week, a group of more than 200 black executives and leaders will meet in Martha’s Vineyard for McKinsey’s annual Black Economic Forum to discuss the report’s findings. Afterward, Wright plans to lead an effort to turn out a series of follow-up documents going into more detail about approaches for closing the wealth gap.

Wright called the work every bit as exciting as his days playing in the NFL.

“When I played football, one thing I saw was an opportunity to influence on scale,” he said. “What I found at McKinsey is something that I thought I lost when I retired from football, and that’s another platform” to make change on a large scale.

Everyone thinks Meghan Markle is marrying up, but it’s really Prince Harry If the monarchy is to remain relevant, it’s going to need Duchess Meg

The Windsors are getting a lovely in-law in a matter of days. They’d be wise not to run her off.

Conventional thinking about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who will marry on Saturday at Windsor Castle, maintains that Markle is experiencing the come-up of a lifetime. After all, the American is marrying into the world’s most recognizable royal family, becoming a duchess (officially) and becoming a princess, if not officially then at least in people’s hearts. The royal family is worth tens of billions of dollars — imperialist pillaging has its benefits — and they live in castles older than Markle’s country of origin. Before she became engaged to Harry, Meghan was an actress on a basic cable show and ran a lifestyle website called The Tig. But really, as much as this marriage might be considered one of upward mobility for Markle, especially by British newspapers such as the Daily Mail, it’s just as much of one for Harry and the rest of his family of German toffs.

Allow me to explain: Markle, 36, was brought up in the hippie-dippie Southern California traditions of her yoga instructor mother, Doria Ragland, and educated at Northwestern University. She has a soul, one that tells her to hug people when protocol dictates she shake hands. (No wonder the queen’s corgis took to her so quickly.) She is a feminist who, from the age of 12, understood that washing dishes should not be the sole purview of women. Markle’s website was the anti-Goop. It offered useful, fun information instead of instructing women to subject their hoo-has to invasion from steam, jade eggs and tampons infused with unicorn glitter. Before she had to shut it down because everyone who becomes a Mountbatten-Windsor commits to communicating with the outside world solely in official royal capacities, Markle trafficked in useful travel guides, reading lists and appealing recipes, such as ginger-berry crumble and chocolate petit gateaux.

There will be far more black people in attendance at this royal wedding than any of the previous ones, and in high-profile roles as well.

Life as a royal, on the other hand, is like the traditional cake that’s served at so many official weddings, including the nuptials of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip: a thick layer of pristine white marzipan obscuring an interior of fruitcake, everyone’s least favorite baked good. The royals would do well to allow Markle to steer them away from their affinities for bland food (apparently the queen not only hates garlic but has banned it from Buckingham Palace entirely), foxhunting and freakish millinery. Let’s hope they also resist the urge to pull her into their constant familial backbiting. (It’s worth noting that Meghan got her way when it came to her own wedding cake, which will be lemon and elderflower with buttercream frosting.)

There’s a question of how much Markle can change Britain’s overboiled royal family, with its insistence on making women adopt nylons and eschew colored nail polish in the name of duty, honor and country.

You’ve heard the basics: She’s biracial, bringing some color to the family, the likes of which it hasn’t seen since Queen Charlotte wed George III in 1761. She’s divorced, and she’s certainly not a virgin, much like Wallis Simpson, the wife of Edward VIII.

Unlike Edward, Harry, 33, doesn’t have to abdicate his right to the throne for the sake of love. He’s wedding Meggles with the blessing of his grandmother, the queen. And the couple does appear to be doing things differently from the ways they’ve always been done. Certainly there will be far more black people in attendance at this royal wedding than any of the previous ones, and in high-profile roles as well. A black American bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, will give the address at their wedding. Sheku Kanneh-Mason, a 19-year-old cellist from Nottingham, will play at the ceremony. Serena Williams is said to be a guest.

There are all sorts of things about Meghan and Harry that would be unremarkable if he were from a different family. Alas, Meghan’s embrace of trousers as formal wear and the fact that she and Harry actually show affection for one another in public are practically revolutionary in the context of royal history. And given Buckingham Palace’s strict apolitical stance, one that prevented Kate Middleton from wearing black to the British Academy Television Awards in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement, Harry and Meghan’s attendance at the memorial service earlier this year for the victim of a racially motivated hate crime seems significant.

But how much? These changes, which look massive in the fun house reflection of the royal mirror, are innocuous and unremarkable in the glint of the real world. They provide hooks the public can readily grasp as an indication that Britain’s royal family is finally inching into the 21st century, mostly because Elizabeth dotes on her grandson. It helps that he’s the spare and not the heir. But are these symbolic public flourishes simply another thick layer of marzipan obscuring the fruitcake of what life as a royal will actually be like for Princess Meg?

The crown is a metonym for Britishness as a whole, and maybe this embrace of all things multicultural signals an expansion of what it means to be British. Or perhaps not. The country of Harry and Meghan is also the country of Brexit and Nigel Farage. And according to a new poll from HuffPost UK, Markle is about as popular as her dour-faced father-in-law-to-be, Prince Charles.

Are Harry and Meghan a sign of the royal family finally coming to grips with the ugly results of centuries of imperialism? Or are they exceptions in a country that’s more in line with Princess Michael of Kent, who reportedly owns two black sheep that she named Venus and Serena?

Let’s hope it’s the former. Meanwhile, a word to Markle’s future in-laws: Fall on your knees and thank your lucky stars that she is willing to add some diversity to your gene pool. The monarchy is well past its sell-by date, and if it’s to remain remotely relevant, you’re going to need her far more than she needs you.

The woman behind CoverGirl’s ‘I am what I make up’ marketing campaign Ukonwa Ojo added Ayesha Curry and Issa Rae as brand ambassadors

When Ukonwa Ojo left Nigeria for the United States to attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she had no clue she’d eventually become global senior vice president for Coty Inc.’s CoverGirl brand, but she knew she had a dream.

“My parents were gutsy enough to let me move to America by myself to follow my dream,” said Ojo. “I always knew that I wanted to work in business, and America was like the nirvana of business.”

Fast-forward to the present day, where that same bravery kicked in when Ojo, who joined CoverGirl in the fall of 2016, gave the brand a makeover by changing its slogan, “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl,” to “I Am What I Make Up” after just a year at the company. Ojo and her team added more brand ambassadors to round out their roster. Along with singer Katy Perry, the new CoverGirl ambassadors included chef and author Ayesha Curry, who is half of a power couple with NBA All-Star Stephen Curry; Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’s Insecure; fitness guru Massy Arias; 69-year-old model Maye Musk; and professional motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but the feedback has been incredible and allowed CoverGirl to bring a lot of innovation to market with bolder colors, deeper tones and glitter with a spring collection that will launch 114 new products.

Making tough decisions isn’t new for Ojo, who decided to change her career after working nearly six years in the finance department at paper company MeadWestvaco. A finance and accounting major in college, she was good at math but realized that she wasn’t in love with it and couldn’t see herself doing it for the rest of her life. Then she heard about brand management.

“I realized that what I didn’t like about finance was that I worked alone most of the time. But with brand management, I’m constantly collaborating and building together with so many departments,” said Ojo. “I’m a classic extrovert, so I get energy from other people.”

Ojo earned an MBA at Northwestern University and, while there, interned at General Mills, where she spent seven years. She handled marketing for brands such as Betty Crocker, Honey Nut Cheerios and Progresso from 2004-11. Later, she worked on branding for the French’s mustard portfolio, as well as Durex and K-Y in London for the British multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser until 2015. She stayed in London and joined Unilever as senior global director for Knorr, the food and beverage brand, before moving to New York as a CoverGirl senior vice president. With more than 20 years of marketing and brand management experience, she now oversees the cosmetic brand’s global strategy, advertising and communications.

The Undefeated visited Ojo at Coty’s offices in the Empire State Building to learn more about CoverGirl’s evolution, how she exemplifies why “you are what you make up” and why she lives by her Instagram bio, “working hard, playing harder and praying hardest.”


What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day, which is one of the things I love about this job and the beauty industry: It’s so fast-paced. I can be looking over the innovation within production operations, presenting to our board of directors or the executive committee, reviewing a pitch from our media partners who may have an amazing idea to meeting with our sales team on how we’re going to drive growth for that quarter. The scope of my role is so broad that it keeps things interesting and my brain challenged.

What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

The brand means so much because of the impact it has on culture, and that creates such a rewarding feeling for us. The challenge derives from that same responsibility of running such an iconic brand. Whatever you do, you know you’re standing on the shoulders of giants and that you’re pushing culture forward through the brand and the business.

What was behind the decision to change CoverGirl’s slogan from “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl” to “I Am What I Make Up”?

The decision came from really listening to people. I learned how makeup is so much more than cosmetic, and every day when they stand in front of the mirror with their makeup bag they are actually creating who they wanted to be that day. Women play so many different roles in society, and our makeup changes based on those roles because it’s a form of self-expression, and there’s a story behind each look. We realized that some of these looks weren’t so easy, breezy, and in some ways that was limiting us to go on that journey with her to create whoever she wanted to be that day.

How has CoverGirl evolved in how it chooses ambassadors?

It’s never easy picking a CoverGirl because of the legacy and history of what it stood for. It’s one of the hardest things we do as a team because it’s far more than just beauty that meets the eye. We’ve historically always stood for inclusiveness and diversity, but it was primarily limited to ethnicity. We wanted to continue to celebrate ethnic diversity but also the beauty that comes in all ages and vocations. A lot of our CoverGirls usually come from the entertainment industry as models and actresses, but we thought, ‘How awesome would it be to show women in various roles that are pushing society forward?’

Why did you choose Ayesha Curry, Issa Rae, Massy Arias, Maye Musk and Shelina Moreda?

We loved that Ayesha Curry was a chef, entrepreneur, a mom and a wife and was playing these roles in such an inspiring way. Massy Arias, a fitness sensation that could kick anyone’s butt at any time, is balancing that with brand-new motherhood and the ups and downs that come with that and was still thriving on that journey. And then we have Issa Rae, who we loved because she was really pushing the boundaries in Hollywood about what entertainment should look and feel like. She’s a director, producer, writer, actress and just a strong role model for women. [Model] Maye Musk exemplifies how even at 69 years old you can still do what you love and inspire at that same time. Shelina Moreda is the first woman to have raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at the Zhuhai International Circuit in China.

We just wanted to show all of the different ways that women really thrive in society and have that be an inspiration to us and other women out there.

How can we increase diversity in managing advertising and brand campaigns?

I believe it’s a combination of not knowing that this is a career path and how there’s still a long ways to go on representation on all levels in this field. That’s why I try to be visible in my role, whether that’s with mentoring, participating on panels and speaking engagements so African-Americans not only know but see that this is a path here for them too. Brands, especially those that impact culture, have to have diversity in front and behind the camera to authentically push diversity and inclusivity. I’m very intentional at building a strong and diverse team.

Is it better to be feared or loved as a leader?

I don’t subscribe to fear and would never want to generate that on my team. If I had to pick a word, it would be respect, and I would choose that over being loved. As a leader, you’re going to make decisions that people aren’t always going to love, but if they respect you and you’re transparent, then they’ll recognize that your intent is right.

What is your advice to young women who don’t feel beautiful because they compare themselves to what they see on social media and in Hollywood?

Beauty really does come in every shape, size, ethnicity and vocation. It’s so important that we champion that and show how beauty is confidence. People try to water it down to an idealized vision of beauty. But at the end of the day it is confidence, and when you learn to accept who you are, you will automatically perfect beauty into the world.

What would be your personal theme song and why?

“Live Your Life” by T.I. featuring Rihanna, because I believe in writing your own rules. People could have statistically said where I should end up or what a senior executive should look or lead like. I love challenging those notions. Like our slogan says, ‘you are what you make up,’ and you can become whoever you want to be.