To the YourBlackWorld family: Some of you saw my recent critique of the RushCard, the new prepaid debit card issued by Russell Simmons. Some took my article about the RushCard and interview about the Rushcard on BBC World news and The New York Times to imply that I have serious problems with the way Russell Simmons does business. While I do not feel that Russell, nor anyone else, is above being critiqued by the Black community, it should be made clear that I respect much of Simmons’ work, especially what he has done to reduce the severity of the drug laws that incarcerate so many Black men across America.
I must admit that I’ve been disturbed by the recent trend of African American urban role models lending themselves out to companies such as Rent-a-Center to encourage people of color to participate in arguably one-sided financial transactions. But I must be clear when I say that the RushCard is not necessarily a bad deal for those who need it. My greatest challenge to President Obama is to find ways to ensure that all Americans have access to basic services, such as bank accounts, so they are not forced to pay high fees in order to access their own money. I cannot endorse an argument which states that Russell is necessarily a philanthropist (as his ads claim) because his company provides an option that improves upon the horrific options already in place. So, while I agree 100% that the RushCard is better than check cashing venues in the Black community, my greatest concern is that many members of the urban poor are still paying the high cost of poverty in America. It is my hope that Russell sincerely fulfills his role as philanthropist, leader and financial enabler by genuinely working to solve critical liquidity and financial literacy problems in urban America. I have complete faith that he can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to.
So, out of fairness to Russell, I want all of you to see his response to the New York Times piece, which is written below. My goal is not to think for you, it’s to encourage you to think for yourself.