Meet Darrell Booker, The Tech Expert Helping Black Communities Achieve Generational Wealth

What would the world be like if the Black community had access to financial health and wellness tools that not only lead to economic mobility, but generational wealth?

In ABC’s Our America: In the Black, Microsoft Philanthropies specialist Darrell Booker seeks to find the answer to that question, exploring how three individuals at different stages of their financial journeys are transforming their lives.

The idea behind the documentary was sparked by a “thought-provoking conversation with an African American financial advisor” and Nzinga Blake, executive producer, race and culture at ABC Owned Television Stations. That financial advisor acted as a mentor to Blake, expressing the importance of normalizing conversations around generational wealth and economic empowerment in the Black community and inspiring her to produce a documentary about what she learned. “I decided to develop a concept around the idea of getting the Black community ‘In the Black’ through storytelling around financial wellness in an entertaining, compelling and informative manner,” Blake tells UPROXX. When she met Booker last year, she knew he’d be the perfect person to help tell that story.

“During a panel discussion last year, I met Darrell Booker, who shared my passion for empowering communities,” she says. “Darrell was committed to highlighting the nonprofits that Microsoft Philanthropy works with, while I was interested in understanding how these organizations help transform the communities they serve. This chance encounter led to the collaboration of Our America: In the Black.”

The documentary special features Hannah, a young woman in foster care who is on the path to becoming a mechanical engineer, Angel Mercedes a beneficiary of the nonprofit RISE, an organization empowering the sports community to eliminate racial disparity, and Meagan Naraine, who is introduced to Jay Bailey the CEO of RICE, the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs located in Atlanta, Georgia which is commonly referred to as “Black Mecca.”

Below, Booker talks to UPROXX about what he learned while making the series, why the topic of shifting wealth inequality is so important for the Black community, and why it’s important to teach people not only to survive when it comes to financial literacy, but thrive.

Can you tell us about your background? What drew you to this documentary and your role at Microsoft as Philanthropies Specialist?

I come from a tech background, so since the age of 18, I was working full-time as a coder and developer. I moved up to the traditional ranks and had a tech startup. It got to the point that I felt like I was hitting the ceiling of what to do next in this particular field and the social impact space fell into my lap. I was approached by a gentleman who said “You look like a developer, I’m looking for someone to help lead a team. Do you have any connection to foster care?” I said yes because my mom was in care and he told me he was looking for someone to build technology solutions to support those transitioning out of care. So, at that moment my life started to change and I saw how my knowledge in tech could support social good and not just make someone money.

By the age of 18, I was making more money than my parents. I will say I made a lot of mistakes that to this day I’m still kicking myself for. I was a party promoter on the side at the time and I remember pulling out $15,000 from my 401k to throw a party. At the time I was like ‘I’m young, I’ll make the money back’ but that compound interest could have easily been worth a quarter million right now. Who knows? I look back at that time in my life and realize there were lots of people in the community who didn’t know what they needed to know and needed to hear it from someone they could relate to.

You brought up the idea of making more money than your parents which creates this issue of not having anyone around you to share knowledge on how to manage wealth. How do you go about teaching people, not only how to create wealth but to keep it and manage it?

I think often too many times in our black and brown communities, we aren’t having these conversations at home. As a child, you can tell that some things may not be financially right in the household. But, as people who are survivors, it’s ‘Let me just do what I gotta do let me just make this money, let me work some extra jobs.’ In their mind, they have this plan to get where they need to be, but they don’t think ‘Let’s discuss what’s happening with the kids.’ Let’s make them aware of what’s happening financially in our own household so they can learn these things at an early time and you don’t feel like you’re just protecting them. You’re helping them. Because what happens with that cycle is when they get older? They now need to take care of the elderly parents. So let’s all help each other in each generation by setting ourselves up to be able to support each other and have as much knowledge as possible.

How do you take that right step in knowledge though? How do you help people go from surviving to thriving?

Having something to look forward to every day that’s positive and not negative. When you’re surviving, you’re constantly thinking, ‘Okay, what is it that I gotta do to survive?’ If we can do more planning from goals and put those things top of mind, you start to change your mindset from ‘What I don’t have’ to ‘What it is that I need to do to achieve?’ You start checking these things off one piece at a time so that you’re actually building successful habits when it comes to money and finances. Then you develop muscle memory and you’re no longer intimidated because you’re used to it because you’ve plotted out a plan.

What were some of the surprises for you or things you learned that you weren’t aware of from meeting Hannah or spending time with the non-profits?

I would say the story around Angel. Just thinking of how hard it could be because his family are immigrants and they struggle to learn the culture and he has the pressure of sending money back home. It was a real eye-opener. There are people who are working and trying to thrive, not even as much as for themselves, but to be able to support those that are in another place, in another country that aren’t doing that well.

One of the things that the documentary touches on is the idea of saving yourself – that this information is available but you have to seek it out. Why was it important to highlight that?

Let’s not get it twisted. I think there is this element where the rich get richer and keep the knowledge to themselves. I don’t know why as if it’s going to take money away from your pocket to be able to help. When you just look at how we are already behind the curve and just in terms of economic mobility maybe even due to the conditions you were born in and how you’re already in a situation where you’re at a disadvantage, we really have to find ways to seek knowledge ourselves and to be able to implement it. Technology is the greatest equalizer when it comes to all disparities. One of those reasons is that it can disseminate education at a very equitable level.

Another thing I loved about the documentary is that it felt like the information was practical and everything was about meeting people where they are. Was that intentional while making the special?

Yeah, absolutely. You don’t wanna shame people and you also don’t want to make this concept intimidating because it’s so foreign to people. So how do you ease them into it? Showcasing various people in their different journeys makes you feel like ‘Okay, I can relate to that person.’ There are so many people who are in Hannah’s shoes, even if they’re not in foster care, but they’re in high school and they’re trying to get to college and don’t know how to get scholarships. We look at various stages of entrepreneurship with Meagan who’s right at the beginning and then Jay who is providing his skills to entrepreneurs. People have to relate to what they’re watching, that’s the most impactful way to tell stories in my opinion. There’s only so much shock and awe you can have because people want to feel inspired and hopeful. Those are the emotions you want people to walk away with.

Our America: In the Black airs is available on Hulu, ABC-owned television stations and streaming platforms Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and Roku.