Two hundred people packed the seminar room at Living Word Christian Center last Saturday morning to hear author, teacher and self-made millionaire Keith Cameron Smith share “The Top 10 Distinctions between Millionaires and the Middle Class,” which is also the title of one the books in his 10 Distinctions series.
Smith began his three-hour presentation declaring, “The whole world is on sale. Profit is in God’s plan. You can be a giant on the earth.” The 10 distinctions, he noted, all have to do with how you think. “Thoughts,” he explained, “control feelings which determine actions which create results.”
According to Smith, the mentality that sets millionaires apart from middle class folk include:
1. asking empowering questions
2. increasing net worth instead of working for a paycheck
3. having multiple sources of income
4. being generous
5. working for profit instead of wages
6. continually learning and growing
7. taking calculated risks instead of fearing failure
8. embracing change
9. having big ideas
10. thinking long term
You would never know that a great recession is ongoing in this country by the enthusiasm with which the crowd of energized, optimistic 30-somethings was taking notes on Cameron’s teachings. Many heads nodded in agreement with him as he argued that millionaires maintain an “abundance mentality” while the middle class thinks in terms of scarcity.
The mood at Living Word last Saturday contrasted with the tone of a roundtable discussion hosted by Tavis Smiley last month on WYCC TV. The panel consisted of heavy African-American hitters from the generation Smith’s parents belonged to – names like Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Dorothy Tillman and Louis Farrakhan.
All of the participants in the Living Word roundtable discussion and 95 percent of those in attendance were black, but that’s where the similarity ended. The tone of the WYCC program was angry. The people at Living Word were upbeat. Smiley’s guests used the biblical image of slavery in Egypt as their guiding metaphor. Smith spoke in terms of the Promised Land. Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, et al, blamed racist power structures and the government for victimizing black people. Smith said the problem wasn’t what happens in Washington, Springfield or Mayor Daley’s office as much as what goes on in your own head.
These two different ways of framing reality are not new in the African-American community. A hundred years ago, W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington had a similar ongoing debate. DuBois wanted to change the system and therefore pressed for civil rights in the political arena. Washington said the solution to the problems of the black population lay in learning a trade and becoming so good at it that your community would come to believe you are indispensable to its well being.
As Smith lectured at Living Word, he pointed to the church’s founder, Rev. Bill Winston, several times as an example of what he was talking about. Winston was born in a small town in the segregated South, graduated from Tuskegee Institute (the college Booker T. Washington founded), won the Flying Cross as a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, was responsible for $35 million in sales revenue a year at IBM, and in the past 20 years, has grown Living Word from a dozen worshippers to a membership of 15,000.