Black Member of '1 Percent' Talks OWS

Retired ad executive Tom Burrell says that government needs to play a role to lessen income disparity in the country.

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One of the many perspectives missing from the coverage of Occupy Wall Street is that of African Americans who are part of the "1 percent" -- the small group comprising the richest Americans. Tom Burrell, founder of Burrell Communications, one of the largest multimedia agencies specializing in African-American marketing, can say he's one of the few blacks who have that distinction.

The 72-year-old Burrell spoke to the Chicago Tribune about how he went from his modest upbringing on that city's South Side to a place of privilege.

"Very few blacks in the 1 percent, relatively speaking, come from wealth," Burrell said. "Sometimes that makes us more empathetic with the 99 percent and, at the same time, not nearly as financially secure as our white counterparts."

According to the 2010 census, black households made up only 3 percent of the top 2 percent, defined as households with income above $250,000.

While many white people who are part of the 1 percent look at the Occupy Wall Street movement with disdain, Burrell looks at the movement as something legitimate that the government needs to recognize.

"You have billionaires who don't want to pay taxes," said Burrell. "They have more money than they can spend in a hundred lifetimes, but they don't want to give any of it up. I'm not saying they're all that way, but that seems to be the basic sentiment. We all need to be advocating for change."

He created Burrell Communications in 1971, eventually building an advertising empire. He is the author of the popular book Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority.

Burrell's statements on this topic are sound and correct. The government needs to play a role in creating policies that help tighten these gaps and not widen them. There have been too many instances in previous years where Wall Street was thrown a lifeline and Main Street was allowed to drown.

Burrell, being African American, understands that while he may be in a different economic bracket than most blacks, he still has relatives who are part of the 99 percent. This is something that some white Wall Street executives aren't able to relate to.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, while misguided at times, has been a positive for so many reasons in our country because it revived the culture of protest and showed our elected officials that the majority of this country is sick of being jerked around.

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