Frequently Asked Questions about Dr. Boyce Watkins
A: I stand for fairness and doing what is right. I am not a Finance Professor who happens to be black, I am a black man who happens to be a Finance Professor. There is a great deal of inequality in America that runs along racial lines. This is due to the fact that our country has built a 400 year social, financial and educational infrastructure that promotes the advancement of one group over the other. It is my job as a public scholar to challenge this imbalance and work to find solutions to these problems. My primary tools of choice are education and economic empowerment. I work hard to teach youth, especially African Americans, the value of being highly educated and the additional value that comes from becoming Financially independent and empowered. Those were the choices that changed my life and gave me the freedom and strength to express myself honestly, creatively and (some think) intelligently.
I also want to challenge the NCAA to rethink the way it treats college athletes. As a Finance Professor, I am not sure how we can justify earning millions for our coaches and administrators, while allowing the sources of labor (the athletes) and their families to live in poverty. This is wrong and unAmerican, for capitalism should give us the rights to freely negotiate our wages. When we engaged in our campaign on CNN, ESPN and CBS to challenge the actions of the NCAA, people thought I was trying to attack them. The truth is that I don't enjoy attacking anyone, I only want to fight for fairness. One thing that my students have always said about me (whether they love me or hate me) is that I am fair. I call it for what it is.
Q: Your work can be controversial, why do you do it?
A: I ask myself that question every single day! Personally, I believe that the role of the black scholar in America is to work hard to uplift our communities. Our intellect is needed, and in addition to engaging in scholarly research that lies in dusty academic journals, we should become active in our communities and throughout the world. I believe strongly in the concept of Scholarship in Action. The thing about Scholarship in Action is that it requires the combination of intellect, creativity, curiosity, commitment, passion and courage that stands at the root of all true genius. I do not consider myself a genius, but I wake up every day thinking "I am one day closer to my last day on this earth. How can I get the best return on my investment?" That is what keeps me going.
Some days are tougher than others, like when people confuse black love with white hatred. I learned from the lives of Martin Luther King and others that people will always confuse the two. For the past 20 years, most of my students and classmates have been white and I spent much of my childhood in a white neighborhood. So, to be honest, I know as much or more about white culture than I do about black culture. So, like Barack Obama, my mixed background helped me realize one thing: We are all human and we all make mistakes. The problem is that in America, the mistakes of black males are interpreted differently than the mistakes made by others. My work has, in part, been meant to point out this contradiction.
Q: Where are you from and what is your background?
A: I am originally from Louisville, KY. My father abandoned me when I was born, and my mother was 16 years old when she got pregnant with me. My mother met and married a man who became my "real father", when I was 3 years old. I struggled through school, getting far more Cs, Ds and Fs than As and Bs. I was not, according to my teachers, cut out for college and my teachers even recommended me for special education and medication for ADHD. What I didn't know at the time is that black boys are 5 times more likely to be placed in special education than kids of other ethnicities. At the age of 18, I discovered this amazing, secret invention called "sex", which led to me having my first child. We all make mistakes, and I have made my share. However, I truly believe that the mistakes you make, if studied properly, can become the tuition that you pay in the school of life. It is by paying this tuition that we gain wisdom and strength during the journey. The year I had my daughter was also the year that I changed my life. I found my way onto campus at The University of Kentucky, where I became a straight A student for the first time. I then continued going to school for another 12 years, earning a few masters degrees and bachelors degrees, along with my PhD. Falling on my face over and over again taught me that being perfect is not the requirement for being a victor. The key is learning how to keep getting back up. Also, my humble beginnings taught me not to look down on those who make mistakes. Instead, I seek to uplift those around me by saying "I am a great man when I do my best, and we can all be great if we try." I don't get much of a thrill from condemning, chastising, or pretending that I am better than anyone else.