Last Thursday I had the awesome pleasure of interviewing Bridgett M. Davis, the author of, “The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers.” It was an honor for several reasons. First, she’s been a friend for many years. Second, the story of her mother is really a story of all of us in that it epitomizes the intersection of money, business, and life.
So, it’s fitting to round out this series on relationships with a reflection on our discussion. Particularly since it touches upon all the elements we’ve addressed, i.e., the relationship you have with yourself, with the important people and influencers in your life, with money, and with your business (or way of making money).
Because in telling her mother’s story, Bridgett definitely reinforced a belief of mine, which is that…
The phrase, “no man is an island,” applies to relationships, too.
Plus, the book put a spotlight on the intersection of personal choices and societal/systemic choices. Highlighting this: Yes, when it comes to personal finances, you and I must take responsibility for our own choices. But the reality that those choices are made in the context of structured inequities and historical marginalization cannot and must not be minimized or overlooked.
For example: Due to the United States’ history of government and private housing discrimination, Bridgett’s mother couldn’t buy a house in her own name! She had to buy it via a process known as “contract for a deed.” If you’re unfamiliar with this practice, check out this Forbes article.
Also, her book was about a woman who ended up being a pioneer – even though she didn’t set out to be one.
Miss Fannie started a business at a time when it wasn’t usual for women to do so.
In an industry that was dominated by men.
Ran it for three decades.
And drum roll…her business was a source of generational wealth.
I look forward to when I can share a link to the recording, because we had a very lively conversation that I absolutely would love for you to hear!
I am excited for you to “meet” Miss Fannie and hear about a woman who ran an illegal business, with integrity. And in the process, according to Bridgett, exemplified what it looks like to value money…yet not worship it.
A Multi-million industry
First, let’s tackle the elephant in the room.
You might have a judgment about the Numbers business. You might have a preconceived notion of who plays it and why. I definitely wonder, if my mother ran an illegal business, would I be able to talk about it with as much grace as Bridgett does.
Then, I think about the intentional choices Miss Fannie made in the midst of the realities of her time. And, I admire her anew.
Yes, her business was illegal and part of an underground economy. Yet, she ran it with integrity. And, relative to other options for work (mostly domestic work), running a Numbers business gave her agency – over the financial security, stability, and elevation of her family. Plus, it allowed her to be a stay at home mother.
One thing I keep in mind is that Numbers wasn’t (and still isn’t) an immoral business. Moreover, it did a lot of good in many Black communities. Since it helped provide funding for the local chapters of organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League, to name a few. Organizations that provided social services the government did not.
According to Bridgett, “[Detroit’s] Numbers racket generated an estimated $94 million per-year [in] revenue.” The state didn’t outlaw Numbers for moral reasons; it did so because it wanted in on the financial action. Exhibit A: In the first year of the state lottery, “Michigan’s lottery pulled in over $135 million in gross sales.”
FYI: It’s worth noting, state lotteries across the country haven’t replaced the Numbers business.
In preparing for my interview with Bridgett, I was reminded of a widely quoted study, from a few years ago, with these startling stats about generational wealth:
- 70% of wealthy families lose their wealth by the second generation
- 90% will lose their wealth by the third generation
I don’t know about your reaction, but mine, each time I read those numbers, is…WOW!!!
Those stats affirm what we hear all the time: it’s not about how much you make, but what you do with what you keep.
As Bridgett chronicles in her book, Miss Fannie made it a habit of paying herself first and having a reserve. Both certainly played a role in her being able to start what would become the foundation for generational wealth in her family – buying property and investing in stocks. A combination that funded her children’s education (which for Bridgett included college and graduate school), and enabled Bridgett and her family to buy their property.
But the reserve was significant for more than just saving for the future; it was necessary so she could have the liquidity to pay the winners when their number hit. And, she liked it when her client’s won.
Women & Money
In my eyes, Miss Fannie was a pioneer. She flipped the script on many levels when it comes to women and money.
She worked in a male dominated “industry” and garnered the respect of her clients and business peers.
She was the breadwinner in both of her marriages.
She openly talked about money with her children.
She gave herself permission to deserve things and experiences that were of quality, expensive, and beautiful. And thus, by example, she gave her children permission to do the same.
Now, to your 2022 eyes and ears, none of the above may seem all that remarkable. But remember, Miss Fannie was doing this in the late 1950s, 60s and 70s – when NONE of this was the norm.
Like I said, she was a pioneer. Or, as I like to describe her: a quiet disruptor.
Her Story; Our Story
I LOVED reading Bridgett’s open love letter to her mother. (At least, that’s how I view her book! And, I can’t wait to also see it on the big screen!)
Miss Fannie’s story is one about…
- having imagination when the odds are stacked against you,
- taking risks and defining what choices are considered “risky,”
- having enough confidence and self-trust to go “left” whenever most others are going “right,”
- believing in abundance and knowing that generosity creates space for even more,
- the legacy you can create when you value money, but choose not to worship it.
Her story is indeed remarkable.
And, it’s a mirror.
Not unlike yours.
What shaped Miss Fannie’s experiences, challenges, and options in the late 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s is certainly different from what shapes yours and mine today in the 21st Century. But it’s a reflection nonetheless.
The reflection – in her case, yours, and mine – reveals how far we’ve come, along with a reminder of how far we’ve yet to go.
If someone were to write your story, what lessons might they take away from it about the intersection of money, business, and life; about individual and collective choices; and, what might it expose about the culture of our time – socially, politically, economically, and familially?
p.s. For an 11-minute history of Numbers, watch this – click here.