DR. BOYCE: Why We Love the American Gangster

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Julianna Farrait, the 70-year old spouse of the infamous heroine dealer Frank Lucas, was recently arrested in Puerto Rico. Authorities found her trying to sell 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of cocaine at a hotel.   She is being charged with conspiracy to violate narcotics law and has not yet entered a plea.  Frank Lucas was made famous by the film “American Gangster,” starring Denzel Washington.

In a recent interview, Farrait said that she wanted to be with Lucas because she was “attracted to danger” and that she misses taking expensive trips and having a Mercedes. “Those who say that money is not important are lying,” she said. “People say that money does not buy happiness. It doesn’t?”

RELATED: Ex-Wife Of “American Gangster” Frank Lucas Busted Selling Drugs

The film “American Gangster” was compelling, frightening and inspiring, all at the same time.    The movie filled theaters across the nation, and the story was certainly worth telling.  There was something oddly impressive about Frank Lucas; it was inspirational to see a black man run his own shop and not have to bow to anyone.  The problem, however, is that Lucas’ experience ended in the midst of tragedy.  While we might all vary in our judgment of Frank Lucas, we can at least agree that Lucas’ amazing intelligence and talents would have been better utilized in a different setting.

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Let’s think carefully about why we loved Lucas and figure out what we might actually be able to learn from his experience.  In order to prove that you’re never too old to learn, I’ll lay out the things that I learned from his life story:

1) Don’t use or sell drugs, it always ends up badly: Engaging in illegal activity to make a living is simply a bad idea.  Drug laws in America are Draconian in nature, and black men end up with incredibly long sentences on a regular basis due to drug-related activity.  It’s probably much easier to graduate from college than it is to deal drugs, and more productive for your future.  So, if you’re smart enough to translate kilos to pounds, assess existing market share and analyze distribution channels (which most of my students don’t know how to do), then you are smart enough to go to business school.

RELATED: Why Do Rappers Name Themselves After Criminals?

2) If you sell drugs, get out early, not too late: In January 1975, police seized half a million dollars from Frank Lucas’ home and sentenced him to 40 years in prison. He was released from prison in 1991.  His wife received 5-years in prison.  Understand that selling drugs is an incredibly risky and silly way to make a living.  By doing so, you’ve already pre-ordered your casket and prison cell, it’s only a matter of time.  One thing that Frank Lucas didn’t consider is the fact that the good ride almost always comes to an end.  The same way a casino always wins its money back, Lucas would have been better to realize that “the game” always catches up with you at some point.  He should have walked away while he could.

3) Ownership is the key to power in America: Without passing too much judgement on Frank Lucas, I must admit that I was personally impressed to see a black man form independent channels for wealth building without making himself a slave to someone else.  Working for the biggest fish on the plantation is never as fulfilling as getting off the plantation altogether.  We loved Frank Lucas because he was a free black man, a rare and odd commodity in a country called “America.”

4) Keep your family members away from your dirt: The most disturbing part of the life of Frank Lucas was the fact that he put so many of his own relatives in the middle of his crazy life, leading many of them to either die or be sent to prison just like him.  I understand that Lucas wanted to be a warrior, but to bring his mother, wife, brothers and cousins into the picture was uncalled for.  At the same time, there is across the board accountability in the life of Frank Lucas.  His wife professed to love danger, which is a scary reminder to women who find men like Lucas to be attractive.  By falling victim to your own innate desires, you may be putting your children in harm’s way and creating a complicated life for yourself.

5) If you get rich, try to keep it to yourself:  There was a scene in the film where Frank caught the attention of police by dressing too flashy at a boxing match.  If you have a tendency to flaunt your wealth, then you’re going to be a target for every moocher, crook and hater within a 100-mile radius.   Not everyone needs to know that you’re stacking chips.  More money can create far more problems, so you might be well-advised to keep it all to yourself.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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