The New York Life insurance company recently hosted a panel discussion on bridging the racial wealth gap in Washington, D.C.

New York Life agents were in town for the company’s empowerment plan summit and to celebrate achieving their goal of reaching $50 billion in life insurance plans in the Black community.

The panel featured Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association; Rev. Delman Coates, the senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md.; Darryl De Sousa, deputy commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department; Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Howard University; Eugene Mitchell, African American Market Manager for New York Life; and Jeff Pegues, justice and homeland security correspondent for CBS News.

Mitchell said that he wanted people to know that New York Life and its agents take economic empowerment in the Black community very seriously, because economic disparities breed lack of opportunities.

“The root problem in our community is not crime, it’s not drugs, it’s not non-nuclear households, it’s the economy,” said Mitchell. “Wealth equals opportunity and the lack of wealth creates hard times.”

Mitchell continued: “We’re bringing this tool of life insurance into the Black community so that we can use it like other [communities] have used it for hundreds of years and to create an inheritance and generational wealth beyond covering the cost of the funeral.”

Mitchell said that, with the right policy, when a family member passes away and leaves $100,000 or $250,000 or $1,000,000 that money can be used as an investment to help purchase a house, to fund college education, for start-up capital to start a business or even charitable giving.

Coates said that now that New York Life has reached the $50 billion-dollar goal, the Black community desperately needs a macroeconomic strategy that will help to preserve the value of that investment.

“We would be remiss if 20 years from now the value of that $50 billion is $5 billion,” said Coates. “If we’re going to address the racial wealth gap, we must address the macroeconomic mechanisms that causes money to be controlled by people who don’t look like us, by institutions that don’t represent us and that ultimately issue money as a debt in society.”

Chavis said that with the $50 billion dollar economic empowerment campaign, Eugene Mitchell and New York Life have shown that the Black families can instill wealth building into our mindset.

“We not only have to talk about building wealth, we have to show our people how to build wealth,” said Chavis. “We have to express wealth-building in our community in a way that people feel the emotional impact of pooling [their] resources.”

Muhammad commended the life insurance agents in the audience for the work that they’re doing in the Black community and implored them to continue their outreach efforts.