If you tuned in recently to this season’s premiere episode of ABC’s black-ish, you saw Emmy-nominated actor and comedian Anthony Anderson in rare form.
In the season 2 opener, Anderson’s character (Dre) tackled a weighty subject – the use of the N-word in America – with a hefty dose of humor and grace.
Dre initially insists that White people, and a host of other individuals, can’t use the N-word. But he argued that it was OK for Black people to do so, including his 8-year-old son who nearly gets expelled from school after singing Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and blurting out the N-word during a student talent show.
By the end of the episode, however, Dre has a change of heart. He tells his son to hold off on using the loaded phrase – at least until the boy is of age to truly understand its historic and controversial meaning.
In some ways, you might say it was a case of art imitating life. As it turns out, off screen Anderson – who has kids of his own – is equally adept at handling tough family topics.
Recently, Anderson agreed to serve as spokesperson for Life Insurance Awareness Month, on behalf of the nonprofit Life Happens.
Why would a comedic actor want to spread the word about life insurance – a not-so-funny subject that makes people think about dying and their own mortality?
Anderson knows first-hand about the importance of life insurance – and why every family needs it.
About a decade ago, Anderson lost his brother, who was only 26, to a tragic accident. Shortly thereafter, Anderson’s father also passed away due to complications from diabetes. Fortunately, both men had life insurance – which made things much easier, financially, for the family.
I had an opportunity to interview Anderson on the afternoon that season 2 of black-ish debuted. He was on his way to the airport, but took 20 minutes to chat with me by telephone.
Among other things, we talked about life insurance, the need for Black men to take their health more seriously, and the importance of planning for the next generation.
Here are highlights from our interview – including some serious money lessons Anderson dropped on me.
Lesson #1: Don't become a financial burden to your family
When I asked Anderson why he felt it was important for people to pay attention to the subject of life insurance, he also recalled growing up in Compton, CA and what he experienced among his buddies.
"I look at friends who passed away from the neighborhood that I grew up in, and none of them had life insurance," he recalls. "So I watched (their relatives) pass the hat around the neighborhood to help bury them and to help take care of their family financially."
For his part, Anderson said he never wanted to be a burden to his family, which is why he bought his first insurance policy at age 18 and continues to make life insurance a key part of his overall financial plan.
"Since I have life insurance, if anything were to happen to me, my family would be provided for,” he says. “My children would still be in private school, or private college, because of smart financial choices I've made in terms of investing in the stock market and also investing in life insurance."
Besides, having life insurance is just common sense, he says.
"We have car insurance, and you even insure the big screen TV in your house, in case something goes wrong.There's no replacing or fixing a loved one who has passed. But if they had life insurance and they took the time to think ahead, they can alleviate the suffering that the family goes through in monetary ways. They wouldn't have to change their lifestyle or worry about how the mortgage is going to get paid."
Anderson emphasized that 40% of all adults in the U.S. — or more than 100 million people — don't have life insurance.
Lesson #2: Make smart decisions not based on keeping up with the Joneses
Many people mistakenly think that actors, athletes and entertainers have it made when they do a movie, star in a TV show, sign a sports contract or drop an album. But one deal – or even a series of big deals – almost never means lifelong financial security for celebrities, or anyone else.
So I asked Anderson whether he had any financial worries.
"We all have money worries, regardless of what our professions are," he replied. "But I’ve been at this game for two decades. So I've been able to secure certain things, by investing and being smart with my money."
He cited his current luxury car as an example.
"I drive a Mercedes S550, not because I went out and bought it, but because of my relationship with Mercedes," he said. "So I drive a $97,000 car for free. I don't go out and try to keep up with the Joneses because my last name is Anderson. What they do in their household, or over there on their property lines is what they do. I'm not chasing someone else's dreams. That's why I don't have the worries (that other people have)."
Since teens can get caught up in wanting what their peers have, I also asked Anderson how he handles it when his own teenage kids ask for expensive things or items they really don't need. His answer was quite blunt.
"My children don’t do that,” he replied. "That's just not what they’re into."
On the contrary, "I'm the one who buys them expensive gifts and things they feel they don't need," he admitted. "I do it because I want my children to have the finest and the best," he said. "Most importantly, I've made financial decisions and choices that have allowed me to do that for them."
Lesson #3: Your health is just as important as your wealth
Having been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which led to his father's death, Anderson feels strongly about the need for men — especially African-Americans — to take as much interest in their health as they do in their careers and money.
"I travel the country giving my testimony about diabetes and making the choice to live with the disease and not die from it," he said.
But he said it’s always shocking to him to hear some men say they don't want to go to the doctor because they don't want to hear any potential bad health news.
"That's a foolish way to think," Anderson says. “I have to know what's going on with me in order to fix it. And I have to now what I'm predisposed to so I can avoid that."
Lesson #4: Use your fears as fuel for action
Plenty of people let fear stop them from achieving their financial goals. For example, some people are afraid to ask for a pay raise – so they don’t get it. Scores of Americans also want to become entrepreneurs, but they're afraid to start a side gig.
Likewise, comics and actors often talk about the anxieties and fears they have – from fear of failure to fear of rejection to fears about their success suddenly going away. But Anderson views himself somewhat differently.
"I don't really have fears because I look at fear as a stimulant,” Anderson said. "I embrace my fears — so that way I control them and they don't control me. My (only) fear is that my health will fail me and I won’t be around to watch my children grow into the adults they're becoming. So I take care of my health. Anything else I'm not worrying about. I put all of that in the hands of my God, those things that I can't control."
Lesson # 5: Create an overall financial game plan for the future
Far too many people also focus on today’s issues, and give little to no thought to what Anderson calls their “future selves.” But the comic says he's always thinking of how to benefit his future self, based on the choices he makes today.
"I'm in a fortunate situation where my next few years have been planned out for me in terms of work and in terms of compensation,” he said. "So we don’t have any short-term worries about what’s going to happen in the event that I lose my job or whatnot."
Not everyone has that opportunity, he acknowledged. But his good fortune isn't about luck. It's more about strategy — and a well-thought out financial game plan.
"I have life insurance, I'm well invested, and I have my own pension plan. I also have a wellness policy so if anything ever happens to me and I can't go to work I have workers comp insurance through my company. So that's how I've prepared myself for the security of my family," he said.
I wish more celebrities — and average working-class Americans too – would heed Anderson's wisdom. It's good, sound advice that can benefit anyone.