Every solution starts with a problem. As a black woman, one of the biggest problems I see for myself, and others like me, is the lack of education and culture that promotes building wealth.
This revelation came to me when I worked as a banker at J.P. Morgan. Basically, I was trading the loans that average Americans must get in order to live: mortgages, car loans, credit card receivables and student loans. Knowing that I could make hundreds of thousands of dollars on another person’s debt and his or her ability (or inability) to pay forced me to consider how access to financial services and education affects a person’s ability to build wealth.
In the American economy, women of color face greater economic segmentation and disadvantage than any other social demographic. Half of all single Black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, this is despite the fact that women of color have higher college completion rates than their male counterparts. More strikingly, the median wealth for black and Latina women since 2007 is $100 and $120 respectively. The complexity of the financial system excludes those who don’t have the infrastructure to understand it. As such, among other things, when I began to understand the financial realities for women of color in America I felt compelled to generate programs that directly target low-income women of color.
History has proven that, to change this system, a woman of color has to build and achieve wealth of her own. This is where BlackFem, Inc. comes in. We are a financial literacy organization designed for girls as young as 3 years old to women up to adulthood. With the mission to empower women and girls of color to build and sustain wealth, we are empowering them to create financial stability and sustainability to themselves. One by one, we are correcting the extreme resource deficiency that characterizes this demographic.
Programming about financial literacy sounds at best boring and at worst painful. We believe, in fact, we know, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve adapted everything I learned as a banker (and more) to an easily digestible curriculum. Emphasizing the comprehension of key financial topics but, rather than a one-size-fits-all model, our curriculum is accessible and engaging because we customize it for our participants. For example, I recently ran a session with a team of young cheerleaders in Harlem and, instead of teaching these girls how to trade stocks with generic and complicated financial curriculum, we taught them how to trade stocks through cheerleading. Here is an overview of the types of programs we offer:
Financial Fundamentals Program for grades Pre-K — 8
The first line of curriculum for our participants in centered around saving and compound interest in our Money Does Grow on Trees Program for Pre-K to 2nd graders. To start, every participant in our program opens a savings account. Through these accounts we introduce the simple idea that being in control of your finances and saving is the means to having the money to begin investing.
We are, by no means lowering the intellectual standards of our curriculum. When I started out, I wasn’t sure that a 4 year old could grasp the concept of compound interest, but Shania told me: “I am going to ask for a savings account from Santa because I want my money to grow like an apple.” Shania, 4
As a participant of our Time Is Money Program for 3rd to 8th graders, Princess also noted, “I wasn’t sure that I would be able to be wealthy. Now I know I have that opportunity.” Princess, 11
BlackFem Meet-Ups: Financial Literacy for ages 13–21
High school girls are all about hanging out with their friends. Meet-Ups With BlackFem allow friends to get together and talk finance with our financial experts and educators. It’s a chance not just to go over basic financial principles, but also a chance for each young woman to seek counseling from her peers and experts about her specific financial situation.
“I now feel comfortable with going to college knowing that I won’t be as worried about understanding my student loans and making financial decisions” — Jazmyn, Freshman at Hampton University
Dollars and Sense: Investing Bootcamp
This program teaches college and graduate students about financial planning, trading and sustaining wealth. Once we’ve covered the basics, we teach how to open an investment account and begin trading stocks, bonds and mutual funds. The point isn’t necessarily to make traders out of these young women, but rather to show them the multiple platforms from which they can build wealth.
“Chloe made it easy for me to see that finance is personal, which makes trading seem less daunting” — Sira, 16
Financial Literacy: College and Beyond
Though Our main focus has always been to work with young women and girls, we’ve increasingly seen the need for our programming in their parents and communities. Our students have generated a ripple effect in their home life, as noted by one of our students’, Mame’s mom: “Now she is able to talk to me about my credit score, my financial decisions, and how to maintain a good credit score which I never had knowledge of.” Our Financial Literacy Community Workshops provides anyone of any age the friendly first steps for financial planning and wealth management resources.
We started building this curriculum a year ago and operating our classes only three months ago. We’ve graduated 257 girls and women of color, and with that, opened 257 savings accounts. By this time next year, we hope to more than triple that number. Schools up and down the East Coast and in California have reached out to implement our curriculum in their education. At this point, we are doing everything we can to keep up and still expand the ways we offer access to financial literacy.
This November, we will release our first edition of our first children’s book, aptly named “Money Does Grow on Trees”. The story follows Kyra, a cute, witty little black girl who desperately wants to buy a fancy new dress she sees in a store window. Unable to afford the dress, she and her mom take a trip to the bank, where Kyra learns how she can manage her finances to not just eventually get that dress, but also prepare for her future.
In 2017, we are aiming to help 5,000 women and girls of color. We’ve seen the demand, we know what we’re offering isn’t just needed, but wanted. We’re just starting this journey but we know it will take us somewhere where many more women and girls are going beyond the dream of being rich and achieving true wealth.