Just What We Needed

by Leslie Aguilar | Lead Marketing Fellow

Every day the BlackFem team works hard to provide a quality financial education to students and families who may not otherwise receive such services in or out of school. It’s certainly a difficult, often tricky endeavor that we stick with because we know the result will change the lives of those that belong to our BlackFem community. Sometimes we want to circumvent the bureaucratic process of formalizing partnerships with institutions and get down to what wakes us up every day: teaching students our wealth and financial literacy curriculum. So, when Charles Schwab recruited us to be a part of their 2017 #VolunteerWeek, we saw the perfect opportunity to do so. Every year, Charles Schwab hosts its Volunteer Week across the country and partners with nonprofits, like BlackFem, to participate in nearly 500 service projects that impact 280 communities.

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At the center of BlackFem is an unbending belief that communities of color, especially women and girls of color, can be taught wealth and financial literacy to combat the systemic and institutionalized oppression that they face. This core belief serves as the spark in every BlackFem team member, the force within our CEO and Founder Chloe McKenzie, the drive behind everyone from our interns to project managers to the executive team and board members. It’s this force and drive that makes us committed to sitting through meeting after meeting filled with presentations, negotiations, standstills, and sometimes doing the whole thing all over again in order to get our programs and unique curriculum into new schools and ultimately, into the hands of the students who, with our help, fashion it into iron-clad armor against systemic oppression.

However, that force and drive also creates an unquenchable need to create an impact now. We have our team, we have our curriculum, we have our target communities, we know how to train our teachers and teachers at our partner schools, we know how to get students engaged. We’re a charging bull awaiting our red cloth, and our moment to help more women and girls of color defy the odds. This past week we did just that with the help of Charles Schwab’s Volunteer Week.

During Volunteer Week we served over 150 students from our target communities in schools throughout the D.C. private and public school districts. We kicked the week off at Elizabeth Seton High School, an incredibly diverse, all women’s private school. Throughout the rest of the week, we focused on “school hopping” through D.C. public schools. This entailed us arriving at one school, teaching our curriculum, engaging with the students, then moving on to the next school. We focused on Roosevelt STAY and Whittier Education Campus where we taught and engaged with students from low-income communities of color. While we started off the week a little anxious about taking on so many new projects, including teaching stocks to second graders and high school students, the fast pace and thrill of the week invigorated us so by the end we were asking ourselves “When can we do this again?”.

We created a special program just for our Volunteer Week students called “Use the (Market) Force” where we introduced stocks, bonds, and the basics of investing to our students. To do this we used an Investigation where students built their own diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds. Then, we introduced the purpose of investing as a necessary activity to build wealth. In doing so, we go into more depth than simply teaching our students the definition of stock and bonds and even the harder intricacies of investing. Rather, we simultaneously teach the students how to connect these definitions, mechanics, and intricacies with their socioeconomic position. This allows them to engage with the material because they know as well as we do that their situation, and that of their peers is caused by artificial, yet systemic societal forces. And when we define wealth as an opportunity for our students to lift themselves up from that position, we engage them.

We chose this specific tool to pass onto our Volunteer Week students because as our CEO and founder Chloe McKenzie points out, “Communities of color are less likely to invest, which makes sense because for too long our communities have been systematically denied access to a quality financial education that prepares us to become investors.” Students of color see the financial world, maybe they know what Wall Street is and maybe they know stocks and bonds exist, but to them, it all exists in a different world. In a world they don’t have the key to, maybe even the right to. BlackFem is here to stop that pervasive and maleficent notion of exclusion and privileged spaces in its tracks. That’s why Schwab’s Volunteer Week was the perfect opportunity to partner with a firm that believes in the mission that drives us to serve every day.

Our goal is to demystify the financial world one lesson at a time so that students of color learn valuable tools, like investing, and ultimately reframe the narrative that wealth is only for a particular demographic of people. We’ve found that when we introduce these lessons at an early age, students begin to feel a part of the financial world before they’re implicitly told through the sheer demographics of that world that they do not belong in it. In doing so we will continue to support them in their journeys to build and sustain wealth. Whether it be at Volunteer Week or in our partnerships with school districts, meetings with members of Congress, or any of our other exciting programs we launch, BlackFem is always pushing the boundaries of what we as a society think is possible for communities of color. We’re doing so in an innovative way, one that isn’t necessarily trusted or believed in, or even thought of, by some. Nonetheless, every member of our team believes in our wealth and financial literacy curriculum as a method of empowerment, and with our work during Volunteer Week and throughout the rest of the summer, we hope we’ll spread that belief to more schools, districts, and students. We’d like to thank Charles Schwab for this opportunity to participate in #Schwab4Good.