By Imani M. Blackmon
“The lack of implementation of financial literacy courses in most educational institutions across the United States is resulting in some of the world’s brightest students, graduating financially illiterate and unprepared for life after academia.” – Imani Blackmon
Being financially literate in a capitalistic society is a primary factor in leveraging the considerable rights, liberties, and opportunities afforded to every citizen of the United States. Yet, only 10% of Americans are considered to be financially literate—and in the African American community, the numbers tell an even sadder tale.
According to debt.org, assets per household for African Americans stood at $18,212; compared to $39, 383 and $33,808 for Whites and Hispanics, respectively. For decades, Black communities around the nation have been in a perpetual state of stagnancy and recession; largely due to our lack of financial savvy.
For many in my generation, for instance, we equate academic success to financial success. We mistakenly infer, early on as students; that by performing well in school success will come naturally. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It is a message that we must spread broadly for students in our schools systems. Indeed, most states are now requiring that high school graduates obtain credits in Personal Financial Literacy in order to receive a diploma. The impact of these requirements, however, may not be felt in any concrete, quantifiable way for many years.
In universities across the country, students like myself, are engaged in a multitude of rigorous scholastic courses designed to foster our mental, social, and psychological growth. However, among my university colleagues, high levels of scholarly success apparently manifests in a “know it all, can’t tell me nothing,” attitude. This outlook can create an egotistical mindset which often times results in a humbling reality after academia. For, if black students are graduating from college not credit worthy, they risk usurping all the instructional preparation by having made poor financial decisions along the way. This is where it starts.
The evidence is everywhere. After graduation many students find themselves in for a rude awakening. Reality of the unknown begins to set in and come to light when students, previously unaware and/or not focused on the financial obligations of higher education, are faced with repayment of college debts. A mere six months after graduation seven out of ten graduates start learning the true meaning of a student loan. Those nice lenders who graciously provided money for us to pay for our college tuition suddenly want their money back; with interest. Whether you are gainfully employed is of no consequence. Financially irresponsible decisions can hamstring the hopes and aspirations of those who thought they were on the way to achieving the American dream.
If this is true of the most educated in our community, what does it hold for the vast majority of African Americans who have not received any financial literacy training? The effects are devastating.
According to a column by The Roots’ Edward Wyckoff Williams, in June 2014, “more than 55 percent of black households are unbanked or under banked. This represents the highest of any racial or ethnic group, and this means that a majority of African-American families don’t have access to affordable financial solutions.”
Further, he asserted, “data collected by the Federal Reserve before the mortgage crisis showed that less than 25 percent of African Americans had top-tier credit scores, compared with 65 percent of whites. Today the gap is even wider.”
“When black parents die, we often inherit debt and financial obligations—not equity,” Williams wrote.
We need to promote the notion of leaving a “will” and not a “bill” for our family members once we pass on. However, this is a subject that we never really discuss in our community. It is not uncommon for family members to assume the responsibility of providing financial assistance for final arrangements of loved ones. Rarely, in our community, do we leave tangible assets to be passed down to the next generation.
As a freshman in college, I can see the beginnings of habits that are sure to endure for a lifetime, if not addressed. My generation continues to be largely enslaved by materialistic desires in some vain attempt to appear wealthy or keep up with the Joneses. The long term impact will result in spending outside our means, accumulating surplus debt, and making conspicuous purchases out of impulse. The need for financial education could not be more urgent.
Many of us are attending college because we realize that by investing in our education, we stand a heightened prospect of success; however we may define success. Ostensibly, we want to control our own destinies. Yet, our hopes and dreams may well have already been compromised by the decisions we are making today.
The need for more black ownership in our community is apparent. For the millennial generation, nevertheless, our suppositions about wealth building, saving, investing, and spending habits looms large. We must dramatically change our attitudes about finances if we are to achieve the ultimate goal of revitalizing the economic viability of our communities.
Imani Blackmon is a freshman Finance major at Howard University. He is the CEO of Blackmon Holdings, LLC and the author of “The Future Starts Today: The Young Person’s Guide to Financial Independence.”