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As an Associate Dean of Educator Certification at Dallas College in Dallas, Texas, I’m charged with collaborating with my teammates to build out an educator preparation program that predominantly serves students of color, who will, in most instances, become first-generation graduates. As a society, we become so ecstatic when we hear those three words because we really believe that matters. We think that we are “moving the needle” and providing the “good ole American Dream” to the descendants of the enslaved, the undocumented and the unassimilated. When in actuality, those words mean nothing when those same first-generation graduates are unemployed, underemployed and consumed by debt.

My work as an Associate Dean is simultaneously exciting and challenging. I enjoy creating and developing innovative ideas that will promote the ideas of higher education and college graduation for a large population of impoverished students. However, this work is also very daunting because it is centered around creating opportunities for students of color to complete the program without any debt. Being able to provide a quality educational experience and a pathway into one of the most critical career pathways without the loom of debt after their anticipated walk across the stage makes me feel like Superwoman. I feel so empowered because I know firsthand how quickly that walk can become your biggest regret in life — if it becomes your biggest debt in life.

I can remember growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the ‘90s when the two most important ideas were staying safe and going to college. When you grow up in a city nicknamed *The Murder Capital of the World, it is imperative that you learn to maneuver safely. Most might think that was the hard part, but it wasn’t. What was really hard for me and my peers was navigating the higher education space. Most of the Black parents in my city wanted their children to attend college. The only problem was most of the Black parents in my city had never been to college.

So, my friends and I entered the higher education stratosphere with the understanding that we had beat the odds. We took out loans. Some we needed, most we didn’t. We completed the credit card applications and got the t-shirts and goodies from the table. We waited at our postal office boxes for the envelope with the card in it. When it arrived, we went to the local mall and balled out. Even though we knew the campus jobs we had would never be enough to pay the $1,000 credit card debt off, we applied for it anyway. We didn’t care. We were independent, we were living and we were fly. Furthermore, we had no understanding of the concept of interest and the idea that we would pay much more than the $1,000 we spent.

After four or five years, most of us graduated from college. We were armed with a degree without a clue of what to do next. I returned to school to take some unnecessary classes because I felt going home (back to New Orleans) with a degree and no career meant I was a loser. As long as I was in college it was all good. But baybay! Six months later when Sallie Mae, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and all of their siblings started calling, I had no idea what to do. Discover wanted a payment on the credit cards I had maxed out. I was drowning in debt all because I went to college.

An experience that was supposed to make me financially empowered left me financially discombobulated. Being awakened from good slumber by my mama, calling me saying, “These people keep calling my house for their money,” was an added stress. I couldn’t escape the debt. It had encapsulated me and I had nowhere to turn.

So as I prepare to send my first-born child to college, I am devising a plan to ensure she doesn’t end up living check-to-check like me. It is imperative that she understands the power of credit, credit score and investing so she can experience true financial freedom. I am assisting her in applying for every scholarship for which she qualifies. It is my duty to provide her with every opportunity to complete her college journey unscathed by the financial traps that suffocate Black students and cause harmful, lasting effects on them and their future families.

I want her to have the chance to buy a home, car and furniture with low-interest rates. She should be able to walk into a bank or credit union without praying 100 times before she gets out of the car, hoping they will take a chance on her and provide financing for her necessities. Black parents, we have to teach our children that being the first to graduate college in the family isn’t worth anything if they are indebted. We have borne the burden of debt so they don’t have to, so let’s ensure we teach them the necessary financial tricks that will make their lives much easier.

It is not enough to simply send our children to college. We have to be smarter than that. Our main goal should be to ensure that they are first-generation UN-impoverished. This means they are the first generation to attend college nearly debt-free and can actually enjoy the fruits of their labor. It makes no sense to get into college, work hard, graduate with a specialty and have to work several odd jobs to make ends meet. Our children should not be in five and six figures debt just to say they have a master’s or doctorate degree. We have got to do better!

Here are some tips to help make sure your child is first-generation UN-impoverished: