I can still hear it as if it was yesterday, little Megan stating proudly during recess, "My dad told me that my net worth is $10,000! What's your net worth, Sasha?" I peered at her through my oval glasses and asked in a state of confusion, "What's a net worth?" My 10-year-old brain had no idea what she was talking about, I only knew that she seemed incredibly excited about it. As she attempted to provide an elementary explanation, literally, of net worth, I quickly realized she was talking about money and I dismissed the topic because discussions of money were taboo in my community.
Frankly, there was nothing to discuss. Money was something that we did not have and for that reason, all talks of money were prohibited. This reality and approach to money and finance is one that I carried with me well into my college years. At 25 years old, I made an effort to go back to that day on the playground and address my fears about money, which I had subconsciously carried with me into adulthood.
Today, more than ever, there are resources available to help us understand the world of finance and begin to build wealth. This became more evident during my recent interview with Teri Williams Cohee, President and COO of One United Bank, America's largest black-owned bank. Teri, a woman of class, knowledge and great industry insight, is committed to the #BankBlack Movement and, particularly to helping millennials understand and navigate the road to creating generational wealth. This conversation could not have come at a more critical time in my life as I am learning to swim in the deep and muddled waters of finance.
Like many of us, Teri was a first-generation college student who came from a world where discussions of finance were not encouraged. Throughout her studies at Brown University and Harvard Business School, she recognized the need to provide financial literacy to young black boys and girls. As a change agent committed to the economic empowerment of the black community in America, Teri's quest began. Not only did she write the book, I Got Bank! What My Granddad Taught Me About Money, she also purchased a bank in 1999, which would later become One United Bank.
This was a strategic move for Teri as she understood the need for black Americans to have access to capital to launch businesses and purchase homes. As a community, we often entertain the idea of wealth, but quickly dismiss it because it seems unattainable, out of reach or perhaps on the other side of the railroad tracks. While we are aware of the importance of building wealth — the struggle we face is a lack of knowledge of where and how to start the process.
We need not look any further — thanks to the work of Teri Williams, One United Bank serves as a place to start building wealth, specifically and intentionally for black Americans. As I spoke with Teri about ways to financially strengthen the black community, she advised that collectively we must be strategic with how we use our 1.2 trillion dollar spending power.
She emphasizes that black Americans' initial focus should be on building credit and saving money. As we acquire wealth, understanding that credit is key will positively influence our approach to improving our economic status. Having no credit or poor credit will perpetuate the negative cycle of economic depression that is prevalent in the black community. Although the discussion of credit can be uncomfortable to have, she stresses the importance of having these conversations with our loved ones.
Additionally, Teri encourages us to make a concerted effort to purchase homes in the urban community of our respective cities. She projects that in 5–10 years, we will see a significant shift in urban communities where property values will increase making it highly sought after property and a desirable place to reside. Her belief is that black Americans must be vigilant in planning our economic rise by taking advantage of various programs such as first-time homebuyers programs and purchasing multi-unit housing that can also serve as income generating options.
Finally, Teri takes time to highlight the importance of shifting our mindset to one that places a significant value on collective economics and wealth building. As she spoke of the ways to engage in collective economics by buying property and investing in our communities, I couldn’t help but hear the words of Rick Ross' "Buy Back the Block" playing in my head. Despite the small uptick, I realize that this necessary shift is beginning to take place and is becoming more evident in our music, television shows and is further solidified by the fact that there is a national black-owned bank! *cues shouting music*
The discussions surrounding wealth are no longer just a pie in the sky idea that is seemingly unattainable. Instead, we are beginning to discuss methods that we can use to establish and secure wealth.
This shift is PARAMOUNT!
It will benefit generations of children to come who will be able to discuss net worth at the age of 10. As I think about myself and Megan, my elementary school friend, the disparity between our knowledge of finance was huge. Where her familiarity with discussions of wealth began at the age of 10, mine started at 25 simply because my family was not privy to what was necessary to obtain economic wealth.
We have the power to change this!
Although this reality check was somewhat discouraging to me, I was quickly reminded by Teri's words that, "As a people, we have truly made significant strides against all odds". She points out the extreme racist public policies that served as a blockade to wealth building in the black American community. She continues, by stating, "Be reminded that for a large part of history, there were policies in place that ensured that Black people could not get loans, buy homes or move into the suburbs. To this day, the biggest difference between black and white wealth is the equity that people have in their home." This reminder served as a moment to see the glass half full and realize that it's never too late to start building wealth, as long as you have the proper tools.
While there are many facets of community empowerment, it is my personal belief that economic development is a critical cornerstone necessary to the success of any community. It is encouraging to know that black millennials are acquiring the tools to get into the game of wealth creation. We are asking the questions, attending seminars and developing financial plans that will allow us to create wealth for ourselves and our families. By working to create a solid economic backing, we can effectively change the trajectory and story of black Americans. As we pool our money together, build credit, invest in and support black-owned businesses, we are constructing an ecosystem that will last for centuries and serve to benefit our families for years to come.