My Dream: Black Youth Learning about Financial Literacy and Starting Businesses

My dream will no longer be deferred!

I’m writing this out to think through an idea that’s been toiling around in my head for years. I have lots of “wouldn’t this be so great” ideas that I don’t follow through with. When I was little, I kept a list of inventions. The plan was to patent and produce the items when I got older. That list is long gone. I have so many ideas that I’ve learned to tune them out to an extent. I may think about them, do a little research to see if it’s already being done–and then the idea dies. Most of the time someone is already executing my idea pretty well. Sometimes there’s a version of my idea in existence, but there’s room for improvement. Other times, the work is being done, but not locally. Either way, I use the fact that someone has already thought of my idea as a barrier to entry. It’s so strange because that reasoning makes little sense, maybe it’s just my way of excusing myself from going forward to make my dreams a reality. 

An idea came into my head yesterday. I talked about it with some people in my class, and they loved it. After class, I felt bad. Mostly because I realized I’d held this idea, in some form, for the past 10 years.

In 2011, I started an Entrepreneurship Club at my alma mater, Amherst College. I was really into entrepreneurship, had my own side hustles (before they were called side hustles), and had plans to work for myself full-time after college. That didn’t happen. Mostly because as I described above, I didn’t follow my ideas through to execution. I had business plans and even won a business competition, but I wasn’t disciplined enough to make it a reality. I wanted to start a microlending company for people looking to start their own businesses, and who needed access to community, mentorship, and funding. I graduated college in 2013 and became a teacher.

Fast forward to fall 2020. I was taking a walk with my husband and little one. I had an idea for dissertation work. Here’s what I was thinking:

  • After watching another promising bill proposing reparations for Black Americans fizzle out, my frustration about this country’s commitment to giving Black people as little as possible returned
  • Since my interests had recently evolved to include financial literacy, I wondered if that was a path forward for my research
  • My doctoral concentration is in grades K-12 leadership, so I know that whatever work I do, I want it to be for young people
  • Black people in Oregon face the same struggles as Black people across the country, there is a need for more access to opportunities for the Black community
  • Economic empowerment is a necessary tool for Black prosperity, and since the average net worth for a Black person in America is one tenth of that of a White American, building wealth is a good place to start
  • What if I created a program that took Black students through the process of starting a business, and upon successful completion of the program and a promising business plan, the students had the opportunity to receive funding to start their venture? 
  • The program would also teach students the fundamentals of financial literacy so that they had the tools to properly save and invest their earnings
  • My dissertation would be a sort of program analysis, exploring the experiences of and outcomes for participants
  • My hope is that this passion project thrives, grows, and expands beyond dissertation, and that when I retire from working for someone else, I have more time to dedicate to this deeply fulfilling and impactful work

Those are my rough thoughts. I shared them with my advisor and he liked the theme of financial literacy as a transformative tool for the Black community. He thought that launching a program would be too much for dissertation work. Instead, for the dissertation I should focus on laying the groundwork for why this work is important, like a research project. He said that people don’t finish their dissertation within the 3 year scheduled timeframe when they take on too much work and get too ambitious. He told me to keep my project small and manageable because ultimately no one will care about my dissertation. I was a little disappointed because I really want to get started on doing work I’m passionate about while directly benefiting others. But, believing in the expertise of my advisor, I went forward with his advice, and with each day that passed I lost interest.

Yesterday I had a couple epiphanies. First, the purpose of getting a doctorate is to pay an institution to hold oneself accountable for diligently researching a topic they are interested in. The purpose has nothing to do with getting something done as soon as possible. For the first time in my schooling, I am willing to take my time, possibly adding a year or two to my time in the program if it means the result is something that I am proud of. A literature review doesn’t have an immediate impact on anyone’s life besides my own. I want to get stuff done! If it takes a little longer to do that, I’m ready to make that tradeoff. If I was interested in easy work, I wouldn’t be in this program in the first place. Second, I don’t need to make a program fit into a dissertation, I need to make a dissertation fit into a program. So I’ll go forward with getting the nuts and bolts in order for the program I want to create, and the rest will fall into place. 

Starting a program while working full-time, while growing a small business, while attending school, while mothering a 7 month old will be challenging and stressful. But there’s a difference in stress you choose versus stress you can’t control. A life well lived certainly includes many challenges overcome. I want a fulfilling life, not an easy life. I want to work hard for the things I believe in, for my people. Today is the first day of my journey to launch a financial literacy and entrepreneurship program for Black students in my community. This is going to be great.

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