The month of April is synonymous with many things -- spring, taxes, April showers -- but what it should perhaps be most associated with is financial empowerment. In 2004, the Senate did precisely that when it officially recognized April as National Financial Literacy Month.
This is of particular importance for the Black community. When 21 percent of Black households are unbanked and 34 percent are under-banked, we can no longer ignore the immediate need for financial awareness and enfranchisement. Last week, National Action Network (NAN) held its 25th annual convention in New York City, where we dedicated two outstanding panels to these very subjects. As society continues to advance, we must ensure that everyone understands the mechanisms at play to achieve upward mobility. There's no better time than Financial Literacy Month to galvanize all those who gathered with us at the Sheraton Times Square, and everyone tuning in from around the nation and around the world. The moment to arm ourselves with the tools to obtain and maintain financial strength is now.
NAN teamed up with MasterCard and its "Master Your Card" initiative (masteryourcardusa.org) to host two panels last week on educating and strengthening the community fiscally. The first one, titled "Economic Justice: Breaking the Barriers to Financial Inclusion" featured esteemed panelists like Cy Richardson, Senior VP of Economics and Housing at the National Urban League; Charles Lowery, Director of Fair Lending and Inclusion at the NAACP's Economic Department; Clayola Brown, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute; Nick Bourke, Director of Small Dollar Loans at the PEW Charitable Trust; Wole Coaxum, Founder & CEO of Mobility Capital Finance Inc.; Minister Kirsten John Foy, Northeast Regional Director of NAN and Bertha Lewis, Founder of the Black Institute. The conversation was moderated by Nichole Francis Reynolds, Director, U.S. Federal Affairs of MasterCard.
Organized to address a number of issues facing those who are unbanked or under-banked, this panel addressed topics such as redlining, exclusion and discrimination in all forms of financial services, and how we can use technology to circumvent those barriers. It helped educate the attendees on how financial deserts have taken hold across the country because of things like minimum balance requirements, monthly fees and certain technology are required to fully participate in the process. Our financial experts and speakers explained how the Black community and marginalized communities in general can move up into full financial inclusion and how technology can actually assist in wealth building, access to capital and upward mobility.
On the final day of the convention, NAN addressed young people through the panel, "Youth Financial Literacy: Is There a World beyond Cash?" As the future of this country, young folks must learn the importance of sound financial education and empowerment; the sooner they grasp the significance of participating in electronic payment networks responsibly, the stronger their economic outlook will be. According to the Council for Economic Education, just 20 states require students to take an economics course, and just 17 states require high school students to take a course on personal finance. That is simply unacceptable.
NAN's session featured Ash "Cash" Exantus, media personality and interactive financial educator of Ash Cash Enterprises; Sabrina Lamb of World of Money; Tuesday Brooks, a parent of a student from World of Money; Ciana Montero, Youth Board Member; and was moderated by Mercedes Garcia, VP, Senior Business Leader, Global Community Relations at MasterCard. Ash Cash Exantus led the discussion with an interactive exercise designed to teach financial literacy to the participants. Parents and Youth members stepped up to share their own personal experiences and learned more about the relevance of financial education.
Data continuously proves that it is never too early to educate people about how they can participate in a world that is becoming increasingly less cash-based and more interconnected than ever. "Master Your Card" is a community empowerment program that helps consumer groups, small business groups and governments learn how to get more from their money by using prepaid, debit and credit cards to access a financially empowering electronic payment network. NAN is excited to team up with this endeavor to help foster the conversation around financial equality and how we can continue breaking down barriers in all aspects of society.
When about 55 percent of Black households are financially underserved, we must take action. When underserved Blacks spend an estimated $21.4 billion each year on fees and interest for alternative financial services, we must learn how to keep more of our wealth for ourselves.
Knowledge - including fiscal knowledge - is power.