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Juneteenth: Why financial literacy needs to be part of the holiday celebration

Brock Harrell, of Galveston, rings a bell during a reenactment to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves elsewhere in the United States, in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 2021.
Callaghan O’Hare | Reuters

Financially focused podcast Earn Your Leisure is aiming to normalize openly talking about money, wealth building and financial freedom on Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in America.

“A lot of times we focus on the social impact of slavery and then racism and discrimination of that nature. What’s just as important is the economic impact,” Rashad Bilal of Earn Your Leisure told CNBC. “When you just understand that slavery was really a financial system that was put in place for free labor. So when you see our ancestors actually sacrificed their lives and that was done for economic empowerment, it forces you to look at your finances,” Bilal said.

Earn Your Leisure has more than 1 million followers and is part of a growing movement of financially focused social influencers including Kezia Williams, Ian Dunlap aka the Master Investor, Wall Street Trapper, Ross Mac, Philip Michael, WorthLifeBalance, and many others.

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Each has a different style and focus but all agree, the data on Black wealth is concerning.

According to Dr. William Darity of Duke University, the racial wealth gap — the disparity in assets between Black and white Americans — is over $11 trillion dollars.

The median wealth for a white family was $188,200 in 2019, compared to $24,100 for Black families and $36,100 for Hispanic families, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, released in September 2020. One forecast for the median Black Family sees it falling to $0 if current trends continue.

“You don’t want to just waste your money. You can actually use that money to change the trajectory of your family. Financial education is something you can use to change the trajectory of your family. Our ancestors were not afforded that opportunity, they were forced to work for free,” Bilal said.

Social media influencer Ian Dunlap says this Juneteenth there is an urgent need for the Black community to understand long-term investing in stocks and the opportunity that can create for wealth. “Investing is not hard,” he told CNBC. “The data is there, the information is there. My research shows if you hold the S&P 500 Index fund or equivalent for 30-years, you have a 0% chance of losing your investment, and a 100% chance of being profitable.”

Kezia Williams is focused on Black entrepreneurship and how it can help build generational wealth, but she emphasized that it takes collaboration and intentional economic decisions to build sustainable Black businesses. For the third year, she is encouraging people to shop at Black businesses and post their receipts online with the MyBlackReceipt hashtag.

Kezia Williams
Kezia Williams | Black upStart

“We need to buy from a Black Business intentionally! It should be a practice we embrace on a daily basis,” Williams told CNBC. “The pandemic created opportunities to reach people in spaces outside the traditional media. There are a lot of female financial influencers who are teaching, creating wonderful content and it would be great for them to find or build spaces to have their voices heard,” she said.

Philip Michael is working to create 100,000 Black Millionaires through real estate investing by 2030. “Home ownership is the gateway drug to wealth,” he told CNBC. The Black community needs to look at emerging investment vehicles like his NYCE app that allows investors to purchase a “fractional share” of a property. “I want to improve the money psychology specifically for Black people. It’s just breaking away some of those perceived barriers that we have mentally about how we can get started with investing. It’s not just for wealthy people, it is a necessity,” Michael said.

The housing market is currently under pressure with mortgage rates seeing their biggest weekly jump since 1987, and stocks have tested investors recently with the S&P 500 slipping into a bear market and more aggressive assets like tech investments and cryptocurrencies taking big losses.

Nevertheless, some of the market’s wealthiest investors say bear markets are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to invest, and these influencers advocate for exposure to riskier assets as part of an investment portfolio. In addition to blue-chip tech stocks, Dunlap advises exploring opportunities in Web3 and the metaverse. Williams advocates for women getting into the cryptocurrency space and stepping up as influencers to address the unique challenges female investors face.

For Earn Your Leisure, the conversation, psychology and likes on social media are great. But they are looking forward to seeing the actions, decisions and goals of the new generation of investors they have helped inspire.

“We wanted to make learning about finance and generational wealth a cool thing, we wanted to make it a commonplace conversation. I didn’t grow up with conversations like that at the dinner table. But imagine if we did?” Troy Millings of Earn Your Leisure told CNBC. “Imagine if at the barbershop we weren’t arguing about the best basketball player, but we were talking about the top companies, what that could do to a neighborhood.”

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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