Are We Trying to Fill Souls With Soles?

During this Financial Literacy Month, as Founding CEO of the Youth Financial Education Institute, I encourage youth and their parents to harness one of the most powerful currencies on the planet --money. Across America about a decade ago, long lines of adults began crowding outside of retail stores, often sleeping outside overnight, elbowing and fighting for their chance to purchase products, such as sneakers and designer apparel, with zero resell value. Their desperate craving was obvious as they sought to replace their lack of self-worth with yet another purchase. Unfortunately, this hysterical practice continues today and is mirrored in our youth. What some adults have not realized is that their behavior teaches our youth to value labels on their body as opposed to their service to mankind. The result: Another generation being raised with warped priorities, zero financial education and generational wealth.

Countless parents have shared with me their angst, depression, anger and shaky confidence with regard to their relationship to money. What many parents have not realized is that their long held emotions and generational toxic beliefs often are copied by their impressionable children. Parents forgot that what they teach their proverbial son about money; they also teach their son's son.

Do I Look Like An ATM? A Parent's Guide To Raising Financially Responsible African-American Children identifies parental money styles and is written in support of all well-intentioned caregivers of children. In a world which encourages hoarding, greed and mindless consumption, money has become a direct reflection of how parents feel about the value of their own lives and their proximity to power. The parental money style of parents, for example Dictator, Saboteur, Freedom, Savvy, Victim, Disneyland, has generational impact. The African-American parents' 2013 $1.1 trillion spending power reflects the economic fragility that they and their children experience.. No compassionate parent truly seeks this impact on their children.

Money was always mysterious to me. As a child, the subject of money was only reserved for 'grown folks.' I knew that my father, a career officer in the United States Army, left home every day for some place called work. He provided the necessary resources for our family to comfortably live around the world; homes in the United States and Europe and wonderful vacations throughout the world. He believed in letting 'little things' like money stay entirely under his domain. I never knew about the income of the household, what a bill looked like, investing or making my money grow, out of my father's protectiveness of his family. In addition, my brother and I had an adoring maternal grandmother, plus great-aunts, who endlessly doted on us with affection and material goods. And we manipulated every purchase that we could to satisfy our hunger, for the purchase of one more thing.

Through my child's eyes, there was nothing that I could not have and nothing that I needed. My family's economic lifestyle surpassed many of my classmates. Whatever I had the imagination to want, in all likelihood, my mother and father would bestow. Still, I never knew how money was earned or how it affected my life. I never saw a utility bill, a mortgage invoice or a bank statement. As the family breadwinner, my father took his responsibility to provide very seriously, so much so that I never thought that the lifestyle I had become accustomed to would ever alter -- even upon the divorce of my parents. When my dream of being accepted into college came true, I blindly signed the densely written financial aid documents, inserting 'zeros' as assets. I had no appreciation that the student loans that I received required repayment. And who knew the true meaning of 'interest' and 'penalties?' Neither my then-divorced mother nor I understood the ramifications of signing these legal documents.

When I graduated from college, I blindly abused the credit cards, which were aggressively promoted to students, ignoring the penalties and something called a credit report. These blunders continued to plague me into adulthood because I was oblivious to the world of money. Even when a money issue thumped me on the forehead wanting to have a moment of my time, I preferred to bury my head in the proverbial sand. When credit card purchases were denied, collection agencies called and apartment rentals were denied, did I wake up? Heck no! If there were an Olympic event in money squandering, I would be the undisputed Gold Medal winner, complete with my photo on a box of Wheaties.

With all of the financial education available online in various cities, no parent or caregiver of children needs to make the same missteps. However, I understand the emotions and mindsets which prevent adults from taking steps towards their financial freedom. It is my hope that parents and caregivers will determine to face their financial reality and build a financial legacy for their children. I pray that together, as President Barack Obama issues a Financial Literacy Month Proclamation, that we will identify our specific parent money style and encourage one another to self-reflect and hit the reset button -- for the financial security of ourselves and our children -- our country!

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