Alliance helps Black women build wealth

Black Womens Wealth Alliance
Kenya McKnight Ahad Photo by Bianca Rhodes

The power of the Black dollar is staggering. A Nielsen study reports that African Americans spent more than $1.2 trillion in 2017 and are poised to reach a record $1.5 trillion by 2021.

According to The State of Working America, African Americans also spend four percent more of their income annually than any other race. Tops on that list are Black women, who are seen as the main influencers of household spending. While these figures may add up to a trendsetting population, that population’s total sum experiences the highest rates of poverty.

For the past four years, the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance (BWWA), the state’s first Black woman-owned public benefit organization (a commercial enterprise with a public mission that operates in a responsible and sustainable manner), has worked to challenge that disparity by galvanizing Black women around not just how to spend money, but how to leverage its generational wealth-building power.

“Black women, we control nearly 60 percent of the Black dollar,” said BWWA president/CEO Kenya McKnight Ahad at a rooftop event hosted at the Women’s Club of Minneapolis on June 27. “We have a lot of power and influence in deciding what happens with our money.”

But, she agreed, all that spending power hasn’t always added up to wealth. “We have this other side of it, where we’re talking about poverty. We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. But…why, if we are the financial influencers of our households and our community?”

It’s not just about overspending, she said, pointing to an “invisible” middle ground of women who are not considered middle class or low-income.

“They’re called the ‘dollar over’ community,” she told the MSR. “These are Black women who are striving, but they make too much to qualify for the free stuff…and they don’t make enough to be doing as well as they need to be.

“Our job is to figure out how to support [that woman],” McKnight Ahad continued. “That’s who our grants go to, that’s who we do consultations with, that’s who we target. She has to have not only resources, but she has to have relationships, because it’s not always about what you know – it comes down to, also, who you know. So, we’ve got to be able to connect them in the middle to the necessary spaces and opportunities that [are] going to help them build forward.”

Many of these women, she noted, also contribute to more than one family, which also strains finances.

“Some of us take care of two, three households – helping our mommas, our sisters, our cousins. That’s the invisible population of Black women that we strive to serve.”

BWWA’s services are designed to engage this group of forgotten women through wealth literacy, homebuyer’s education, cooperative businesses services, and micro grant funding. Having engaged with nearly 500 women in 2017 alone, BWWA’s impact is already being felt throughout the state.

Last fall, the alliance launched a homebuyer’s club to help women take steps towards homeownership.

“We’ve had two cohorts, and we’ve graduated 55 Black women from [those] cohorts. Five have closed on their homes from our fall cohort, and Joyce,” she said, pointing to an attendee, “is the most recent one who closed on a home.”

“It was a great experience,” Joyce Rogers, who participated in the 2017 cohort, told the MSR. “It’s catered to us so we can understand it,” revealing this was her second home purchase.

“The first time I bought a house,” she said, “I was actually a victim of predatory lending, which I thought could never even happen to me because I had been working in the banking industry for years. This time, I said, when I do it I’m going to make sure I do it right, and I’m going to understand everything from A to Z.

“Going through a six-week cohort with presenters who looked like her, she continued, “made it easier for me to grasp, and I felt more confident.”

Through a partnership with MicroGrants, BWWA has also awarded dozens of Black women $1,000 grants to go toward business, education and transportation. “The majority have gone to Black women business owners,” said McKnight Ahad. “You can pay for classes, car repairs, or even get a car.”

BWWA has also formed partnerships with such entities as Hennepin County to provide access to affordable, rehabbed homes, and Thrivent Financial for financial services.

Black Women's Wealth Alliance
Kenya McKnight Ahad speaks to attendees at Women, Wealth & Wine on June 27. Photo by Bianca Rhodes

All services and partnerships, said McKnight Ahad, were created in direct response to research she first began as a Bush Fellow in 2012. “My research told me, at a larger scale, that Black women were struggling with income, assets and housing.

“Black women, at that time, had, nationally, [an average] net worth of $50, and we are leading new business starts across the United States, but we get the least business loans to support the growth and sustainability of our businesses, and we also have a very low percentage of homeownership.”

However, she told the MSR that Minnesota had no numbers she could access to begin local groundwork. “So, we created Minnesota’s first report on the economic status of Black women,”’ she said. The alliance released the “The State of Black Women’s Economics in Minnesota” in March 2016.

“That data told us the same thing, but it told us that poverty was greatly concentrated in Black women because, while most of us actually worked jobs, 35 percent of the jobs that we have are in low-wage occupations, and that, in Minnesota, nearly 80 percent of Black women, regardless of marital status, are the primary breadwinners of their household.”

Looking forward, McKnight Ahad wants to build up the alliance’s pledge-based WISE Network Cooperative from 500 members in 2017 to 1,000 by year’s end. Currently, membership is free, with plans to introduce a monthly pledge in 2019. By 2019, her goal is to work exclusively with the network.

That collective movement begins this fall with a new training cohort that will only be open to network members. The four-month Wealth Academy will lead 70 participants through 50 workshops, trainings and sessions, from August 19 through November 30.

“We have 15 partners who are going to teach a variety of things in four categories: wealth literacy, business, housing, and personal development, including brand-building and management sessions,” she said.

“This is thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of free training,” said McKnight Ahad. “But, they are only accessible to women who have pledged.”

That collective network is also at the core of BWWA’s mission, she said, challenging women to not just think about building their net worths, but also their networks.

“That’s important in moving our community to the next stage, so we begin to rethink ourselves and [reorient] ourselves to a collective mindset, a collective behavior, a collective set of practices that really builds our economic status as a people,” she said.

“That is part of why we gather,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be who’s in this room, but who’s in your network? How are you rocking with those sisters?”

That connection and network- building is what motivates McKnight Ahad. “We do what we can to honor Black women who honor themselves.”

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This article appears in the July 5-11, 2018, issue of publication. Subscribe Now!