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GETTING SMART ABOUT THE GREEN

By Kingsley Kanu Jr.

Thursday, January 8, 2009.

Jermaine Dupri, Russell Simmons, Young Joc and other icons of the hip-hop world are onstage in a gym at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College. Though rap music blasts from speakers overhead, they’re not here to perform: they are panelists at a financial literacy seminar called “Get Your Money Right.”

Investment clubs and groups promoting good money habits among young African-Americans are spreading across the country, global financial crisis notwithstanding. From grade schools to Facebook groups to seminars by hip-hop stars, the message is clear: it’s time for young blacks to get smart about the green, especially in such an uncertain financial climate.

“I like making myself rich instead of some designer,” says Tiffany Joseph, a member of a Facebook investment club. “When I’m really rich, I will buy all the brand names I want.”

The 150-member group’s manifesto reads: “Let’s show Wall Street and the world that we’re just not the largest consumer base, but [that] we can be the largest investor base too.”

While African-Americans have continued to lag their Caucasian counterparts in saving and investment habits, a rising number of young blacks serious about investing are working to close the gap.

Farrah Gray is a personal finance expert who serves as AOL’s money coach, and has been featured on Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight and the Wall Street Journal.

“I’m seeing a groundswell of young people looking at avenues to investing, as opposed to just spending,” he says. “As African-Americans, we’ve started to realize that if you have a land cruiser and you have a landlord, something’s wrong.

Jonathan Beauford and his friends started investing as an offshoot of a savings group started in 2005 to pool resources for vacations and emergencies.

“The idea was to set money aside each month so that when something fun or very important came along, we wouldn’t be strapped for cash,” he says. “So when someone missed his dues, we had to hound him to pay up.”

The group of guys aged 19 to 26 set monthly dues at $40. Later they added a high-interest savings account, into which monthly dues were paid, and a Scott Trade account to manage stock investments.

Given the current market crisis, the group has frozen its stock market transactions.

“We’re waiting until things settle down,” says club member Alphonso Roberson, who added that the group is still on the lookout for undervalued stocks.

“Before joining this club, most of us were newborns to trading. We heard that some of our friends were trading and making money on their own,” he says, “so why not us? But for now, we’re talking to experts to get a better understanding of what’s going on, before doing anything.”

The greatest appeal to creating a collective investment portfolio, Roberson says, was the lower risk of working in a big group.

Other investment clubs focus on developing financial literacy.

Marlon Barton and Kenneth Gwee, 20-year-old students at Morgan State University in Baltimore, started Ceres Enterprise investment club. They’re a formidable investment duo. Barton’s stock portfolio has holdings in Apple, American Express, McDonald’s and Wrigley’s, while Gwee is a licensed real estate agent.

With the club motto “Education Before Profit,” it puts on events about personal finance, real estate and stock investment.

“Things will pick up again, and it’s safer to take more risks now than if we were older,” Barton says. “We’re investing for the future, and aren’t too worried about what’s going on right now.”

Similar investment clubs have been created at the historically black colleges Morehouse, Spelman and Hampton, and at Florida A&M Univeristy. These are popular stops for hip-hop artists, who sometimes use their clout to send a different message than the chrome-rimmed, bejeweled teeth and money bath life depicted in their music videos.

“You see someone with jewelry right beside you, but you’ve got to understand work ethic,” says the rap artist Jermain Dupri, during one such seminar. “Work until you get to that point, you know what I mean?”

Even the very young are getting involved. Tyrell Feaster, aged 10, began playing the Stock Market Game in fifth grade. “Mainly, I was trying to find the good stocks I could pick for my team so we could win the game. I pretty much all-out became more interested in stock markets,” he says.

Now the sixth grader is an avid viewer of CNBC and Fast Money. Before going to bed, his mother said, he sometimes throws in some Mad Money with Jim Cramer.

“His cousins make fun of him because he doesn’t wear the same brand name clothes like they do,” she says. “But I’m teaching him to value money, and to differentiate between wants and needs.”

Kingsley Kanu Jr., a graduate student at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, writes about business, renewable energy and education. He has an undergraduate degree in engineering, and after graduation spent a year working at a New Jersey not-for-profit that helps place teenagers in jobs. He can be reached at kk1336@nyu.edu

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