After serving as a financial analyst on CNN and other outlets for more than 7 years, I began to get the feeling that there was something more that I had to do after having conversations with many individuals who were struggling in their financial lives. When I say financial lives, I’m referring to the comprehensive concept and presence of money in, throughout, and over every aspect of their financial lives. To put it bluntly, most were broke and working to make ends meet, basically living paycheck-to-paycheck, or had a small (I use the term loosely) savings. I saw myself in each of these individuals and realized that if I hadn’t been thrust into the role that I was at 23, I might be right there with them trying to figure it all out, still making the costly mistakes that set me back, adding years to my sentence of financial ignorance.
I can remember the phone ringing as my mother and I sat in our modest two-bedroom apartment in Detroit about a block away from 8 Mile Road, the street that Eminem made famous in his biopic film by the same name. I could tell from the surprised look on my mother’s face the news wasn’t good. Tears began to run down her face. It definitely wasn’t good. My father had died. He lived in Chicago, and at the age of 32, had suffered a severe brain aneurysm and had slipped into a coma. One day later he was gone. My father’s passing changed my outlook on life. To understand the impact, let me rewind just a little.
I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Yes, black people do live in Wisconsin. I was the first and only child. My early years were very pleasant. My mother was the youngest of ten and I was the last grandbaby. I was what you might call spoiled. I can remember having a plethora of toys. Other kids always wanted to come over to play with my drum set, my new action figures, or my remote control cars. I don’t remember asking for much, but just remember having the things. This would become a regular occurrence in my life.
My parents married at 22. I was born when they were 23. They divorced not long after I was born. My mom and I moved in with her parents. They lived in a two-story duplex. My grandparents lived upstairs and a few cousins lived below. I developed a close relationship with my Grandmother, whose name was Ruby, and with my Grandfather Bennie. They were two beautiful old people in love and had been married for 50-plus years by the time I came along. They were special to me because they made me laugh and smile, showed me what true love was, and would give me whatever I asked for.
I can still remember my Grandfather stretching his cane toward me to grab my legs and pull me toward him. My Grandfather became ill, and before I knew it, he was gone. My Grandmother’s heart gave out about 9 months later. The doctors said it wasn’t a heart attack, but rather it just stopped beating. Many people believed that this was the result of losing the only love she knew. This was devastating to our family, but earth-shattering to my mother, who cared for them both and was the baby of the family. At 28, she had lost both her parents and felt lost herself. Two months later, my oldest uncle Bennie Jr. suffered a stroke and died also. My mother needed a change. She had to make a move to have a fresh start, so she decided to move us to Detroit, where she already had a brother and sister who both had families there. We packed and moved quickly. I can remember one of my going-away gifts was a T-shirt that read “Pray for me, I live in Detroit.”
Welcome to Detroit
We settled into our one-bedroom apartment, which would be our home for about a year until our two-bedroom unit would be available. The community seemed nice enough and I was still around family. I was enrolled in a school by the name of Vandenburg Elementary that was located across the expressway that was about a 20-minute walk from my home. It was a better school, from the research my mother had done than the ones in the district we lived in. It was in my mother’s sister Doris’s district, so we used her address to enroll me. The plan was for me to walk to school in the morning and then go over to my aunt and uncle’s home a few blocks from the school until my mother was able to pick me up after work. I don’t really remember what my mother actually did at that time, but I know it was sales-related. It seems as though she always did something in sales. We didn’t talk much about work, probably because it was the last thing she wanted to talk about after a long day. To be honest, it wasn’t what I was interested in discussing either. I was just elated to see her.