A few months ago, I had the honor of meeting Janice Mathis in El Paso, TX. We were both testifying at a CFPB field hearing, where we were arguing for increased transparency in the banking sector. I was incredibly impressed by Janice’s presentation, and we struck up a conversation. By the end of that conversation, Janice had invited me to visit Atlanta for the Rainbow PUSH Creating Opportunity Conference.
I am just one day into the event, but the people and the conversation have inspired me more than you can imagine. I am also reminded of how unfair our society can be to those who have the least. And how much potential our society and our economy could have, if we gave more people opportunity, access and knowledge.
Last night I participated in two events. The first event was at Morehouse College, where we had a discussion about a new paradigm for the digital age. I heard an amazing story from Mary-Pat Hector, who at age 13 reached out to Al Sharpton and by age 16 was the leader of the National Action Network. So many young people (and I was one of them) focus on our own selfish needs and wants. And here was a young woman who took action and started helping others. Nothing seemed too impossible or too difficult.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson gave an amazing speech. (I never thought I would have to follow Jesse Jackson, and that is an impossible task!). There were two parts of his talk that struck me. First, he challenged anyone who wants to do good to get smart. And not just a little bit smart. Deep, expert knowledge is required to make a change. Only when you have the knowledge and the expertise to propose alternatives, can you create a movement. The second part was his insistence upon attitude. He told us that our “attitude determines the altitude.” He lived and fought and was prepared to go to jail for something that seemed impossible at the time. But it was his deep knowledge and intellect, combined with his attitude that helped change the world.
I spoke about the financial system, and how expensive it is to be poor. I started MagnifyMoney because I believe that technology can help provide the knowledge that can arm our working poor, so that they do not have to be victims of extortionate lenders. For the first time, when a financial institution adds a hidden fee or a charge, organizations like ours can let every one know quickly and cheaply. For the first time, we can create marketplaces where a small credit union can compete with a big bank – and win.
I then had the opportunity to attend a service at Salem Bible Church. We heard from members of the legislature and leaders of the community. I once again was given the opportunity to talk about financial education. The message that resonated most with the crowd was the need for them to become demanding consumers in banking, in the same way that they are demanding consumers in any other part of their lives.
This morning, Michael Thurmond inspired me. He grew up on a farm. There were nine children, two parents and no toilet. He used to ride around on his father’s truck, while they ran their daily vegetable route. He told us about a conversation with his father. His dad said, “one day, if you work hard and pray, you can have this vegetable route.” But Michael didn’t want that route – he wanted more. And he got more. He went to college and received advanced degrees. And he ultimately became the first African American in the Georgia legislature. But, when he was campaigning for that seat and going door-to-door, he realized that he was retracing his old vegetable route. And, when he spoke with his constituents, they let him put a sign on the front lawn – not because of him, but because they knew his father. And his father was a good man. And Michael told us that he realized he had in fact inherited his father’s vegetable route.
These have been truly inspiring stories. And they are stories that show the importance of inclusion, of attitude, of knowledge and of action. When I first came to the event, I felt a bit intimidated. Here were these leaders of the Civil Rights movement, and I only had a financial website that is trying to help people save some money. But, after listening to the speeches, I started thinking about overdraft fees. That is $32 billion a year disproportionately hurting the working poor. That is more than 3.2 billion hours of work (at minimum wage) that people are doing across the country. They are spending time and money to enrich undeserving institutions. Credit unions and startup banks have created alternatives: people do not need to spend this much money. If MagnifyMoney can help people compare, ditch and switch their legacy banks – and the result is that we give 3.2 billion hours back to the working poor, can you imagine what they could do with that? If we helped make banking as cheap for the poor as it is for the rich, can you imagine what they could do with the savings?
Events like Rainbow PUSH Creating Opportunity conference are inspiring and influential. I’ve been given the chance to reflect, to challenge myself and to meet people whose stories inspire me to keep going. I just wanted to share these with our readers, because maybe you can get a bit of inspiration from them as well.
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