NEW ORLEANS – Only at ESSENCE Fest can you get your retirement planning with a side of rhymes, as rappers Wyclef Jean and LSU basketball star Flau’jae delivered surprise performances during a panel on the Global Black Economic Forum HQ stage on Saturday.
The rap cameos capped off a session that addressed Black generational wealth and the importance of investing for retirement, with Jean being joined by panelists Danielle O’Bannon, Vice President at Goldman Sachs; criminal justice reform advocate Dr. Topeka K. Sam; McDonald’s Owner/Operator Louis Colin; and Kourtney Gibson, Chief Institutional Client Officer for financial services company TIAA.
“It’s imperative that we save; it’s imperative that we take that money and we use it and allow it to work for us,” Gibson said in the session titled “Models for Wealth Building, Investing & the Role of Retirement Planning.”
Gibson also highlighted the racial wealth disparities that make retirement more difficult for Black Americans. “In retirement, instead of looking at the 54% wealth gap that we see with African Americans, we start to chip away at that, we chip away at that, and we chip away at that [with savings]. That’s how you build wealth: homeownership [and] retirement savings. That’s 63% of what generates wealth in this country. So we’ve got to start from the wealth gap and work our way through.”
O’Bannon added, “Yesterday’s segregation is today’s wealth gap. We can have agency by ensuring that we have an estate plan. And when I’m saying an estate plan, I’m not just talking about a will. I’m talking about health directives, so that our family members, friends and loved ones know what our wishes are, if something were to happen to us, I’m talking about guardianship directives for all the parents in the room who have children under 18, who would like to have some say, so in terms of what would happen with their children in the event that something tragic, we happen to them.”
O’Bannon also noted that estate planning can be a taboo topic. “Quite honestly, unfortunately, what I often see working in communities of color is that we are either discouraged or afraid to think about death,” she shared. “And even beyond that, we’re discouraged or afraid of ruining our children by empowering them with wealth. But let me tell you this, by continuing to perpetuate this wealth gap, we’re not helping our children in any way.”
“Open up a bank account for your children at birth. It’s very essential to teach them how to be responsible for their own bank account,” Colin advised.
Sam offered a unique, but unfortunately not uncommon, perspective about the impacts of incarceration on generating wealth for Black people.
“What comes in mind when I think of wealth building is starting from where you’re at. So often we don’t have these opportunities within our community, especially when you’re impoverished or you’re incarcerated… But when I was inside, and I was making $100 a month, I still took 20% of my earnings and I saved it. And so when I came home, every single dollar that I got I saved.”
O’Bannon also advised attendees to be more demanding of their financial advisers and accountants.
After Jean opened the panel by talking about the importance of investing in youth, he capped it off with an impromptu performance of his Fugees hit “Ready or Not,” drawing a large crowd to the stage and pulling in his fellow panelists to rap the lyrics.
Jean then brought up star Louisiana State University basketball player Flau’jae to the stage, who has complimented her athleticism with a rap career.
Before the performance, Sam left some parting words. “Find mentors. You can look online and see celebrities and like their pictures. Like someone who can teach you something. You can have mentors no matter where you are…When you align yourself with people who not only see the value in you, you can also begin to build your generational wealth alongside other people who are doing it also. It does not matter where you have been, it’s about where you’re going.”