The economic divide between rich and poor developed along racial lines in the US.
The wealth gap between Black and white communities continues to perpetuate through a complex web of systemic racism, intergenerational wealth transfer, income inequality, and tax policies that favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Federal Reserve data shows white households hold on average eight times more wealth than Black households, with that figure growing to 17-times for the Millennial population and Gen Z.
Economists say absent radical intervention, the Black community is at risk of permanent relegation to the lower class. Former investment banker Trevor Rozier-Byrd calls it a state of emergency. “The racial wealth gap has been widening with each generation,” he told ESSENCE. “It’s worse today than before the passage of the Civil Rights Act.”
It’s with this sense of urgency that Rozier-Byrd dropped out of the corporate C-Suite to address the issue head on. As Founder and CEO of the digital investment platform, Stackewell, he aims to narrow the widening racial wealth gap by helping people in the Black community leverage the power of the stock market to grow long-term generational wealth. The company’s ambitious goal was recently boosted in collaboration with one of the world’s premier HBCUs.
Hampton University announced a partnership with Stackwell to launch a new Student Investment Program, with a goal of closing the massive gap in wealth and its myriad effects on the Black community. The program’s three-pronged approach provides funded investment accounts to every member of the university’s freshman class. Those accounts, hosted on Stackwell’s digital investment platform, are then seeded with a $25,000 donation from the Virginia-based historically Black institution. What’s more, every qualifying first-year student also gains unrestricted access to a financial literacy certificate program provided by the Society for Financial Education and Professional Development.
“Our students will graduate from Hampton University with a diploma in one hand, a financial literacy certificate worth $3,000 in the other hand, and hopefully a fistful of dollars to get started,” University President Darrell K. Williams said.
ESSENCE spoke with President Williams, Rozier-Byrd, and three freshmen participating in the Student Investment Program. They shared how financial education extends beyond students and into their communities, how first-year students benefit from a nurturing ecosystem of Black-owned businesses, and how the program advances the bigger picture of closing the racial wealth gap and building generational wealth for Black communities.
How financial education extends beyond students to the communities where they grew up.
Genesis Martinez is a first-year marketing major. A native of Miami, she made her way up the Atlantic coast to the Chesapeake Bay to attend her “first-choice school.” For Martinez, who is biracial, the decision to attend Hampton was duly motivated by a desire for academic rigor and a thirst for a premier HBCU experience.
“Being mixed, I felt like there was a sense of loss of culture. I was getting one side [Hispanic] and not the other [Black],” she said. “And I felt like, what better way to get a first-class education and a cultural experience.” As a member of Hampton’s graduating class of 2026, Martinez belongs to the first class of incoming freshmen to get a running start on building generational wealth through the university’s Student Investment Program.
“The goal is to graduate students who will benefit from a world-class education while getting a fundamental understanding of finance and investing,” President Williams said. “They’ll also have an investment portfolio that they can take with them and continue to build throughout their lives.”
Martinez is eager to build her financial knowledge and her portfolio to take what she’s learned back to the neighborhood where she grew up. “The Miami, where I grew up, is not the Miami that people see on TV. It is a very poverty-stricken place. It is a very low-income housed place, so to have an opportunity to go back home and say, Hey, while I was at school, I learned about this financial literacy program and investing. Let’s stack our money. We can do this.”
This “each one, teach one” mentality is vital to pulling Black and Brown communities out of poverty. “When you look at our communities, you look at the rate of underinvestment, and there are a whole host of social, emotional, and cultural barriers to entry that have kept us on the sidelines,” Rozier-Byrd said. “People have tremendous angst and anxiety around the investment decision-making process. They don’t know where or how to start. But when they can learn from people in their communities who know them, and know where they come from, it makes all the difference,” he said.
For Martinez, the wealth she seeks to share with her community is beyond financial. She hopes the program and what it provides will lure younger generations to her HBCU. “To be able to go back into these Black and Brown communities and in these impoverished environments and say, Look, you have the opportunity to not only get out of this but to get your education and have money while you’re doing it,” she said.
How first-year students benefit from a nurturing ecosystem of Black-owned businesses.
Red chips, Blue Chips, Bear Markets and Bull—for the novice, the world of stocks and trading can sound as nonsensical as a Dr. Suess rhyme. With so many products and convoluted terms, investing can be a perplexing and chaotic undertaking for beginners.
That was certainly the case for Cydney Wynn, a freshman student from Philadelphia. “I actually did not know much about stocks or investing before taking the course,” Wynn told ESSENCE. Her experience is not unique. Stock market confusion is common, and some say that’s by design. Fortunately for Hampton University freshmen, Stackwell has an app for that.
But beyond merely translating complex jargon into terms that make sense, The Hampton University Student Investment Program strategically embeds representation throughout every point in the process. Here’s how it works: Students take a financial literacy certification course administered through a Black-owned nonprofit organization. And the coursework is taught by instructors whose demographics mirror the students they teach. From there, students receive cash deposits into their Stackewell investment accounts, fully funded by their HBCU. Then students manage their trades through the Stackwell investing app, with coaching and guidance from a team of advisers as diverse as them. Essentially, Hampton University freshmen are cultivating their financial acumen within an ecosystem of Black-run businesses nurturing them through every step along the way.
The process has proven effective for Wynn. The bright and confident first-year marketing student is increasingly comfortable with jargon she once deemed foreign. “So much of what I have picked up so far is just about literacy and understanding what everything means,” she said. The Philly native is now taking financial literacy courses and engaging with Stackwell advisors to create her personalized investment strategy. So far, she says, it’s been great. “Everyone has been so helpful. You can just tell they really want us to succeed,” Wynn said.
How Hampton’s Student Investment Program is building generational wealth.
The causes of the racial wealth gap are complex and interconnected; resolving it requires an equally expansive, multifaceted approach. While no single solution unravels four hundred four years of systemic oppression, joint efforts on multiple fronts help to chip away at the disparity one household at a time. That one student, one family, one community at a time approach is what President Williams’ had in mind last summer when he began his tenure with Hampton.
Prior to taking helm at his alma mater, the retired three-star general enjoyed a long career in executive leadership across finance, supply chain, and tech. His professional expertise informs his approach. Early in his Presidency, Williams made financial wellness and Black generational wealth central pillars of his administration. The Student Investment Program—the nation’s first to offer investing accounts and education to an entire class of students—builds on those pillars.
Williams sees a clear line between program completion and students’ ability to create generational wealth. “The idea is that freshmen get foundational training in financial literacy. And then, they get a means to apply the knowledge gained through the course. From there they can begin to grow their wealth through four years of practice while at Hampton University,” he said.
Joshua Hoover, a freshman journalism major from Bossier City, Louisiana, is so far following that path exactly. When it comes to trading, he’s a natural. “I just love it. The app is so effective at simplifying things for us. And I’ve tried investment apps before. But without guidance, it can be so complex and confusing,” Hoover told ESSENCE.
“With Stackwell, and especially after taking the finance course, we can approach the stock market with the knowledge that—okay, so I can invest my money here, or maybe I buy a share from a company there, but every decision is an informed one. They literally show you step-by-step exactly how to do it all. And, they advise you on the risks,” he said. “But ultimately your decisions and investments you choose are up to you.”
President Williams says that’s the idea. “The safety net provided by the seeded funds allows students to learn and take risks with lowered stakes,” he said. Williams hopes the financial literacy training will also prevent students from making common harmful financial blunders. “All students make financial mistakes, whether it’s getting in credit card debt, getting car loans, or something else,” Williams said. “But, the program provides training that gives them the knowledge to start making smart financial decisions and building wealth from the day they walk on Hampton University’s campus.”
Hoover says the lessons he’s learned from financial literacy training have affected his personal spending habits. “It has changed the trajectory of my spending. I started budgeting. I am more mindful now of how much money I’m spending with DoorDash and Uber and stuff like that,” he said.
If Martinez, Wynn, and Hoover’s experiences are indicative of that of the overall freshmen class, Hampton University’s Student Investment Program may just crack the code on narrowing the racial wealth gap and jumpstarting generational wealth—at least among its students.