Howard University Explores “Financial Wellness in the African American Community” – CDFIs Are Solution

Sacha Adorno

A recent national AARP survey of adults aged 30 plus found three in five African Americans experienced an unexpected financial challenge in 2019—and two out of three reported facing more than one challenge. These stats set the stage for the Financial Wellness in the African American Community forum on January 31, an event that focused as much on solutions as it did on inequities.

Hosted by Howard University and sponsored by AARP and TIAA, the event ushered in Black History Month with scholars and finance experts—including Lisa Mensah, OFN President and CEO—discussing topics such as building financial literacy, saving for retirement, managing debt like student loans or mortgages, starting to invest, and working for wealth equity in the African American community.  

Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick kicked off the morning: “In working with our students and the community, Howard University witnesses firsthand the economic challenges African Americans face, and we are striving to help find and implement tangible solutions … We believe businesses, organizations, and higher education institutions can work together to solve these challenges today, so African American students, families, and communities can be successful tomorrow.”  

Next to speak was Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., president and CEO of TIAA. He spoke to the audience of students, faculty, community members, and others about the importance of financial education and literacy in driving savings and managing debt.

CBS News national correspondent Michelle Miller then moderated two panels—one focused on challenges and the next on solutions.

During the first panel, experts looked at current financial wellness issues and opportunities facing the African American community, with speakers including Barron H. Harvey, Dean of Howard’s School of Business; Annamaria Lusardi, Academic Director, Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, Denit Trust Chair of Economics and Accountancy, George Washington University; and Camille Busette, Director – Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative, Brookings Institution.

The second panel took on solutions and featured Lisa Mensah; Stacey Tisdale, Financial Journalist, Author, and CEO of Mind Money Media Inc.; Frederick Wherry, Professor of Sociology, Princeton University; and Kilolo Kijakazi, Institute Fellow, Urban Institute. They spoke about organizations—like community development financial institutions (CDFIs)—that focus on closing the wealth gap and developing financial wellness, offering advice to students starting their wealth-building journeys.

Said Mensah, “Financial wellness is about jobs and housing and community services—all the things CDFIs do in a community.” She told the story of Kianna Fowlkes, Howard class of ’09, who started The Shuttle Bus Company with financing and support from CDFI City First Enterprises. Mensah also urged students to put their money in consumer-focused financial institutions, such as credit unions.  

After a robust morning of idea exchanges as well as questions and answers from the audience, Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP CEO, closed the event, summarizing the spirit and dialogue of the forum: “The goal of financial resilience is not just the absence of financial hardship….it’s having the means to accomplish your life goals and purpose.”