When members of the historically black Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. heard about the idea to have The Black Family Think Tank, they jumped at the task of putting it together.
“This platform is very important to us,” said sorority senior, Cathiana Vital. “Without knowing the foundation of family, how can we prosper? We don’t want history to repeat itself.”
More than 60 people gathered Wednesday, March 10, at Syracuse University to hear the opinions of three community leaders.
Youlanda Copeland-Morgan, associate vice president of enrollment management and director of scholarships and student aid, spoke about the importance of being financially literate. A good way for families to prepare their children to be financially responsible is by talking about money at home, she said.
“If you don’t talk about money you will never have money,” she said.
Teaching children how to manage their money properly is an important step to combating the income disparities in the United States. Today, the average black family earns nearly half of the average income of white Americans.
Debt was an important topic covered by Copeland-Morgan. A study by the Federal Reserve estimates Americans spend $1.22 for every dollar they earn.
She advised students to not use credit cards or ATM cards with overdraft fees and avoid impulse buying. If a person has a lot of debt, they should pay off the balance with the highest interest first.
Emphasis was also placed on starting a savings account.
“No matter how much money you earn it is important to start saving because saving is a habit,” she said.
And just like brushing your teeth, habits are best learned at a young age.
Richard Hill, Peace, Inc. project manager and a historic black church chaplain, acted the part of comedian and mentor as he talked to the crowd about personal choices and relationships.
“The decisions that you make right now, when you leave this room, are going to impact you for the rest of your life,” he said.
Especially the choice of starting a relationship. The foundation of family begins with the parents, and choosing an incompatible partner could ruin the family dynamics. Hill advised students to set standards high, demand that the standards be met and not to compromise when choosing a mate.
“If a boy does not have the potential to be your husband, there ain’t no reason to have him around, period,” he said. “If she is not marrying material, leave her alone.”
“You can’t allow yourself to be desperate, know your self worth,” he added. “You are better off by yourself than being miserable every day.”
The third and final panelist to address the students was trauma nurse Tanya Hitz who stressed the importance of knowing your family health history. Like money issues, medical problems and history are too often ignored in black families.
“Ask questions because you are more likely to have the condition if your parents or grandparents had it,” she said. “If you know, you can look at all the preventative measures.”
Hitz also recommended that everyone put an In Case of Emergency telephone number in their cell phone. This emergency contact information will be used by medical personnel if a person is unconscious or unable to answer questions.
“It is important to have someone speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself,” she explained.
The panel discussion incited many questions from the audience, which led into various conversations that lasted well after the event was scheduled to end.
Syracuse University graduate student Kareema Bee was the mastermind behind the think tank. After feeling a lack of unity between people of color on campus, she wanted to organize an event that would bring people together.
She hopes the students who participated benefitted from the discussion and will take the time to be more supportive of their peers.
“Those speakers tonight, a lot of people didn’t know who they were, and they are important people on campus. Now the students can go to them and get advice when they need them,” Bee said. “And hopefully in years to come they will continue to do this program and make it bigger and include the community outside campus.”