For the third year in a row, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a nonprofit that uses the power of hip-hop music to educate young people, is focusing on personal finance lessons. With help from hip-hop notables such as impresario Russell Simmons and performer Mýa, the organization is hosting a "Get Your Money Right" tour in cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., Miami, and Atlanta. HSAN's president, Benjamin Chavis, spoke with U.S. News.
Why did you start the "Get Your Money Right" program?
Over four years ago, we did a national survey on issues that impact the quality of life of young people ages 18 to 25. What we found, shockingly, was that 65 to 75 percent of all the youth that we interviewed across the United States, in urban areas as well as suburban areas, had ruined their credit before they were 24. When asked why, they said it was because they had not received any financial literacy courses, either in high school or college. Most people learn about basic financial affairs from family members, or they do it by trial and error. Most don't know what their credit score is until they have a bad credit score.
After we found out that reality four years ago, we put together a plan. The return has been great. We've reached hundreds of thousands of young people over the last three years. Our summits are also webcast, as well as broadcast on MTV, BET, and VH1, and we always have a radio partner.... Over 20,000 people have downloaded our [free] workbook, which some schools utilize, in Houston, Detroit, and New York City.
What are the biggest mistakes young people make?
Spending money on depreciating assets versus appreciating assets. If you ask everybody, "Do you have a cellphone?" everyone raises their hand, but if you ask, "Do you pay it on time?" [they don't]. They pay it, but not on time. It ruins your credit. There's a certain bling-bling culture.... A lot of artists talk about how when they first got money, they spent it on cars and expensive jewelry that they really didn't need. Now they're much more prudent.
What do young people need to know?
The importance of maintaining a checking account and also a budget. The importance of banking, of knowing what your FICO score is. If you know what agencies to call if you need help, there are a lot of free financial counseling agencies, but...most people were stuck thinking there was no way to improve themselves.
Part of our success is how we do this, not just what we do. We have a deejay on the stage playing music. We intertwine the music [with the message]. This is called "edutainment." When young people see hip-hop stars and icons share their own personal stories, all these true stories have an impact on them.
Can you give an example of one of those stories?
Do you know Fantasia, from American Idol? She participated in a hip-hop summit. She said no one in her family had ever owned a home before. When she made her first record deal, the first thing she did was buy her mother a home. She explained to young people how important it is to be a property owner instead of a property renter. Now, others in her family are also homeowners. They were able to leverage her equity.
What kind of responses do you get from young people after the events?
These hip-hop summits give people encouragement. There's so much in American society that discourages them and almost frightens them. We use hip-hop culture as a way of encouraging them. It's almost like having a financial literacy pep rally, with hip-hop as a driving force. People need to be encouraged—they need to be inspired. That's what hip-hop does.