Francesca Jean Baptiste started her career as a free tax prep volunteer while concentrating on tax law while attending law school in Virginia.
Though real life experiences helped shaped her course — Baptiste learned much from a father who is from the Dominican Republic and a mother who’s from Panama — it was the fictional Clair Huxtable who ultimately convinced her to become a lawyer.
“I think I first got the idea watching the ‘Cosby Show’ as a kid. Phylicia Rashad just radiated grace and intelligence,” Baptiste said of the actress, who portrayed the lawyer. “She looked so smart with her suits and leather briefcases. I was like, ‘Ooohh, she’s a lawyer.’ And, as I got older I got hooked on ‘Law & Order.’ The district attorneys were championing criminal justice, kicking butt in court and making it look so cool. Trust me it’s not that exciting but it just made me think, ‘This is something I want to do. This is something I can do.’”
When offered a joint position with both the Maryland CASH Campaign and the Baltimore CASH Campaign six years ago, Baptiste jumped at the opportunity.
The campaign promotes program, products, and policies that increase the financial security of low to moderate-income individuals and families across the state.
Besides helping to oversee Baltimore CASH’s free tax preparation services, Baptiste remains involved with “Money Power Day,” particularly the Small Business Zone.
The 12th annual “Money Power Day,” the region’s largest free financial fitness event that aims to help boost residents’ financial well-being, takes place at 9 a.m. on April 1 at Poly-Western High School in Baltimore.
Organizers expect more than 1,000 adults, teens and children to attend the free event which helps kick off National Financial Education Month.
For Baptiste, the event also provides a forum to give legal direction for some, which led her to reminisced about when and why she first came to Maryland.
“I knew I wanted a job that was very different than the one I was leaving. I didn’t just want to work for another law firm,” she said. “I wanted to do something where I was helping to make a real difference in people’s lives. And that is what the CASH Campaigns through their various work and events like ‘Money Power Day’ are doing. They are providing people with the necessary tools and information to help them move towards financial stability in ways that are life-changing.”
Free tax preparation for a family can help save as much as $500 which can be used to catch up on bills, save for a rainy day or start a college fund, she continued.
Regularly trying to conceive ideas to better engage more entrepreneurs and aspiring small business owners at the annual event led Baptiste to start the “Pitch Your Side Hustle” contest, in which individuals could propose an idea for a chance to win $200 during “Money Power Day.”
She said the contest has been successful and she credits her parents with her innovative approach.
“My parents were huge motivators in my life,” Baptiste said. “Both immigrated to this country. They worked really hard to get here and make a life for themselves. They instilled in both my sister and me the importance of getting a good education and hard work very early on. With those two things, anything was possible.”
The importance of a financial education can’t be understated, Baptiste said. The adage that “knowledge is power” holds especially true when it comes to finances and knowing and understanding how credit and debt work is vital, she said.
“We make our decisions based on the information we have and so when that information is limited or nonexistent we don’t make the best decisions,” Baptiste said. “Financial education is all about empowering folks and arming them with the tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
For more information, go to www.moneypowerday.org.