T-Kea Blackman, student at Prince George's Community College Financial Empowerment Center
T-Kea Blackman, student at Prince George's Community College Financial Empowerment Center

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R&B singing group The O’Jays put it this way: “Some people got to have it. Some people really need it.”

But the late “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown simply said, “I need some money.”

While it is a necessity and a basic part of life, many households avoid discussing the almighty dollar.

When T-Kea Blackman was growing up, most of the people she saw were on public assistance and struggling financially.

“There wasn’t anything to talk about, except I don’t have enough,” Blackman recalled. “There was never a conversation about how you manage credit or how you save. There was never any education around that, so what I have learned I learned through trial and error.”

To help Blackman get a better grip on her finances, she decided to take classes and receive one-to-one financial coaching through the Prince George’s Community College Financial Empowerment Center (PGCC FEC), which JPMorgan Chase has philanthropically supported.

In her 20s, Blackman found out someone had taken a credit card out in her name and racked up thousands of dollars of debt, which also ruined her credit score. When she enrolled in the PGCC FEC program, she started with a 500 credit score, credit card debt and little education on how to save responsibility. Today she’s in the best financial shape of her life, she has a high credit score, no credit card debt and feels like she can control her finances. She also has a goal to purchase her first home in two to three years and is building a travel fund thanks to the support of her financial coach.

Blackman has a college degree and was proud to be the first one in her family to obtain a secondary education, but she also accumulated a lot of student loan debt. Instead of only taking loans to cover her tuition, Blackman accepted the maximum amount allowed.

“I was trying to navigate college and still do things I wanted to do, such as travel and save for a home,” she said.

At one point, she couldn’t make credit card payments because she was out of work due to illness.

Blackman said the way to financial freedom is to associate with those who have the things that you desire.

“I have a mentor who owns property and that’s someone I look up to,” Blackman said, adding that she has a goal to own property one day and keep her debt-to-income ratio down as well as her cost of living.

She encourages people to invest.

“If you invest, your money is growing while you really don’t have to do much,” Blackman said.

Brian Atkins, Chase community manager at the Chase Skyland Branch, said money is a mute topic in areas with a lack of financial literacy.

“When you think of money in our community, we think of money as the obstacles it causes instead of the opportunities it causes,” he said.

Brian Atkins, Chase Skyland Community Manager

Chase is being intentional in having listening sessions to see what residents in the community look for in a bank and hear how we can effectively benefit the community, Atkins said.

Many times residents don’t frequent banks. They instead go to check-cashing businesses.
Atkins has advice for those who don’t think their financial situation will improve.

“There is hope. There is always hope around the corner,” he said. I know how it is to live paycheck to paycheck. It’s never too late to start. It’s not an overnight fix. It takes time. You must be disciplined. You have to be strict. You must budget. Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful. It causes stress when you can’t keep your lights on, or you don’t know how you are providing for your child’s day care.”

Atkins added that he discusses finances with his teenage daughters to break the cycle of financial bondage.

“It’s important to expose children to bills, financial opportunities and credit,” he said.

Most importantly, Atkins said, he teaches his daughters what all consumers should know, and that is the difference between a need and a want.

“If they overspend I tell them, ‘Don’t come to dad and ask for more.’ If you go to the vending machine seven times in one day, how do you expect to get something you need because you got something you wanted,” Atkins said.

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