Chloe McKenzie was forced to question her own legacy when she found herself ill in a hospital. See how her self-reflection led her to being a financial literacy advocate for the next generation of women of color and why this founder is determined to close the wealth gap.
Name: Chloe McKenzie
City/State/Country: New York, NY, USA
Company Name: BlackFem and On A Wealth Kick
Lioness: How long have you been in business?
McKenzie: I founded BlackFem five years ago and started On A Wealth Kick in the summer of 2018.
Lioness: Why have you chosen to dedicate yourself to this particular business?
McKenzie: I am deeply troubled by the ever-widening wealth gap particularly for women and girls of color. After studying the effect the wealth gap has on women and girls of color, I realized that money is power, and wealth literacy can distribute that power to our most marginalized populations. The most effective way to do that is through our schools. So I started BlackFem. BlackFem’s mission is to transform school-based learning so that girls of color in underserved communities have the skills, habits, and resources to build and sustain wealth. I started BlackFem and On A Wealth Kick because I think we can—and must—work towards a future where every girl and woman of color has the tools to start building wealth. Even in elementary school. As impactful as BlackFem has been, my work with wealth justice doesn’t end in the classroom. After I founded BlackFem, a slew of individuals and institutions outside of the education sphere began reaching out to me with a crucial question: what could they do to close the wealth gap? In order to expand my work beyond schools, I started a consulting business called On A Wealth Kick. Since then, I’ve consulted for companies to make checking accounts accessible to undocumented people, combat liquid asset poverty in black communities, and make institutions of all stripes more financially inclusive—always with a focus on women and girls of color.
Lioness: What makes your business unique?
McKenzie: Very simply, we make financial literacy the one and only core subject in our schools and integrate it in the curriculum so that it’s taught five days a week during the school day.
According to a recent Brookings Institution study, six key areas are needed to pave the way for more effective financial education. BlackFem is the only organization that checks every box. BlackFem curriculum is designed to provide holistic curriculum on the financial and economic systems that influence lifelong wealth-building, and matures with the student, from pre-K to grade sixth. Curricular programs are designed to illuminate student’s experiences, helping them to better understand the environments in which they live. Behavioral reinforcement programs, such as Kids’ Credit Bureau, are explicitly designed to teach and encourage behaviors that contribute to life-long wealth-building through a financial lens.
A significant portion of BlackFem class-time is devoted to inquiry-based investigations that require students to be active participants in the learning process. Discussion, games, and simulations play a critical role in the classroom.
Through BlackFem, parent workshops punctuate the school year, and map to the lessons children are learning. Child development accounts are provided through BlackFem’s fee-free bank account program, Bank on Us. Parent Guides, which children take home, suggest further learning and participatory activities.
BlackFem trains teachers to become Certified Wealth Educators via a centralized summer Teacher Academy. Through the Academy, BlackFem teachers receive a comprehensive financial education and build confidence to integrate financial literacy curriculum into their own classroom and improve communication with their students.
Our strategy for targeting schools, and designing programs, is built from the ground up to respond to the specific needs of girls of color in underserved communities. BlackFem prides itself on culturally responsive curriculum to connect with student needs.
Girls are at the center of BlackFem’s impact. Women and girls of color are featured in the curriculum through leadership stories, examples, graphic design, and the framing of exercises. We teach through role models and a message of female empowerment.
On A Wealth Kick is unique because it gets some of the largest financial institutions to see the work that needs to be done in order to have a more financially inclusive industry.
Together, BlackFem and On A Wealth Kick are advocating for wealth justice from all angles. Ultimately, our goal is to create an enabling environment for all girls and women of color to take charge of their financial futures.
Lioness: You could have worked for anyone and would have been successful, why become an entrepreneur?
McKenzie: I don’t like to consider myself an entrepreneur – it doesn’t resonate with me. Definitionally, I am because I started two business to address a market and systems failure that was designed to suppress the advancement of women of color. Semantics aside, I chose to do this because I was not confident that I could create systems change in my role on Wall Street. Starting my own businesses gave me a bigger voice faster. This is not to say that you cannot affect change working with an institution, but being the boss is critical to the impact I’m seeking to make.
Lioness: What was your last, “why did I go into business for myself” moment?
McKenzie: I ask this question sometimes negatively and positively. The last time asked this was positive, which is good. I asked this question to prove to myself that taking time off to take care of myself since I was experiencing almost crippling burnout. I started BlackFem in a hospital bed, actually. I became very ill one day and then was diagnosed with three autoimmune diseases. I had to ask at 21 what my legacy would be, so I incorporated my nonprofit that day. Beyond the legacy of impact, I realized that being the boss would allow me the power to take the time I needed to rest in heal (when I was strong enough to walk away from work, which is much harder).
Lioness: Every female professional should have _________.
McKenzie: A strong support network that reminds her to take care of herself before taking care of anyone else.
Lioness: If you could steal some business mojo from another mogul, who would it be and why?
McKenzie: Serena Williams. Not only is she the greatest athlete of all time (regardless of gender), she is incredibly wise because of her desire to sit on power companies’ boards. Board seats yield a lot of power and I’d just like to get in her head to understand how she plays “chess” with structures of power that try to keep her down.
Lioness: What is your business motto?
McKenzie: My business motto is simple, “make a splash.” Admittedly, that is the “rated PG” version of the phrase I actually say to myself, but I love what I do because I get to agitate and disrupt. That is important to creating systems-based change.
Lioness: If you could give other entrepreneurs three tips, what would they be?
McKenzie: One, you get to define you, your brand, and what your outcomes are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Two, say no. Advice from someone older or more experienced can often be outdated. Challenge it and see if it aligns with your core values. Three, take time off often! Work will always be there. Your health may not be if you don’t take time off.
Lioness: Has there been a piece of technology or software that has been a lifesaver to you?
McKenzie: Monday.com! I’m not sure how I would be able to keep my thoughts or systems intact without it. Outside of that, Adobe Creative Cloud is lovely because it forces me to get involved in branding documents and keep my creativity alive. Finally, (this is cheesy) I got a Kindle. I don’t use the app on my iPad anymore. Having the Kindle has made me read more, but Audible is a great alternative, too.
Lioness: What is your goal for the next year?
McKenzie: Get three more school districts to adopt our policy to mandate financial literacy five days a week as a core subject for BlackFem. Partner with three more major banks and financial institutions to launch an initiative that will eliminate liquid asset poverty for women of color in the United States.
Lioness: When someone is telling their friend about your business, what do you hope they say?
McKenzie: That my businesses are addressing a real need, that they will create a revolution that asks us to be better than we would otherwise be, and that they will cut a check right now. The latter is very important since women of color are the most underfunded in both the nonprofit and for-profit spaces.