Retirement isn’t always a luxury that the Black community can look forward to.
Thanks to systemic oppression, lack of resources, and just plain old-fashioned racism, access to building generational wealth does not come easy for Black people, and retirement services provider TIAA is on a mission to change that.
One way is by tapping the legendary musician Wyclef Jean to curate a track alongside some of the hottest current Hip-Hop acts to show people how to get their “paper right.”
“Getting your paper right to me nowadays is building generational wealth,” he told AFROTECH in an interview. “It doesn’t mean that you can go and buy anything for yourself or your wife or your daughter; it means that generation after generation is set up because of you. That is, 50 years from now, the paper is gonna be right.”
Jean added, “So, you know, grandchildren, everyone will be born into generational wealth. And you can put stipulations on how the money is to be used from the bottom up so that it’s not abused, but at the same time, the commonality of one use could be a niece or a nephew. If they want to start a business, they don’t have to struggle. There’s a trust that they can go to.”
While this wasn’t his experience growing up with Haitian immigrant parents who just wanted their son to live out his American dream, Jean says it does not mean he wasn’t having conversations around financial literacy early on.
“The first time that I understood [money] was [from] my dad,” the founding member of The Fugees recalled. “So we lived in the projects in Brooklyn (NY), and then he was like, ‘Yo, we’re moving to [New] Jersey, and then we’re gonna have a home.'”
He continued, “And then I remember getting to that home in Jersey. We lived in a basement, and everything else was rented. The first floor was rented, the second floor was rented, and I was like, ‘What is this? That’s our house. Why are we not living in the whole house?’ But again, he put a small deposit down and offset the cost by putting tenants in there. So I started to understand.”
Jean says that these ideas for wealth creation continued with his father.
“The second thing that he did was crazy,” the musician said. “He left there and was driving by South Orange Avenue and Newark, and he said, ‘The Lord is telling me we should be living here.’ And I turned around, and it was a burnt-down funeral home. My papa said, ‘The church will be here on 11th Avenue, South Orange Avenue.’ It’s still there; you can Google it.”
He continued, “We lived on the first floor of a funeral home where they had coffins, embalming fluid, all of that, but I noticed something. In a couple of months, I noticed cars being parked there, and it dawned on me that he didn’t just get a burnt-down funeral home; he got the biggest parking lot on South Orange Avenue, and then we could offset costs by doing that and building the church.”
“These lessons were like Mr. Miyagi-type stuff; he wouldn’t tell you, he would show you, and it’s like playing chess because after a while, it goes on, and it clicks. What they showed me with those lessons was the long game. By taking the less popular route in the beginning, the less popular route is how you spend little. How do you not only see savings but see the future? So if we talk about financial literacy, we talk about now for the future.”
Thanks to conversations and tips from his father, Jean admits that he did not have any regrets about how he managed his funds early on in his career, except for having a car collection that may or may not have been a bit overboard.
“I had one mission in the early days with these immigrant parents who came here and gave me a chance to get that American dream. What was I going to do for them? So that was the first thing I did,” Jean said, recalling purchasing his mother a million-dollar home. “But now, if you want to say what I regretted financially, I think my retail therapy was just cars, like I was obsessed with cars. And, like, I still have half of the fleet. But I felt that maybe I shouldn’t have bought as many cars as I’ve gotten. Right? Because you can only drive one.”
In partnership with TIAA and First Generation Investors (FGI), Jean curated the track “Paper Right” alongside Pusha T, Lola Brooke, Capella Grey, and Flau’jae to teach the culture about the power of preparing for a brighter future by having a peek into ways that building generational wealth can afford people opportunities to retire.
Moreover, 100% of sales from every stream of the song will automatically go to FGI’s continued commitment as a not-for-profit program dedicated to equipping underserved high school students with investing fundamentals.
“You can’t transfer generational wealth when you’re transferring generational debt,” Zara Mirza, TIAA’s chief brand officer, said to AFROTECH. “So you’ll see the lyrics in the song are all around ‘How do you build generational wealth?'”
She continued, “We know music moves people and this younger generation. I remember when I was growing up, I listened to music lyrics before I listened to my parents. Artists have this incredible opportunity to speak to generations in a way that perhaps a brand and a business like ours couldn’t or even the whole sort of financial industry.”
Mirza added, “That’s why we partnered with Wyclef and with Lola and everyone on this track because it’s this combination of the older generation passing down knowledge to the next generation.”
Thanks to the initiative, the culture is one step closer to closing the disparity gap when it comes to the 54% of Black Americans who do not have enough money saved to retire when the time comes.