Content And Community For Black Moms

Stop using the same definitions of wealth that have prevented Black people from accumulating it, writes wealth expert Charisse Conanan Johnson.

Black woman with natural hair, looks off to her right with right hand on her hip
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Ask mater mea community members what their personal goals are, and the vast majority will talk about wanting to create and pass down generational wealth.

What that wealth looks like is typically the kind of wealth you think about in estate planning. And while yes, monetary wealth is valuable, having a more holistic definition of wealth will help you get true prosperity, writes wealth expert and entrepreneur Charisse Conanan Johnson in her new book A Wealthy Girl: 7 Steps to Prosperity, Peace, and Personal Power. One that doesn’t fit the narrow constraints Western (read: white) definitions of wealth have made it difficult for Black and brown folks to attain.

Read an excerpt from her book here, and purchase your copy on Amazon.

I subscribe to a different, more expansive definition of wealth. I also want you to embrace this broader definition of wealth, and thus take a new wealth journey with me. It will transform your life.

Traditionally, wealth has been defined in dollars and cents. Pew Research Center defines wealth as net worth or “the value of assets owned by a family, such as a home or a savings account, minus outstanding debt, such as a mortgage or student loan. Accumulated over time, wealth is a source of retirement income, protects against short-term economic shocks, and provides security and social status for future generations.”¹

What you earn from your paycheck is not wealth. That’s straight-up income, and I don’t want you to get income confused with the traditional definition of wealth.

In America, there is a lot of this kind of wealth. In fact, American households held over $98 trillion of net worth in 2018, derived from $113 trillion in household assets minus $15 trillion in household debt. And 75 percent of these household assets comes in the form of financial assets, namely stocks and mutual funds, retirement accounts, and privately held businesses. Of nonfinancial assets, real estate makes up the vast majority. On the other hand, two-thirds of America’s aggregate household debt comes in the form of mortgages on that real estate, followed by consumer credit and student loans. (If you are a millennial like me, you know how incredibly frustrating it has been to be hindered by student loan debt.)

Think of traditional wealth as your very own balance sheet, measured at a singular point in time. In a traditional sense, your wealth can go up or down over time based on changes in income, how much debt you take on or pay down, and what might have been given to you or that you give away. What you earn from your paycheck is not wealth. That’s straight-up income, and I don’t want you to get income confused with the traditional definition of wealth. You can have a very high income and still have little financial wealth if you spend all your money, don’t save or invest, or have a boatload of debt.

When I studied economics at Yale University in undergrad and pursued my MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I learned that this traditional type of wealth often dominates the narrative in defining us as individuals, communities, and countries and invites us to measure differences in tangible wealth between different groups.

However, defining your wealth solely in these terms misses the mark on all of the assets that you possess. Wealth must also include the very important intangible assets that include your faith, family, networks, personal attributes, and skills that make you special in this world.

Society will have you believe that the only wealth that matters is financial wealth. While I believe wholeheartedly in pursuing this kind of wealth, it’s not the only wealth that matters. I challenge the traditional monetary-only definition of wealth because it misses the mark on who I am as a woman, as a mother, and all of the other ways in which I value myself. Defining wealth solely in financial terms misses some of my greatest assets, and it surely misses some of yours too.

I offer an expansive definition of wealth: the traditional dollars and cents version plus all of the intangible assets that make a person who they are. You can have all the financial prosperity in the world, and it can still fall short of generating a sense of peace or personal power. To redefine wealth as both tangible and intangible allows you to define wealth on your own terms.

Wealth is about you having financial prosperity plus the peace of mind and personal power that come as a result of your intangible wealth.

My expansive definition of wealth comes from having achieved high levels of both tangible and intangible wealth over my entire lifetime. On the tangible wealth side, I have a unique set of experiences as an investor, entrepreneur, and strategy consultant over the last twenty years. From making investments for J. P. Morgan’s multi-billion dollar, mid-cap value fund to helping grow Yale University’s alumni venture fund to starting my own personal finance technology company, I have been on the front lines of building tangible wealth. In my twenties, I dedicated three years to obtaining my chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation so that I learned the skills necessary to make investment decisions for billion-dollar portfolios. I’ve learned the secrets of how to make money within traditional wealth producing structures: investing in stocks, getting passive income from real estate investments, making venture capital investments, and starting a business. I am going to share these tested strategies with you.

Over the last five years as a strategy consultant and now managing partner at Next Street, a mission-oriented, for-profit firm, I have advised some of the world’s most dynamic institutions. Through my work at Next Street, I develop innovative and data-driven strategies to help close the wealth gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” using entrepreneurship as the primary lever. Whether developing these strategies for progressive foundations such as the Obama Foundation, complex financial institutions such as U.S. Bank, or forward-thinking governing bodies such as the City of Columbus, I understand how institutions and systems play a critical role in an individual’s ability (or lack thereof) to generate wealth.

By being entrenched in traditional institutions as both an investor and an advisor, I have also developed a deep understanding of how best to grow traditional wealth in spite of the ways these institutions have historically and systematically prevented people who look like me from creating wealth. I am going to share concrete examples of how these systemic forces have played out, along with tested strategies to both build wealth through these systems and subvert them when necessary.

I have spent years testing and developing my own unique process to attain and sustain traditional wealth, creating a very vibrant financial status not only for myself and my family, but also for members of my Charisse Says community, where I’ve advised thousands of people at www.CharisseSays.com through my blogs, videos, courses, and tools. I will share all of my hacks and strategies to obtain traditional wealth.

And still I want something more for you. I want you to have more than traditional wealth. 

Why?

I am tired of being exclusively defined by the same systems and structures that have historically tried to prevent me, a young Black female, from fairly participating in the traditional accumulation of wealth. Most Western cultures were built on imperialist systems and structures of patriarchy, sexism, racism, and classism that have tried to put me in a box. I want to break that box wide open. Why chase a single standard that never entirely had me or you in mind anyway?

Say this boldly with me:

My wealth is made up of more than the dollars and cents that sit in my bank account.

Wealth is about you having financial prosperity plus the peace of mind and personal power that come as a result of your intangible wealth. Moreover, I guarantee that your intangible wealth will unlock much tangible wealth in your life. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything around the globe, it’s that holistic wealth matters. So, then, what do I mean by being a Wealthy Girl? I’m going to take you there now.

¹ Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Ruth Igielnik, and Rakesh Kochhar. “Trends in Income and Wealth Inequality,” Pew Social Trends, January 9, 2020.

² Isabel V. Sawhill and Christopher Pulliam, “Six Facts about Wealth in the United States,” Brookings, June 28, 2019.

From the book A Wealthy Girl: 7 Steps to Prosperity, Peace, and Personal Power by Charisse Conanan Johnson. Copyright © 2021 by Charisse Conanan Jonanan. Reprinted by permission of Networlding Publishing. Chicago, IL. All rights reserved.

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