Passion Economics vs. Apathetic Wealth Building: Navigating College Debt

Two Degrees Also Took A Lot of Money
I owe well over $100,000 in student loans after obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree. I’m not proud of that. At one point, it gave me anxiety to the point where it made me nauseous. Now, not so much.

Lately, I often ask myself, “How did you get here?”

Part of the answer to that question was me growing up poor. For the first twelve years of my life, we lived in the projects. At some point, I became very familiar with how to use my mother’s book of food stamps and patiently waiting in line to receive food from the local foodbank. My grandmother on my mother’s side and my father were both participants at different times in the Great Migration. Our legacy is that of our ancestors first being enslaved and exploited for free labor. Post slavery, it’s migrating to the Northern States for work and/or a better way of life.

Education was always considered a top priority in my household. One of the things my dad always spoke about was the necessity of getting a good education in order to procure a well paying job. We needed to be able to provide for our family. Not going to college then became an impossibility to me. While college was a certainty, I also knew I couldn't rely on my parents to contribute to my education. That just wasn’t my reality despite what FAFSA said.

When the time actually came for me to figure out finances for school, I can admit I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I should have been about student loans and repayment. I was a kid who grew up poor/working class, who had hundreds of dollars in refund money dangled in front of me and bills that needed to be paid, books that needed to be bought and so I sold my sold to the debt devil and signed on the dotted line.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

In my mind the most important thing for me to do was get an education and get a good job. So I rarely had the opportunity to think about what I really wanted to be in life, my circumstances and familial situations determined my field of choice before I even knew what was happening. I had like so many others that came before me fallen victim to this system of Apathetic Wealth Building.

More on that in a second but first...let me ask one question:

How many of you have been told to go to school, get a job, and make as much money as possible to provide for your family, either in the present or future?

Chances are most of you have heard it before because you’ve been told this by your parents, mentors, and/or caregivers. I’m also willing to bet that most of you are probably thinking, yeah, so...what’s wrong with that?

Nothing….and everything.

Apathetic Wealth Building is this concept within our community that your career should be based on what’s going to net you the most in take home pay. It’s very individualistic in nature, outside of the desire to support immediate family, most look forward to acquiring status symbols of wealth (i.e. name brand cars, house in the suburbs, designer clothes, etc.). The problem with this line of thinking is the burnout and total disinterest that grows stronger the longer people stay in their careers. It’s also quite possibly one of the many reasons there’s such a huge college graduation gap between African Americans and their White counterparts. Plus, I won’t even mention how economically disadvantageous this line of thinking is to the financial stability of the Black community.

Honestly, the spread of this ideology has become so ensconced into our psyche that we end up passing it down to younger generations subconsciously. If I can keep it 100 , I only recently came to this realization after conversing with my sister the other day about this very topic. Another conversation centering around the development of a financial literacy plan at my job helped bring it further into focus. Many African Americans decide to major in fields that they have no passion for thus they lack the motivation to complete their education, dropout, yet still find themselves thousands of dollars in debt.

College Graduation
Graduation from Temple University.

My situation also presents another angle. I went into college wanting to be a lawyer because there were so many of my family members in and out of jail. I thought it would be great to help keep them out of jail while also bringing in big money so I’d never have to struggle. I envisioned myself with a name brand car...or two, name brand clothes, and a big house. That vision slowly faded once reality set in and I realized my passion wasn’t Law, my passion was teaching History. This epiphany was about two semesters too late though.

Originally, I came into college majoring in Criminal Justice. I then tacked on Political Science for a double major. Then I dropped Criminal Justice and picked up History for a dual major with Political Science. Ultimately, I ended up scrapping that too and just choosing History. This meant that I still had tons of classes that I needed to take once I graduated in order to become a teacher. So here I was, fresh out of college, already about $80,000 in debt and needing to go back to school in order to actually work in my passion job. More school, more debt and most of it could've been covered in my undergraduate degree if I'd dual majored in Education and History. Had I perhaps went to Community College of Philadelphia for a year while I found my passion or just paid attention to what truly mattered, I quite possibly could have saved myself thousands of dollars. I know in this regret I am not alone.

Since the past is the past, there’s nothing to do but look towards the future. For me, that means educating as many youth as possible, including my children about the dangers of apathetic wealth building. I realize that this line of thinking comes with a level of privilege that many children do not have at home. Many of our youth are worried about where their next meal will come from or where they’re going to sleep at night. Finding your passion is the least of their concerns. In fact, many don’t even have the time to dream. Understanding this problem,  teachers, after school programs, and organizations that work with youth over the summer are going to have to invest in providing a safe space for such ponderings.

In my opinion, passion economics is far better for the community overall and as a teacher and mother, it’s my duty to help the next generation understand that their passion can actually create wealth. I honestly believe in the saying, do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I also believe that all children should be given the opportunity to truly explore what that means.


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