If Afra Smith had her way, no one would experience the money problems she had. The struggle was real. 

Smith, founder and CEO of The Melanin Project 2053, is sounding the alarm to Black America that by 2053, African Americans are expected to have a median wealth of zero if current trends continue. This is an epidemic and is also a contributing factor to the current and future public health crisis facing Black Americans. 

Smith said it is time for a new narrative, and she is leading the charge by educating Black women and building community around her story. She is using her organization to eradicate wealth disparities for women who identify as Black and of the African diaspora.  

“Our programs and services focus on advocacy, personal empowerment and financial wellness coaching,” said Smith. “The Melanin Project was formed based on my personal struggle with money and the journey I took to overcome my situation. For many years I sat in silence feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and fearful about my financial house.  I had a massive amount of debt … and a credit score in the mid 500’s.” 

Her financial woes resulted to being barred from opening a checking account. Debt, she adds, can negatively affects your mental health and can have disproportionate impacts on Black people. 

In 2020, outstanding consumer debt in the U.S. reached $14.88 trillion, according to data from an Experian consumer debt study that analyzed credit report information for a statistically relevant sampling from its database.  That’s a more than $3 trillion increase from 2010′s total of $11.32 trillion and represents an average individual debt of $92,727.  

Members of Generation X owe more than most with a staggering $140,643, followed by Baby Boomers ($97,290) and Millennials ($87,448). This debt includes mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and other types of personal debt. 

Smith found solutions to unburden herself from the weight of crushing debt. Making more money was not the answer, she discovered.  Instead, with the help of a financial coach, she found ways to master her budget and master her mind. 

“We’ve learned bad behaviors for generations, and we add additional bad behaviors,” Smith said during a Black Currency Podcast. “I was clubbing Thursday through Sunday. I was buying rounds for everybody and had on brand new outfits. That was my lifestyle. … There were consequences for that behavior you don’t even realize. So, I started educating myself on the things I do every day to understand my triggers.” 

It’s paid off.  Since then, Smith enrolled and graduated from the Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program, a six-month Milwaukee-based program designed to bring people of color into the real estate field. Soon after, she bought a house. She’s a financial wellness coach to boot. 

What was once a personal struggle is now a passion and mission to help others. She is spreading her life lessons to anyone who is open to listen. Smith often speaks about the importance of acknowledging that you have poor financial habits and seeking help. In addition, to understanding how mental and emotional health intertwines with finances. 

Smith said she realized that many barriers and obstacles impact Black women from creating generational wealth. She is also advocating for systemic change and providing learning and education to financial institutions and college, and universities. 

“We’re so emersed in vanity and material things that we purchase things that have no wealth,” she said. “What we have won’t double or triple in value. We just look cute because we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses. Instead, you should be investing in business, or you need to be owning something, something that appreciates or has value. You have to know the difference between being wealthy and being rich.”  

To learn more about The Melanin Project and financial wellness go to www.themelaninproject2053.com.