On April 29 the first Wealth Literacy Conference was held in Madison at Goodman Community Center, co-hosted by The Melanin Project, which started as a passion project of founder Astra Smith and has now become a mission. 

Smith created The Melanin Project to spread her knowledge and experience through financial wellness coaching and to sound the alarm to Black America. By 2053, black people are expected to have a median wealth of zero. Combining the Melanin Projects focus with that of Veronica Barnes, founder of Mindset2Money, the two embarked on creating the Wealth Literacy Conference to provide a space for Black, Indigenous and people of color as well as the LGBGTQ community to take a closer look at their relationship with money and how the three pillars, mindset, community, and action can help improve one’s financial outlook. 

“This has been a four-year journey. I have been building up to doing something larger.” As Smith’s mindset developed, she created the community by connecting with Barnes and together they took action to create the Wealth Literacy Conference, which allowed them to bring in others to help educate and support financial literacy and health in Madison. 

While Smith’s program focuses on advocacy and personal empowerment to get to financial wellbeing, Barnes approach includes those who are navigating careers. The combination of both approaches created space in the conference for attendees to be inspired no matter where they were on their personal journeys.

The first speaker, Dr. Dominique Pritchett opened the conference with her keynote “The Mentality of Wealth.” As a mental wellness strategist, speaker and therapist Dr. Pritchett noted that it is important to filter a person’s relationship with money through their thoughts, feelings and actions as their relationship with money is rooted in the unknown, fear, upbringing and who has proximity to them. Leading participants first through a visioning exercise, Pritchett encouraged them to find harmony rather than seeking balance and to see the concept of wealth as being more than just money. “The mentality of wealth is not just about money, it’s about the habits and the mindset that we need for financial security. We must create the vision.”

Pritchett went on to share her own personal journey and how the shift from a fixed to growth mindset is a must as well as looking at those around you. Are they helping you to grow? Lastly, she asked attendees to consider the question, “Are you willing to risk who are today for who you will become”, to which the room erupted in a chorus of yes. 

Dr. Victor Patterson then spoke to those who were navigating careers and to how they could use the benefits that the work environment provides, such as health benefits, paid tuition and training, 401K’s and the opportunity to network and learn across the organization to propel them to the next level. 

“Knowledge is power that leads to opportunity that leads to financial stability that leads to wealth.” Patterson noted. He went on to illustrate this by sharing a book he was re-reading entitled “The Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People” and how many people use their careers to go on to become entrepreneurs, but that they are always learning and seeking knowledge to attain wealth. 

The day would go on with DeniseAli Anderson-Das, speaking to budgeting in for financial wellness and wealth and a panel discussion on economic opportunities for people of color, which featured Justice Casteneda, Executive Director of Commonwealth Development and Dr. Damira Grady Vice President of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Relations at Madison College.  

Smith was intentional in creating a space that did not focus on racism, but focused on taking people as they are and encouraging them to see wealth as being attainable for them, regardless of and despite racism. Noting that in Madison as of late, many efforts are being led by people of color, specifically Black people and that those include for-profit rather than non-profit efforts, which allows for more agency and for Black people to be the ones driving the bus rather than being on the bus. 

In the future Smith hopes to connect the work that she does at The Melanin Project for individuals, to the work that is being done across the community and to serve as a bridge to programs that help people to purchase homes, become entrepreneurs or become financially well. Noting the number of relationships that she has built and will continue to build and how that mindset will build the community that can ultimately take action and bring those pillars full circle for her work and the larger work of the Black community.