Documentary ‘Black Heirlooms’ Highlights Intergenerational Racial Wealth Gap

April 30, 2014  |  

If your family is close, you might think nothing could tear it down. After all, the old axiom reads “blood is thicker than water.” But imagine having your matriarch fall ill and abruptly finding the cohesion of your clan in ruins.

That’s what happened to Amanda Brown and her family when her grandmother’s health began deteriorating. In her upcoming film, Black Heirlooms, Brown uses her family’s unraveling over the management of her Mee-Mah’s assets to spark conversation on financial literacy.

Every two years Prudential releases a report of the African American Financial Experience. The survey is both qualitative and quantitative, and while the most recent results indicate that Blacks are generally optimistic, it also underlines the lack of comprehension of certain financial topics. This widespread misunderstanding about finances and wealth is not always from a lack of resources. Sometimes, it’s just what Brown describes as a “hierarchy of information” — younger generations don’t get the lessons they need until that essential information is, well, essential. Financial data trickles down when it’s too late.

Financial affairs are often seen as grown folks business, like not telling the children if a parent is laid off so as not to worry them. In Brown’s film, she and her cousins share opinions that weren’t made public during her family’s two-year conflict. During that time there were “many things we didn’t get to say because even though we were affected, we weren’t considered involved,” says Brown.

As time progressed and with her adored grandmother unable to articulate her wishes to her eight children’s satisfaction, the situation escalated, effectively fragmenting her family. Brown, whose grandmother had raised the family on values of unity, was disappointed in the divide more than anything. She began the journey toward creating Black Heirlooms in order for her family anecdote — and the expert advice of others — might prevent this from recurring in another family.

Financial literacy is key to that goal. Teaching minority youth about  financial planning, estate laws, understanding taxes, credit ratings and intergenerational wealth preservation is what will keep families together and in good economic health when the tough times come. This is something that the white majority has done since this country’s inception and that widens the racial wealth gap monumentally.

Through a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $23,600 (which was funded fully in less than five hours), Brown hopes to be part of an initiative to educate African Americans and other minority populations about their financial futures. Her project, now a short film ready to be submitted to Sundance and other festivals, will a web portal that features the same advisors utilized in the digital short as a resource to diversify the portfolios of the underserved.

“Money is a catalyst for a number of things,” Brown says of the sum that initiated the breakdown of her family. It wasn’t the true conflict, just an instigator of issues that compounded into a big misunderstanding that left many relatives holding pieces of a larger, complicated disagreement.

Perhaps by demanding this conversation about wealth and its planning is had before there is a consuming panic, there will be a shift in the economics of future generations that begins to level the playing field in the US.

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