Meet the Founder
Chloe McKenzie is a financial artist with a mission to close the wealth gap for Black women and women of color. She does this through a number of projects, including BlackFem®, but they all are focused on the goal of ensuring people build a healthier relationship with wealth and money.
Chloe McKenzie doesn’t really do nuance. When she founded a nonprofit to increase financial literacy among girls and women of color, she chose a name that would be transparent about the organization’s mission, culture and power source.
She called it BlackFem®.
"If you don’t know what it’s about when you hear the name, good grief, I don’t know what to tell you," McKenzie said. "I’m a very blunt person."
Here’s a blunt statistic: Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women in the United States have zero or negative wealth. Yes, you read that right – zero or negative. That was among the many jaw-dropping findings of a 2010 study of women of color and wealth commissioned by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, using data collected in 2007.
McKenzie, 26, skews the numbers.
She came from an affluent household in Prince George’s County in Maryland, among the richest majority African-American counties in the United States. Hers is a story of expensive schools, skipping grades, caring mentors, athletic prowess, Wall Street opportunities, bonuses and benefits. Hers is also a story of childhood abuse, burnout and illness. She understands the yin-and-yang connection between her disparate experiences – how her personal misfortune exposed her, and how her financial fortune shielded her.
BlackFem® is her epiphany.
Rethinking BlackFem: thoughts on my vision for what’s next
June 27, 2020
Introduction to the new BlackFem:
Since BlackFem was founded, we’ve focused on teaching financial literacy with an ambitious goal to close the wealth gap and increase the net worth of society’s most vulnerable groups—black girls, their families, and their communities. Our focus has shifted. It has become increasingly apparent to us that financial literacy education is born from an inherently racist and exclusionary financial system and only serves to perpetuate financial trauma stemming from chronic financial stress and abuse. Providing knowledge and standardized tools as a way to build wealth is no longer enough. We are committing to helping black girls completely redefine their understanding and emotional connection to money and their worth as people, starting a collective healing process that undoes generations of violent, systemic financial trauma.
Acknowledging and dismantling a flawed financial system:
Systemic racism pervades our financial system just as it pervades all other aspects of society. It champions the false narrative of individual responsibility, success, and personal agency to dismiss the crippling ways our country has oppressed and harmed communities of color. Society likes to think of money, wealth, and the financial system as a numbers game, but our country’s enormous wealth and unchecked (even criminal) financial system were built from Black slave labor and stolen indigenous land. It has created a toxic value system that prioritizes money, wealth, and the "pursuit of more" above all, and subsequently assigns personal worth based on financial quantity and value. The existence of these systems prevents Black communities from benefitting, moving forward, or receiving reparations for their suffering. At BlackFem, we have never shied away from or denied these realities, but we have been focusing on financial literacy education as a way to change our circumstances. We've realized that we can't move forward without acknowledging and dismantling what got us here.
Rejecting inherently flawed financial literacy education:
Today, financial literacy education oversimplifies wealth so much that it tricks us into thinking it's possible to take control of our finances. Quippy tips, tricks, and tools touted by experts, blogs, financial institutions, and organizations under the guise of financial literacy education have created a disconnect from the historical and emotional implications of wealth and money. By purposefully requiring us to ignore and dismiss our own experiences (and trauma), money becomes one-dimensional. The very thing that dictates how we live in and interact with the world is now "objective," leaving no room for nuance or systemic change. We cannot budget or save our way out of multi-generational poverty when the same system we are working in has continuously exploited and harmed our community. We cannot continue to legitimize a system that has not seen us as legitimate. Without also taking into account the cognitive, behavioral, and psychological effects of money, we perpetuate the addictive, harmful notion that we should be in the pursuit of more at any cost (or we fail). We will never achieve true financial equity and security for Black girls and Black communities without a fundamental shift in the larger system and our curriculum.
What's coming next:
Our work going forward is two-fold. Our goal is no longer just about closing the gap by providing tools and learning around creating and managing wealth. We will lead BlackFem programs through a new lens, focusing less on linear instruction of financial literacy and more on the multi-dimensionality of value, money, and wealth. We will also continue to pursue research on these topics which will further inform our programming and challenge larger systemic financial issues. We will help our students and their communities heal from and name this financial trauma and create an enriching—as opposed to debilitating—relationship with their finances.