For the first time, the United States must reimagine educational equity. In the midst of one of the worst global health pandemics the 21st century has ever seen, low-income families are tasked with navigating survival and the overall quality of their children’s education. While educators prepare for the realities of a virtual academic year, schools and policymakers must acknowledge racial wealth disparities and its impact on educational outcomes.
The transition to online learning, although a public safety measure, will not come without its own challenges. That is because, in this country, wealth is unequally distributed by race. For example, in 2016, a typical white family held wealth nearly ten times greater than that of a typical Black family, $171,000 compared to $17,150 respectively. Wealth, defined by the Center for American Progress, is the measure of an individual’s or family’s financial net worth as well as the key to building economic security and creating access to educational opportunities designed for social mobility. Even when educational attainment, marital status, age and income are held constant, African American households still have significantly less wealth than their white counterparts. Put simply, less wealth translates to fewer opportunities and resources. In a pandemic, this large, persistent gap could mean the difference between life and death and the exacerbation of already staggering achievement gaps between Black and white children.
In communities experiencing the brunt of widespread job loss, access to essential remote learning technologies like computers and wifi, may not be financially viable. This means that under resourced and understaffed schools that serve predominantly Black students will require parents to provide these resources themselves. Such financial pressures are greatest on families with less wealth who may find it more difficult to afford reliable internet service and electronic devices necessary for remote learning. Ultimately, these families are less capable of protecting their children against long-term setbacks, and although the impact of school closures related to coronavirus have yet to be measured, the relationship between education and wealth continues its vicious cycle.
In the meantime, Bridges to Wealth (B2W), a local non-profit organization is seeking to put an end to the racial wealth gap entirely. By increasing the wealth-generating capabilities of Philadelphia high school students and their families through an innovative financial empowerment program, B2W hopes to provide youth, parents and community members with the financial and entrepreneurial life-skills necessary to meet the needs of the 21st century. To date, B2W has touched the lives of more than 2,700 participants across fourteen schools in the Philadelphia area. Thus, the work that is being done at Bridges to Wealth is especially important at this time where students need external support now more than ever.
During the past 3 months, while the world was battling a global pandemic, Bridges to Wealth held their Summer Accelerator program; however, for the first time ever the program went completely virtual. The summer program employed 35 high school students through the Philadelphia Youth Network and allowed students to spend six weeks creating and developing their business ideas. In addition, students took part in financial literacy programming, college prep and were given the chance to work with mentors from the University of Pennsylvania.
One important factor of dismantling the systemic factors of the racial wealth gap is increasing opportunities for people of color, specifically Black people. Bridges to Wealth is increasing opportunities for students by giving them tools to build their own business, assisting them with completing college applications and teaching them important lessons in financial literacy that will allow them to make decisions that will increase their wealth. Bridges to Wealth is devoted to making an impact in the Philadelphia community. This fall, B2W is continuing their adult and student program virtually with the hope of continuing to make a difference in the community and supporting our participants the best way that they can. Although the world is changing everyday, B2W hopes to remain a constant to the people in Philadelphia.
By: Persia-Ali Pierce, India Watson, Azariah Harris, and Chizoba Onyekere
Weller, Christian E, and Dania Francis. “The Black-White Wealth Gap Will Widen Educational
Disparities During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” Center for American Progress, 12 Aug. 2020,www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2020/08/12/489260/black-white-wealth-gap-will-widen-educational-disparities-coronavirus-pandemic/.
Bridges to Wealth, University of Pennsylvania, www.bridges2wealth.org/.