Teaching children the importance of financial literacy and entrepreneurship throughout their K- 12 experience will help improve academic performance and gives them a solid footing as they begin to navigate adulthood.
This concept is something that I believe deeply in because I benefited from such teachings as a young boy. The education I received then helped to shape my life early on and has greatly influenced the man I am today.
In 1996, at age 12 I started my first business, a candy store inside my grandfather’s garage. I didn’t get into the candy business because it was a lifelong dream. I got into business because I simply wanted to help my single mother, who often struggled to make ends meet for me and my siblings. As a middle school student, I didn’t really know what an entrepreneur was until my mother enrolled me in the African American Achievers Youth Corps (AAAYC). The AAAYC is a mentoring program led by State Rep. Dr. Vernon G. Smith that teaches young Black males how to run a business. The program operated a retail store in the local mall and it was ran by us and for us. We were in charge of every aspect of the business. There was just one problem: This particular portion of the program was only open to high school males. So here I am, 4 feeet, 9 inches tall and 100 pounds max, preparing to enter into the seventh grade. I obviously couldn’t pass for a high schooler. However, I didn’t let that deter me. I knew I needed to help my mother so I began to volunteer my time and talent to this program. That’s right, while the high school boys were getting paid cash money, I was providing free labor. Though I didn’t get paid while in the program, I gained valuable knowledge.
I learned every aspect of the business. I used the knowledge and skills from AAAYC to create and launch my own candy business. While volunteering, I learned many skills like marketing, customer service, supply chain management and time management that I still use today. My mother, who spent over 30 years in public education, noticed how my grades and reading skills improved in school once I got exposed to entrepreneurship. A light went off for me! I was finally able to connect education to economics.
When children of color are taught skills that allow them to connect education to economics they immediately become more engaged because most children want to make money. Today, in the midst of a global pandemic, topics like entrepreneurship and financial literacy are missing from so many of our public school classrooms. We know that when kids of color can connect what they are learning in the classroom to how to make a legitimate dollar in the real world, they will sit up and listen up.
Through the Kenneth Allen Foundation for Entrepreneurship Inc., we have taught over 10,000 youth of color how to start their own business. Many of these young people are still in business today. Just like my mother witnessed my academic improvements, my organization has also witnessed children improve in the classroom. Entrepreneurship education is not a panacea for the many challenges our youth of color are facing in the classroom but it is a tool that can help improve academic outcomes. Additionally, many students lack the desire or resources to attend college, so we must be innovative and provide alternatives for our young people. Most of us have heard the phrase, “If you give a person a fish they will eat for a day, but if you teach a person how to fish, they will eat for a lifetime.” We must ensure that all children know how to eat for life. Teaching entrepreneurship in schools is an excellent way to improve the trajectory of a child’s life.
Kenneth “Biznessman” Allen is a Baptist minister, entrepreneur and nonprofit leader. Follow him on Twitter @Kennethbizallen or email him [email protected].