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I Was Making $13K A Year: How Being Broke In NYC Humbled Me

Once upon a time, I was broke as hell. Not just broke, but broke as hell.

Finance

Once upon a time, I was broke as hell. Not just broke, but broke as hell. Broke is when you have more month left than money. Broke as hell is when you continuously have more week left than money.

My brokest point came after I was laid off from my job at an S&P 500 listed company in 2011. I decided it was time to “give back" and joined Americorp. As a result, I was earning $13,500 annually and living in New York City. This wasn't the only time in my life I was broke before I decided to change my relationship with money, “broke" was a familiar situation.

By 2015, I had turned my situation around and was making nearly $80,000 a year. I got comfortable with my new income, took a couple of bucket list trips and launched my own company. But I will never forget the days I claimed I was “fasting" so that I didn't have to explain not having lunch because the truth was, I couldn't afford it.

As the saying goes, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger," and there is a bright side to my days of penny pinching.

I learned valuable lessons when I was broke that I will carry with me throughout my life, and that I believe will help anyone who's in a financial struggle.

Humility Goes A Long Way

I drove a Lexus in college and it's safe to say that I was feeling myself, not exactly Kanye status, but I had a very healthy sense of self. Fast forward to 2011 when my vehicle had been towed for unpaid tickets, and I didn't even have enough money for train fare to get to work -- it was a much-deserved slice of humble pie.

Through my experience I began to understand what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck. While I wasn't exactly sitting in the front seat of the struggle bus, I began to understand what it felt like to question whether or not you'd be able to make ends meet. As a result, I started judging others less. I became thankful for the opportunities I had been afforded, and realized that nothing in this world is given and shouldn't be taken for granted.

You Have To Learn To Legally Hustle

Have you ever felt a job was below you? Right after college, I refused to take jobs that didn't require a college degree--that is until student loan reps started calling. During times of crying broke, I did jobs that I would have previously never given a second glance, and I created income streams using my skills. I sold cars, wrote term papers for college students, learned to bartend, and I even became a photo booth operator at events and private parties. There's something empowering about learning that you have "hustle" in you and that you can make cute ass lemon drop cookies when life throws you lemon peels.

Related: Six Tips For Getting Your Side Hustle Off The Ground In 2019

There Is A Difference Between Friends & Associates

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In 2011, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. I didn't have a legitimate savings account; I barely had a bank account. A few months prior, my best friend had lost her job and was owed back pay by unemployment. As soon as she received her back pay, she purchased me a plane ticket home and see my grandfather. He passed less than a month later.

I not only learned who my friends were because of their generosity, but also because of their desire to actually be around me when we weren't having fun or spending our coins in a club. Mother Oprah said it best, "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." There are several people who opted not to ride the bus with me and I am beyond grateful that I learned what their intentions were early on.

Maximize & Value Resources

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When you don't have money to do traditional twenty-something things, let alone paying your rent, an evolved version of first world "fight or flight" begins to occur. For me, "flight" was returning home to North Carolina, and I wasn't about to let New York City get the best of me. While I didn't become a freegan (although I knew plenty of people who were), I got creative with my life.

A friend and I did a "dining out fast". We committed to only dining out if someone else was picking up the bill. I cut my drinking bill down to zero. If I was going out, it was to open bar events. I started shopping at thrift stores and participating in clothing swaps. I effectively utilized my resources to make my money stretch. To this day, I cut corners where it makes sense. For example, I haven't had cable in five years and I've gotten really good at doing my own manicures.

One of the beautiful things about struggle is that you never know how strong and capable you are until you are challenged.

That's when you learn what you are really made of. Being broke changed my heart and life for the better. Now, would I ever want to be that broke again? Meeeehhh. Not by choice. I think I've had enough of being broke for a lifetime. What are some lessons you learned (or are learning) when you were broke?

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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