Black students work to fight financial stigmas at UCF
Terrence Smith's mother scolds him for spending too much of his money on food for friends who are on a tight budget.
One of six siblings in a low-income Tallahassee family, Smith wasn't used to having much to spare, and his mother wasn't accustomed to it either.
Negative financial stigmas about black people like himself may have some level of truth, but financial struggles are an issue for many students no matter their race, Smith said. Stereotypes about black people range from irresponsibly spending money on lavish shoes to not fulfilling financial duties such as paying child support and bills, he added.
Smith, a senior social sciences education major, received more than $5,000 in financial aid last year. And like many students, he balances a job with his classes. Twice per week, Smith works an overnight shift at his apartment complex, The Pointe at Central on Alafaya Trail. Working there pays off his $600 rent, and he gets paid a $21 biweekly stipend.
"I just want people to understand that financial problems are widespread. It's not just this [black] community," Smith said.
Smith has learned from the bumps and scratches of journeying through independence.
He used to work at an after-school program near the Florida Mall and hated that he had to quit the job he had come to love because of its distance from campus. But Smith was even more devastated when, shortly afterward, his '97 Toyota Corolla broke down and he had no savings to find an immediate solution.
School in itself is expensive, Smith said. And regardless of their race, students each have to pay similar expenses such as housing, tuition and transportation.
Since losing his car, Smith has learned to manage money better by opening a savings account.
The 22-year-old is vice president of the Black Student Union, a student organization at UCF that offers supportive programs to address cultural issues black students may face.
Smith said he feels the media has a hand in feeding these impressions by often featuring black people adorned in brand-name clothes and shiny, big-rimmed cars.
And he's not alone in his thoughts. Marly Desravines, a junior marketing major, also said the media contributes to stigmas.
"In the black community, we're known for not being financially literate," Desravines said. "Sometimes [people] associate us with spending money on flashy things … not really investing in ourselves for the future."
But Desravines proves the stereotypes wrong.
The spirited junior runs her own event planning and consultation business called Marly Christalon.
"Our generation of black youth is doing a lot. We're not waiting for corporates to give us the OK … we're doing it, doing what we love," Desravines said as she tugged on a gold ankh necklace, her personal symbol of motivation.
Other students have used disadvantaged history as impetus to succeed and dispel stigmas.
Justin Ward, a senior film major and member of the Black Student Union, paid around $150 for a tattoo on his right shoulder two years ago. Scrawled around an image of an ornate, golden crown in blackish green cursive are the Nas rap lyrics, "Blood of a slave, heart of a king."
He doesn't regret the amount he spent on the tattoo; every day, the phrase reminds him of how far his ancestors have come despite a history of slavery.
"I can count with the fingers on one hand the time[s] I actually had a visceral reaction to a song lyric, and this was one of them," Ward said.
Ward remembers applying for a college scholarship when he was in high school. As he thanked his teacher for the letter of recommendation, he overheard a classmate making a snarky comment — "He only wants a scholarship because he's black."
"I want it based on my own merit," Ward had said to him.
Organizations on campus, such as Multicultural Academic & Support Services, offer workshops to help students find scholarships, learn about financial aid and develop leadership skills.
MASS director Wayne Jackson said the organization supports "at-risk populations," such as multicultural, transfer and first-generation students, who may not have parents who can adequately answer their questions about college and direct them to the right resources.
He added that while many of those students are of multicultural backgrounds, a large portion of first-generations are Caucasian. When Jackson first started working at MASS eight years ago, more than half of all first generation students at UCF were Caucasian, he said.
"We assume that students of color are coming in with not a lot of money, and we can't make that assumption," Jackson said.
In October, MASS will restart a financial literacy series teaching students various elements of money management, such as how to balance checkbooks, manage credit card usage or obtain a mortgage.
And despite his minimum wage job and mother's scolding, Smith still puts some of his money to selfless use by helping cover his friends' meals.
"I have a huge amount of faith in people," Smith said. "We're given opportunities … we're blessed with certain things so that we can help others."