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All about business: Ryan Mack teaches kids to take steps toward financial freedom.


IN A BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, CHURCH, more than SO adults attentively take notes as a 1S-year-old authoritatively spouts off tips on financial empowerment. Without the mentorship of former Wall Street trader Ryan Mack, the young man leading this workshop would not have recognized his ability to influence lives in his community. Since 2005, through a program dubbed All About Business, Mack has transformed the thoughts, habits, and aspirations of dozens of young people in New York City.


The 30-year-old former securities trader, now a financial planner and entrepreneur, works with local schools to teach students how to create a legacy of wealth in their family. The All About Business program began as an effort for Mack's firm, Optimum Capital Management, to help build wealth in the black community. "If you want to cause a paradigm shift in the economic structure of society," says Mack, "you really have to do it with the youth." Starting with a group of students at Brooklyn's Benjamin Banneker Academy high school, the University of Michigan graduate began teaching his "Seven Steps to Financial Freedom." During the school year, his proteges spend one day a week after school learning principles of financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

After a few months in the program, Mack's kids are charged with showing a firm grasp of the principles, which include concepts such as eliminating high-risk debt and setting up a company retirement plan. During their inaugural "Walk for Economic Empowerment" this past June, the students walked through local business districts to offer assistance to small-business owners--providing marketing suggestions to help them grow their business. What's more, in an effort to create a more permanent multigenerational impact, students teach financial seminars with as many as a few hundred attendees.

Several students also participate in a summer internship with Mack's firm. On Saturdays the teenagers further enhance their financial fluency by presenting synopses of the week's stock market activity and analyses of financial markets. Mack's proteges also compose articles discussing principles of finance and business, which Mack integrates into newsletters.


The seed for starting his own business was planted in 2002 when, after attending a financial empowerment seminar, Mack began to fully appreciate the stark difference in financial understanding in the black community. Then in 2004, after several years as a trader for Knight Equity Markets, he left Wall Street to launch Optimum Capital Management.

Mack often continues to mentor students past their high school graduation. Among his success stories is Emmanuel Hector, now age 19. Two years ago he knew almost nothing about financial markets. While in the program, Hector wrote an assignment tackling the topic of how an inverted yield curve can signal an economic recession. His All About Business education helped him receive a Gates Millennium scholarship to attend Adelphi University, where he is currently a sophomore.

Another of Mack's accomplished mentees is Akil King, now a sophomore at Hampton University. Orphaned at a young age and raised by family members, King was ill-prepared for his approaching transition to college and independent living. After King confided his predicament, Mack helped him with budgeting and preparing for college. Making use of his time is the program, King has gone so far as to start his own event management business, Cash Advance Entertainment.

King and Hector are just two of the young people who have benefited from Mack's program. With no external funding, Mack has vitally impacted the lives of his students by dedicating up to seven hours and spending anywhere from $50 to $100 each week. As for Mack's vision for the future, he plans to file for non-profit status and formalize the program's role within his firm. Further still, later this fall the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, an organization of minority real estate professionals, plans to help Mack launch his program in 10 U.S. cities, with possible international expansion.

Though he's single and not yet a father, Mack's passion for seeing African American children grow in financial wisdom is a clear example of Declaration of Financial Empowerment principle No. 7: I will ensure that my children receive a thorough education on financial and business matters. What inspires such devotion? "That's easy," says Mack. "Proverbs 22:6, 'Train a child up in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.'"

Mack's Advice:

* Teach your children about the consequences of taking on debt. Even children as young as 5 years old can develop an understanding about the cost of purchasing toys or other items using a loan. For example, you can buy a toy and draft an I.O.U. that must be repaid within a set period of time. For younger children, completing several chores could repay the debt. For older children, you can determine how much allowance must be earned and repaid to erase the debt. This can instill the kids with a sense of responsibility for their debt. and they'll recognize the personal sacrifice required. Celebrate with them once the debt is repaid; this will help foster a sense of accomplishment in overcoming financial challenges

Provide exposure to educational opportunities--both conventional and unconventional. Economic empowerment begins with education and access. Exposure to life's possibilities is the single most important aspect of creating financially empowered youngsters. Take them on trips to visit other communities, cities, and colleges. Challenge them to understand that "their community" is not just their immediate surroundings, Allow them to take on new academic and work opportunities away from home. such as studying abroad or a summer internship out of state. It is crucial to help young people broaden their horizons intellectually, and socioeconomically.

7 Declaration of Financial Empowerment

From this day forward. I declare my vigilant and lifelong commitment to financial empowerment and hereby pledge the following:

1 will use homeownership as a foundation for building wealth.

2 will be proactive in managing my budget, credit, debt, and tax obligations.

3 will maximize my earnings potential, live within my means, and commit to saving and investing at least 10% of my income.

4 I will ensure that my investments are properly diversified and correspond to my current financial goals.

5 I will immediately commit to a program of retirement planning and investing.

6 I will preserve and protect my assets through proper financial and insurance planning.

8 I will ensure that my wealth is passed on to future generations through proper estate planning.

9 I will actively support the creation and growth of viable, competitive black-owned enterprises.

10 I will use a portion of my wealth to strengthen my community.
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Title Annotation:Black Wealth Initiative
Author:King, Diane; Williams, La Vonda
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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