Written By: Becky Smith, Ph.D., FFC
I am a White, 50-year-old who identifies as a female. I was born in Flint, Michigan. When I was nine, my family moved to Anaheim, California. As a first-generation college student I earned three degrees in economics: undergraduate at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, and graduate training at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I am an Economist and Specialist in Community Economic Development and Economic and Financial Education for Mississippi State University Extension. I found AFCPE through the Financial Fitness Coach certification. It interested me because it had the most promise of improving the delivery of Financial Education.
The question that compelled me to study economics is, “What is the optimal distribution of wealth?” The force that drives me is trying to improve the standard of living for those at the bottom of the distribution. This is personal because we went through a period of homelessness when I was a teenager.
My mom has always been a loving and supportive force. She encouraged my sister and me to embrace new experiences and cultures. Living in a huge apartment complex upon moving to California allowed my sister and me to have friends of a variety of races and ethnicities. Our best friends were from Laos. Whites were not a majority in our school system so race wasn’t really much of an issue.
I moved to the South for graduate school. I was shocked to learn the definition of a “diverse” event. It meant only whites and blacks were gathering together.
I was fortunate to meet, fall in love with, and spend the next ten years with a (White) man from Mississippi. He had grown up observing explicit racism. However, he had the courage to challenge school, church, and social systems. He also worked to build organizations and programs that honor Human Rights. My three kids and I began a tradition of attending the Annual Community Breakfast hosted by the University of Mississippi to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and then participate in the National Day of Service. We got to hear many motivating speakers. This included former governor of Mississippi William Winter. He articulated how important it was for the souls of White people to treat African Americans with the respect and dignity all humans deserved.
That was the beginning of my intentional investment into understanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This journey included learning some of Mississippi’s history through books and presentations. I also faced the harsh reality of how strong my implicit bias was despite my upbringing. My work allowed me to get to know amazing African American colleagues and clients. I am grateful for my personal and professional experiences. These experiences resulted from my intentional investment, and includes my kids. They value and honor different perspectives and cultures. I am also co-authoring a national extension curriculum that groups can use to help begin conversations regarding Racism. This investment has also improved my client relationships and helped me form a model of Community Development Programs that address my calling of improving the Standard of Living for those at the bottom of Income Distribution.
In learning how to listen and honor another’s human dignity, I have been able to more fully honor my own human dignity. I’m also beginning to acknowledge another responsibility. I have to exercise a voice that is not an echo of the dominant society. Until recently, I felt I had to echo in order to stay safe.
Given Mississippi’s history, building trust within communities is the first step in Community Economic Development. Opportunities in the area of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have allowed me to find and even develop some programs to fill this gap. This includes helping “Resourced” individuals understand the decision-making process through a Poverty mindset so they can be more informed when creating policies and programs addressing poverty and that help people communicate honestly.
There is still much work to be done regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, but I am grateful to be a member of the AFCPE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force and for the learning and growth that will occur.