The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
By: Naomi Martin
March 19, 2012
Financial literacy key need
About 200 people gathered Sunday at the Poverty Forum to hear about resources available in Baton Rouge to help the poor gain financial literacy.
The forum, which was sponsored by the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge and held at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, attracted community leaders and organizers who work with the poor.
The Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, director of the Interfaith Federation, said clergy leaders need to play a crucial role in encouraging the poor, who do not trust banks, to consider the benefits of opening a bank account.
Cashing checks without a bank account costs the average person $800 a year and $40,000 over a lifetime, she said.
"There are people out there who want to change their financial situation but don't know how," she said. "There's a whole code, a whole language, that if you don't know about it - like you don't know how to build your credit - you can't take part in the opportunities out there."
Evla Smith said when she first started working at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church day care center in 1991, none of the 25 staff members there had a bank account. Smith said that now about a quarter of the staff has a bank account, due in part to her encouragement. One janitor has saved $40,000, she said.
"People don't want bank accounts because they think, 'I don't want other people knowing about all my money,'" she said.
George Myer, deacon at South Baton Rouge Church of Christ, said he came to the forum to learn about money management resources to bring to his congregation, many of whom have financial problems stemming from short-term high-interest loans.
"There are things that are hidden from people without them realizing they don't know it, like the way interest works," he said. "Or, the way interest works against you."
Mayor-President Kip Holden told the crowd that he was born into extreme poverty and might have remained poor had three people not helped him.
One was Scotlandville High teacher Gloria Bernard, who taught Holden basic accounting and check balancing skills in the 10th grade. The second was a businessman who loaned Holden a car for a year after Holden's was repossessed. The third was a businessman who gave Holden a "sizable loan" after he filed bankruptcy, he said.
"I told him, 'If you look at me on paper, I'm no good,' Holden said. "'But if you take a chance on me, I'll show you how hard I can work.'"
To help make a rags-to-riches transition like his more attainable for the thousands of Baton Rouge residents who are poor and do not know how to manage their money, Holden said he launched "Bank on Baton Rouge" an initiative that essentially allows poor people - regardless of credit history - to open free bank accounts and receive special counseling on how to save money.