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My Diddy Thought: On Generous Black Celebrities And Student Loan Forgiveness

I wonder if Diddy knows he can also donate money to pay off (my) student loans

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Lightning struck at the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour -

- while I was in the midst of Diddy Bopping the night away with three of my best friends from undergrad. This was the BEST CONCERT EVER and I neeeeeeeeds for there to be another tour to commemorate the Bad Boy 25th Anniversary, 30th Anniversary, etc. **Usher’s “Confessions” tour was also the best concert ever, but let’s focus on Diddy.**

Back to the point of this --

At the beginning of the concert, Diddy (I don’t care what name he currently goes by, I call him Diddy) shouted out Howard University as expected and presented a $1 million check to Howard University’s scholarship fund. My first thought was “DIDDYYYYYYYY!!!!!” (to the tune of “Ballin”). My second thought was my Diddy Thought: “Well shit. I went to Howard and I have student loan debt. Can Diddy give me some money? I’m going to write him a letter.”

**Disclaimer/Possible Shade Alert: I went to Howard University School of Law. I did not go to Howard for undergrad. I was not on main campus. I never had visitation suspended in the dorm. I do not rep Howard. I do not mark Howard Homecoming on my calendar. Approximately 67% of the time, I forget that I am even affiliated with Howard. I am not repping Howard in any way, shape, or form because I know I will IMMEJIATELY be called out by my friends. I am first, foremost, and always a TERP…who happened to attend HUSL from 2008-2011.**

The concert continued, I saw Lil Kim, Faith Evans, Carl Thomas, 112, Total, Ma$e, and DMX, and I paid $40 for a concert tee that I could’ve bought outside for $10. The next day, I went back to my regular life (which wasn’t so regular at the time, but it’s a long story – think: condo flood that wasn’t my fault, displaced from my home for 3 weeks). My Diddy Thought retreated into the background of my mind – only to resurface the other day when I heard Beyoncé was creating a scholarship at Howard University and a few other schools.

My first thought that I am willing to publish upon hearing this news was my Diddy Thought (remix): “Well shit. I went to Howard and I have student loan debt. Can Diddy, Beyoncé, or some other Black, rich celebrity or influential person give me some money?” Yes, I may or may not have had a first thought that was entirely too shady for 8:12am on a Wednesday morning and could expose me to 7 million angry messages from the beehive or whatever it is called. Now is not the time/place to disclose that thought, for my comments section is ill-equipped to catch that e-Flame.

Okay, back to my Diddy Thought (remix).

The education and wealth gaps between White and Black people in America have long prevented Black people from moving up in this country. But what happens when a Black person gets the same higher education as her White counterparts? Does the racial wealth gap suddenly disappear? Does education eliminate the obstacles for equalizing the playing field? I WISH.

I’ll spare you the detailed history lesson and empirical research, but I encourage you to read this report, “The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap”, which concludes, among other things, that “attending college does not close the racial wealth gap” and notes:

* Attending college is associated with wealth in a number of ways. A college education has long been heralded as a ladder of social mobility: graduates who earn a bachelor’s degree or other college certification are more likely to be employed and generally have higher earning power than high school graduates or dropouts; they can use their higher incomes to build savings and wealth.
* Indeed, research consistently finds that college graduates of every race and ethnicity have greater income and wealth than their counterparts who did not graduate college. Yet wealth also plays a role in determining who attends college in the first place, and how much debt students must take on to get a degree. In effect, education can generate a “wealth feedback loop,” as parents’ level of education and wealth significantly predicts the level of education their children will complete. Thus, the educational and wealth-building opportunities directly denied to people of color in past generations continue to reverberate in the lives of their children, even those whose educational achievements open up opportunities for well-paid employment opportunities.

The easiest way for me to explain this “wealth feedback loop” on a more human level is to do an anecdotal analysis of my own life.

I am Black. I am 31 years old. I am blessed.

Anika Steffen

Both of my parents have advanced degrees. They have been married for 36 years. I grew up in an upper-middle class community – the utopia of Columbia, MD, where all races, income levels, and religions live together in perfect harmony. I think I was fairly spoiled growing up.

My three best friends from childhood are White. Their families also well off, but White people “well off” is a little different (think: old money vs. new money).

I received a full scholarship for undergrad at the University of Maryland. When I decided to go to law school and incur student loan debt, I got extra serious about school to make sure I would graduate close to the top of my class and land a lucrative job (during the Great Recession) that would allow me to live comfortably and pay off said loans. My three [White] friends from childhood also went on to get advanced degrees.

Here is the main difference between us (other than the fact that I am Black and they are White): I have $74,745.41 in student loan debt (after making payments for the last five years). They have ZERO dollars combined in student loan debt and have never had any student loan debt.

Why am I telling you this?

Because one thing I realized about accumulating wealth and passing it on to future generations is that it takes more than just your income. It takes income, family money, and investments (and probably some other things).

# Income: I have income.

# Family Money: I don’t have family money. I do have family financial help at times, but that’s a bit different than family money. My parents were first-generation college graduates so they had money to give their children a good life, but not the type of money to cover all of my higher education expenses (and those of my twin brother and older sister), give me a large down payment for my first home, etc. I also don’t anticipate any future windfall inheritances.

# Investments: I would like to have investments (and full disclosure: I do have an investment – I bought a condo about 18 months ago with $5,000 financial help from my parents and 7 months of sitting in the house and doing nothing at age 29 to save for a down payment). But, when I pay $750/month in student loans and those payments will continue until I am 42 years old, the investmentS part becomes difficult (and for those with even more student debt, impossible). Here’s the math – over the next 11 years, I will pay $99,000 towards my student loan debt. Imagine if I could use that money to invest in multi-unit income properties in the gentrifying areas of D.C. I could provide rent-controlled housing to long-time residents so they won’t be pushed out of their homes and so they can experience a landlord who doesn’t double as a slumlord. There are sooooooo many available properties in D.C. that I wish I could buy for that very purpose. But I can’t because I don’t got it like dat.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all scholarship money.

I wouldn’t be where I am now without it and this is not meant to knock any celebrity or average person who donates to a scholarship fund. Our children are our most valuable future assets and they need continuous access to higher education. However, I am also the future and I want to be able to help my children, be a leader within my community, and provide opportunities to others. Much like Instagram Thots in a married athlete’s DMs, student loan debt will always be in the way. Even worse (although not applicable to me), think about the millions of students who relied upon President Obama’s public service student loan forgiveness program who are facing the real possibility that Donald and Betsy will wipe out or refuse to honor that program.

I knowingly took on my student loan debt and intend to pay it off slowly – but I see no harm in making this issue known to Diddy, Beyoncé, Oprah, Chance the Rapper, and every other rich and powerful Black celebrity who cares about educating the future and has some extra money to spare. I am well aware that this is (lowkey/quietly…loudly) a shameless plug in the hopes that some celebrity will cut me a small check for $74,745.41 (payable to MOHELA, FBO: A. Ray, account #xxx-xxxx), but that small check would make HUGE difference in my life, and subsequently in the lives of others in my community. If I don’t ask, then who will?

I WILL NEVER BE FREE TO FULLY BENEFIT FROM MY EDUCATION UNTIL I AM FREE FROM PAYING FOR IT.

Until then, I can’t get to where I need to be to close the racial wealth gap and make it possible for my children to not bear the same burden.

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