Nonprofit seeks to inspire people to achieve their economic goals with upcoming conference

April is National Financial LIteracy Month and a local nonprofit is working to dismantle financial barriers. Project GREEN (Grassroots Economic Empowerment Network) will host its second annual Economic Empowerment Conference Saturday, April 23, with the goal of inspiring attendees of all ages and life stages to take charge of their financial goals.

“I really think that this idea of economic empowerment is really a cultural change,” says Dallas Lenear, founder and executive director of Project GREEN. “We [have] to get the masses to get excited about the prospect of even having financial goals for themselves and then creating a strategy to start moving towards those goals.”

Before Project GREEN, Lenear led the Fair Lending Advocacy Group at The Micah Center, which was focused on issues surrounding payday lending. The Group completed a study called Impact of Predatory Lending on Greater Grand Rapids in 2015, and their insights ultimately led to the development of Project GREEN. 

While Project GREEN still focuses on tackling the consequences of payday lending, it has broadened its focus to economic advocacy, helping people build their financial capabilities and removing the barriers that keep people from achieving their financial goals. And there are many barriers, both culturally and systemically.

Lenear gives a personal example to explain how cultural barriers impact financial goals. His mother was a great cook and so are all of his sisters. “Part of the reason they're great cooks is because my mother was, and part of the reason she was is because her mother was, and so there were literally recipes passed down from generation [to generation],” says Lenear. “And so, in Black families, and I know in brown families as well, that's what frequently happens — we pass down our culinary skills and gifts and so there’s a richness there. Unfortunately, those same conversations don't happen in the home around finances.”

For generations, Lenear says there hasn’t been much wealth or knowledge around wealth to pass down. “I think that's one of the starting places — creating the culture and the capabilities and competencies right within the home, so that those lessons can be passed down … and that there's actually assets to pass down from generations as well.”

“There are so many systems that are designed to keep people financially shackled,” says Lenear. On the systems side, there are plenty of things that may keep some people from achieving their financial goals, from payday lending to derogatory credit reporting.

This year’s conference is one resource that Project GREEN is providing to help breakdown financial barriers. Hosted in conjunction with the Kent County Tax Credit Coalition and the Latina Network of West Michigan, the personal finance conference will feature speakers and workshops that teach people about money principles and the steps toward achieving financial goals. With the theme “Minding Your Money at Any Age,” the conference is just one step toward building knowledge around finances and, in turn, movement toward generational wealth building.

Participants have the option to attend the Economic Empowerment Conference virtually for free or in person for $10. Learn more and register here.


Photo courtesy of Dallas Lenear