How Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey’s Bitcoin Academy provides financial inclusion and breaks down barriers of inequity
Insider profiled Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey’s Bitcoin Academy at the conclusion of its program for Marcy Houses in Brooklyn.
At the end of the courses on Wednesday, Marcy residents who enrolled in the Academy and opted into a grant each received around $1,000 in bitcoin.
We spoke at length with a program instructor and a Marcy resident who took part as a student.
Brooklyn, NY — On Wednesday, the initial iteration of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Jack Dorsey’s Bitcoin Academy ended with an unanticipated parting gift for its participants.
The Bitcoin Academy started in June as a 12-week educational initiative that was free and available exclusively to residents of Marcy Houses, the public housing complex where Jay grew up.
At the program’s conclusion on Wednesday night, adult Marcy residents who enrolled as students, opted into the program, and consented to receive a grant were each airdropped around $1,000 in bitcoin through Cash App, Muun Wallet, or other self-custodial wallets, according to a representative for the Academy. The program and its concluding airdrop were personally funded by Jay and Dorsey.
Last week, I spoke on the phone with an instructor in the program and a Marcy resident who participated as a student to get a better sense of the Academy’s inception, its offerings, and what it meant to those involved.
Following the receipt of a closing statement from Ms. Gloria Carter, I’ve structured the article around three thematically relevant tracks from “4:44,” just to remind y’all again of a late-career classic.
For Marcy resident Mariela Regalado, The Bitcoin Academy represented a continuation of an altruism she had seen from Jay-Z firsthand.
“I remember when I was younger, growing up in the project, him and his team would come and give us toys and things like that. My friends and I would call it this kind of ‘hood philanthropy,'” she said. “So for me, this is kind of like an evolution of that.”
Regalado said she learned of the Academy when she got a postcard about it in the mail. She visited the building across the street from Marcy where the program took place, “got the 411” on it, and signed up. She said a main “selling” point was that the program offered free childcare for her young daughter, which allowed her the opportunity to participate as a single mother.
Alongside providing childcare, the Academy served dinner at each of its biweekly nightly courses. Through a partnership with T-Mobile, the program also gave out more than 100 MiFi devices to students and provided smartphones to residents who needed devices to participate.
The courses — taught in person, recorded, and available online only to Marcy residents — included titles like “Wealth Building and Assets,” “Why Decentralization Matters,” “Staying Safe from Scammers,” “Bitcoin & Taxes,” and “Careers in Crypto,” among others.
Lamar Wilson, an instructor in the Academy and founder of Black Bitcoin Billionaire, related that he had connected with Jack Dorsey and developed a proposal for the program after he had seen Dorsey “lurk” in the audience of the educational Clubhouse clubs he hosted.
In describing The Bitcoin Academy, both Wilson and Regalado made a point to stress that students in the program weren’t pressured into buying or selling bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
Regalado framed the program as “purely this fun, educational journey that I got to do with my neighbors,” and described the classes themselves by saying, “It always felt like we’re at a family dinner, and like that cousin that discovered Bitcoin is telling everybody else about it.”
For Wilson, the program represented a continuation of what he’s been working at since 2013 — providing contemporary financial education and inclusion to disadvantaged communities.
“A lot of times, information doesn’t get to our community. Not because people are being intentionally discriminatory, it’s because they’re not being intentional about getting the information there. And so somebody has to pick up the mantle and do it,” he said. “Because I understand the information and I can break it down into a vernacular that others can understand, especially folks from where I’m from, I feel like it’s almost my obligation to make sure I get the information to them, and it’s not to like recommend them to buy bitcoin or try to get them to invest all their money or anything like that. It’s just really, let me provide the information and allow you as a very intelligent being to make your own decisions.”
When asked what stood out to him about his time as an instructor, Wilson related an emblematic anecdote from an introductory class on Bitcoin mining.
“I’mma be all the way real. I taught a class on mining, and I’ve had startups in this space, right? I’ve trained engineers who didn’t know about blockchain technology, but they were already developers, but I had to teach them about how Bitcoin worked and all of that,” he said. “I had this class on mining. I started to teach it from a high level, and it somehow slipped into technical, which I didn’t want it to do. But once it slipped into technical, it blew me away how quickly some of the people in there were understanding the concepts of what I was talking about from a technical perspective, even though they weren’t software developers or anything. And I promise you, that was the most exciting part for me, that a lot of times we look at somebody’s stature in life or what they’ve done with their life as far as their job or occupation, and we think like, ‘Oh, well, this will be kinda hard for them to pick up.’
“And then when they pick it up, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing,’ but the whole time they’ve been able to pick it up. They just never had access to the information,” he continued. “And I think that’s what I got out of this the most, because it actually solidified what I had already believed, that if you just give people access to information, equal access, you don’t have to do anything else but allow them to have the same access as everyone else and provide the same information. You’ll find all types of people that this type of information actually gels with, and they can excel in. One of the women in particular, I asked her, ‘What do you do for a living?’ She said, ‘I clean up houses.’ And she was getting the concepts of mining faster than guys that have been programming for seven, eight years.”
Regalado related that she initially felt “discouraged” by the media backlash that met the Academy at its announcement in June, and described her process of discounting it and persevering.
“I have Twitter, and I remember when certain blogs and people were reporting on this initiative, and this was after I had already signed up. Like, the comment section. Wow,” she said, with a laugh. “I went into it and a lot of the comments were like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna show these poor people how to do bitcoin, and they’re just gonna rack up more debt and be even more in poverty than they were before.’ And someone even said something about, ‘Oh, you’re gonna teach people that already get everything for free how to do that.'”
“But it’s one of those things where I’m like, okay, shouldn’t we be encouraging people that live in poverty or are trying to get out of poverty? Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to look for different avenues, whether they be traditional or ‘nontraditional’ routes? Shouldn’t we be encouraging folks to learn about other things that can potentially be a way for them to not only gain financial independence, but reach like a different layer of financial freedom,” she continued. “Like why is that not okay? And it’s almost like everyone in the comments and that backlash, they were focused on the scarcity. Like, hey, thanks. We know what we’re missing out on. We know what poverty’s like, because we’re in it. That doesn’t mean that we have to stay in it, and it doesn’t mean that we’re not worthy of messages that have led to other people and other races getting ahead or getting wealthy.”
Recapping her time in the program, Regalado reiterated an appreciation for the “community aspect” of a community-specific and exclusive program.
“I loved seeing people that I have probably passed by in the staircase or even outside, cuz I feel like Marcy Houses is kind of like its own universe, like many like affordable housing projects. I always say that they’re kind of like their own universe in a way,” she said. “And so, the community aspect was really one of the most important factors for me, because we’re talking teens, veterans, elders, millennials, and I cannot think of anything else thus far that would’ve connected so many voices, so many intergenerational voices to sit and learn and share in community. And I honestly cannot think of spaces that we can do that in. And that it’s only for BIPOC folks from a specific community to gain access to something together, I think that was like the most brilliant and beneficial and joyful part of it all.”
Toward the end of my conversations with Wilson and Regalado, we meditated at length on the “Generational wealth” bar from Jay’s track “Legacy,” as it related to the program.
For his part, Wilson placed Bitcoin within a historical context as one answer to the myriad socioeconomic injustices Black Americans have faced and continue to face.
“Man, in this country, almost every single asset, especially for Black folks and people who are disadvantaged, has been taken away from them in some form or fashion when they’ve been building,” he said. “Right outside of Reconstruction, you’re talking about people who came from slavery that were able to build amazing amounts of wealth from having nothing. And then once they made it there, you had the Red Summer of 1919, and you had the Tulsa riots of 1921. So that was taken. Then you look at Manhattan Beach, where you saw a lot of African Americans had land, and they’re just now getting that back. You look at the millions of acres of land across the entire south that have been proven to be swindled outta the hands of Black people by the USDA. Even if you go to Tulsa and look at the fact that the deposits that were in the banks there, even though they were FDIC-secured, they have never been paid back. The insurance, the claims that they had against the stuff in Tulsa, they never have been paid out on those claims, even though everybody knows that the city got burned down.
“So in this country, there hasn’t been an easy way to hold onto wealth from generation to generation. And then we get locked out of other wealth-building things like home ownership, through redlining, things that were actually in laws in a lot of these different states,” he continued. “And those laws are changing, but that doesn’t stop the effects of compound interest. So Bitcoin is something that you actually can own. Bitcoin is something you can pass down from generation to generation because it cannot be confiscated once you understand how to use the actual tools of the wallet and the private key, and you’ve been able to hold it. That’s something that you can hold onto and pass down and secure your purchasing power over time. And that is a huge change from almost everything else. And the fact that it is accessible even to somebody who only has $5.”
Regalado, for her part, spoke to the prospects of building wealth for her daughter through investment.
“I already know that she’s gonna have wealth, because every decision I’ve made since she was born has been to make sure that she’s set up. The goal is for her not to grow up in the projects like I did, like her aunts and uncles did. That’s the goal,” she said. “And so in turn my action, my game plan, is what are the steps that I need to take to get her out of here, and then make sure that we don’t have to come back here. One big component of that is generational wealth. In order to get that, it’s not only that I need financial literacy, but I also need access to things that are gonna make us financially free or at least financially independent. So, my daughter already has her own wallet. I’m stacking stacks for her, and I probably wasn’t gonna be able to say that back in June before the Academy, but now I can, because now I know what all that means.”
It bears noting that The Bitcoin Academy has followed a series of other philanthropic endeavors from Jay-Z and The Shawn Carter Foundation that have aimed to promote financial inclusion and education for underserved groups.
In a 2021 collaboration with Tiffany & Co., The Shawn Carter Foundation (SCF) and Beyoncé’s BeyGood gave $2 million to five HBCUs as part of an “About Love” campaign and scholarship program. Earlier this year, SCF helped launch the Josh Dubin Fellowship, an intensive and experiential social justice program where $10,000 are awarded to five students annually. SCF also has an ongoing collaboration with Bridges to Wealth to provide financial literacy and wealth-building workshops for disadvantaged college students and communities.
Following the conclusion of its summer courses at Marcy Houses, The Bitcoin Academy is “looking to expand to other neighborhoods soon,” the program said.
As a closing and encapsulating note for The Bitcoin Academy’s first iteration, Insider received the following statement via email from Ms. Gloria Carter, Jay’s mother and the president and co-founder of The Shawn Carter Foundation:
“Marcy residents showed up. The over 350 people who attended The Bitcoin Academy classes let us know that this education is important to them – and that it matters. What also matters is providing the necessary resources such as dinner, childcare, devices, internet access, dedicated staff and instructors so that as many people as possible could participate in person and online. I am so grateful to the community that came together to make this happen, and especially to all the class participants who are now more empowered to make their own financial decisions with greater knowledge. Knowledge is Power. It’s now up to everyone who participated to empower and prepare the next generation!”
Read the original article on Business Insider