“Our mission is to resolve the now $2 trillion student debt crisis while also leveling the playing field for those that are impacted the worst, which are Black women,” said Briana Franklin, CEO of the Prosp(a)ity Project.
The Prosp(a)rity Project, created by Franklin during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a nonprofit dedicated to aiding Black women with student debt.
“This came about because of my lived experience. I graduated with about $100,000 in student debt principal, and then by the time I hit repayment, two years later, that number was $116,000,” Franklin said. “Because I didn’t have any financial guidance growing up, and I was oblivious to predatory lending and debt traps, it set me up for a lot of financial distress. As a result, I made a lot of bad decisions with money. This nonprofit is my way of responding to that and making sure that we do more to help empower young people and build them up.”
Franklin believes that she was one of the few people who were able to benefit from the circumstances that COVID created. Before the pandemic, Franklin was working in the fitness industry looking to be a personal trainer. When the lockdown came, the personal training industry was wiped out.
“About three months into the pandemic, when Black Lives Matter started to really come back with full force and we saw people rioting and protesting in response to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, was when I knew I needed to do something,” she shared.
Utilizing her experience of having started a business, she started her nonprofit. She surveyed her community with over 1,000 data points across race and gender background to understand how people were doing physically, mentally, and financially.
The results revealed that Black women were doing the worst and that they had the least savings with the most debt. Because of this, the Prosp(a)rity Project was born. Franklin brought in three other people, Cori Lopez, Matthew Morales, and Ashley Wells to create a founding team for the nonprofit.
“The most deeply rewarding thing is knowing that our work and my perseverance has been able to positively impact people’s lives. We really consider ourselves a rescue mission,” Franklin told El Tecolote. “We’re not just helping people with student debt by giving them some sort of handout.”
Last year’s first graduating class supported by the Prosp(a)rity Project shared with Franklin that they felt thankful to the organization for investing in them and had found a sense of empowerment. The students also expressed not feeling trapped by money and escaped a ‘scarcity mindset.’
This feedback emphasized the importance of the nonprofit and its success. When starting the Prosp(a)rity Project, Franklin faced many hurdles in finding donors.
“[Finding donors] was the most challenging thing because all I knew was how to reach people, but I didn’t know how to exactly find people who were specifically in the philanthropic space,” Franklin said. “My approach initially was reaching out to everyone far and wide, trying to turn them into donors as opposed to seeking out people with an established history of donations. Being able to navigate that learning curve took me a while.”
Although the Prosp(a)rity Project was originally completely online due to the pandemic, this year the nonprofit is looking to move to a more in-person model. Franklin, who recently moved to Washington, D.C. is now looking forward to the first-ever in-person cohort. The cohort will be hosted in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. To participate in the cohort, one must fill out an application on the nonprofit website.
“We … look for the softer qualities, like what is it they want to get out of this experience? What is holding them back?” expressed Franklin. “We really are trying to figure out who are the next change agents that we can develop and … invest in and remove that burden out of their way so that they can make that impact.”
Franklin shared with El Tecolote advice that she would give to Black women who are currently struggling with financial disparity. “Trust your instincts, because a lot of people will try to tell you things like student debt is good debt and you should just be grateful that you have a degree, [but] debt is now a source of psychological trauma, it creates anxiety, it creates food insecurity, it even leads to homelessness, to suicide … so if you are feeling like it is crushing, you are completely justified to feel pained by that and to regret it even like that.”
Franklin encourages Black women to apply to the program. Currently, the Prosp(a)rity Project is looking to expand chapters to all major cities within the next five to seven years. As the Prosp(a)rity Project continues to grow, so do Franklin’s aspirations.
“You can now say that this is an award-winning approach, and even before that, we were already looking at how to attack the crisis. So instead of just doing the retroactive piece of helping fish people out of student debt, we’re also now preventing it in the first place,” she said.
The Prosp(a)rity Project is looking at ways to work with high school students to help them make better-informed, post-career decisions to decide whether or not four-year degrees make sense for them. All of the work that Franklin and her colleagues have put into the nonprofit has paid off.
Recently, on March 6, 2023, Franklin was awarded the 2023 Rising Visionary Award and a grant of $15,000 to further the organization’s work. The Prosp(a)rity Project was also a finalist in the SXSW Innovation Awards in Austin, Texas and has been contacted by the well-known TV show Shark Tank. Franklin is hoping that through these recent achievements, the nonprofit can continue to grow and eventually cross over into the for-profit space.
Please visit The Prosp(a)rity Project website at www.theprosparityproject.org, for more information.