With recent events highlighting racial disparities in the U.S., tech entrepreneur Tanya Van Court says she’s more focused than ever on creating generational wealth for communities of color.
Van Court, founder and CEO of goalsetter, is deeply committed to spearheading a powerful ‘financial movement’ for working families. Her venture-backed startup is launching a new campaign with associated digital content leading up to this year’s Juneteenth on June 19.
So what has sparked this renewed sense of urgency. Van Court says the coronavirus pandemic has unmasked longstanding racial and income disparities, often related to lack of funds to fall back on in a financial emergency. So despite orders to work from home and quarantine, many black people continued to work as essential workers on the frontlines as the disease spiked.
“I believe that now, COVID more than anything has highlighted for us the need to strive towards financial independence as individuals, as families, and as a community, so that we can have more power over our choices,” says mom of three Van Court.
Her fintech venture, goalsetter, allows parents and their kids to save for goals and learn financial literacy through pop-culture memes and gifs. goalsetter’s mission is to establish good saving habits and a lifetime of healthy financial decisions for everyone in the household – including young kids, teens, and parents.
The median net worth of Black families is significantly less than that of white families, reflecting a wealth gap that has only worsened over the past thirty years. “Prior to Covid-19, there were stark racial wealth gaps,” says Danyelle Solomon, Vice President of Race and Ethnicity Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Before anyone knew anything about Covid-19, for every $1 a black family held for wealth, a typical white family held $10 dollars.
Now ahead of this month’s Juneteenth celebrations, goalsetter is doing a big push to sign up communities of color to help secure their financial future.
Van Court’s been a witness to Covid-19’s damaging impact on the community from her home in Brooklyn, New York, the worst-affected state in America. The facts speak for themselves; black Americans are dying of Covid-19 three times the rate of white people.
One of Van Court’s close friends has died from respiratory disease. “The pandemic has literally been on my doorstep,” says the Stanford University graduate. “He was a pillar of our community, and he would take his Easter pictures every year on my stoop.”
This public health crisis has stirred her mind and heart. “Half of me thinks about it in a very intellectual and cerebral way, because I want to figure out what I can do in mass to help combat the impacts of this pandemic on our community,” says Van Court.
“But the other half of me thinks about it in a very emotional way because black people are more than any other community, losing friends, loved ones, parents, aunts, and uncles, because of how the pandemic is impacting us.”
The higher cases of contraction and death for black people from Covid-19 stem from underlying and persistent issues say experts, mainly pre-existing health and wealth disparities.
“I believe that now, COVID more than anything has highlighted for us the need to strive towards financial independence as individuals, as families, and as a community, so that we can have more power over our choices.”
“I think what Covid-19 has done is highlight that racial wealth gap,” says Solomon. “What wealth does is it allows you to move through life easily. But one of the most important things it does, which has been highlighted under Covid-19, it allows you to respond to that unexpected emergency like a pandemic. And for Black Americans, they are unable to respond similarly to a financial emergency because of their lack of wealth, they have less access to liquidity than their white counterparts, and you can see that over time.”
Van Court shares the same sentiments, “We need the power to be able to take a stand on behalf of the health, welfare, and wellbeing of our families, but if you have no money, you have no power, and that’s what Covid has shown us.”
Juneteenth is recognized as the date of emancipation — June 19th, 1865 — for the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The coronavirus pandemic and other recent protests across the country show that complete freedom and independence are not felt by many sectors of the African-American population. So this year’s commemoration takes on a whole new meaning. “Freedom is what we all strive for and is extraordinarily important to today’s conversation,” says Van Court.
She draws the connection that even in 1865, freed people were disconnected from economic opportunity and legacy building. “I may be physically free but now, how do I generate wealth for my family? How do I generate income and money for my family?” she says.
“So being physically free isn’t good enough,” adds the former Nickelodeon executive. “We have to be physically free and financially free.”
With special and supporting digital content and campaign plans leading up to this year’s Juneteenth, goalsetter is restating how pertinent that is. “We think that Juneteenth is very much apropos to the movement that we’re launching, which is a movement that’s all about financial freedom.”
“That’s what we are striving for this year. We need for every Black family to focus on our physical freedom and our financial freedom because those two often come hand in hand.”
Indeed, the protests that have spread across the U.S. highlight structural racism, health disparities, and the precarious financial lives of people of color.
“While we are protesting and marching for the ability to have our basic humanity recognized, to not be gunned down in the streets, the protests that are happening across America are just the beginning of our human rights revolution,” says Van Court. “We need the same freedoms that other groups in America take for granted – freedom from unjust bodily harm, freedom from oppression, freedom of expression, and financial freedom.”
The idea for an easily accessible financial resource and financial literacy tool came from words uttered by Van Court’s daughter Gabrielle. She only wanted two things for her ninth birthday: enough money to save for a bike and an investment account.
It was at that moment that Van Court realized, “if she is thinking about saving, she’s thinking about investing. She’s thinking about giving up smaller things in favor of saving for something that’s larger and more meaningful to her.”
“If she’s doing that at age eight, then that really bodes well for her future,” she continues. “It bodes well for her ability to be goal-oriented. It bodes well for her ability to not comply with our consumerist culture in America and to understand that healthy financial, savings, and investing habits are the things that are ultimately going to give you the most pleasure, freedom, and security.”
The former ESPN executive then recognized that the opportunity was much bigger than her. “If I could get every black and brown child saying that, then I knew that I could change the world, and I could change our world, more importantly,” she says. “So that was the first thing that inspired me to this path, that comment from my eight-year-old.”
So Van Court launched her startup in 2016, formerly known as iSow. But the mission remains the same, and that’s to engage every child in an activity that is in their best interest. To date, goalsetter has raised more than $2.1 million.
In addition to the round-ups, auto-save, and allowance features, there’s even a fun quiz game called “It’s LIT” that’s mapped to literacy standards or K-12. That information is rooted in memes and gifs from social media influencers, hip-hop personalities, and television stars. The same types of popular figures seen on Snapchat or other media platforms. It’s culturally relevant content that kids are engrossed in. And the award-winning app has even competed on Shark Tank. Van Court turned down Mr. Wonderful’s investment offer.
Van Court hopes her mobile app will reach the children who need it most. So amid Covid-19, Juneteenth, and the recent nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death, goalsetter has set its own timely and lofty goal of signing up hundreds of thousands more Black and Latinx kids. The research backs the benefits.
“While we are protesting and marching for the ability to have our basic humanity recognized, to not be gunned down in the streets, the protests that are happening across America are just the beginning of our human rights revolution. We need the same freedoms that other groups in America take for granted – freedom from unjust bodily harm, freedom from oppression, freedom of expression, and financial freedom.”
“Kids who have savings accounts in their name are not only six times more likely to go to college,” says Van Court. “They’re also four times more likely to own stocks by the time they’re young adults. And when you are going to college and owning stocks by the time they’re young adults, it’s likely that you’re not going to have a negative net worth.”
While increasing household net worth could be viable, closing the racial wealth gap is a beast in itself. To which, the Center for American Progress created a simulation for last summer, Solomon describes it as big and pervasive and recommends policy solutions that extend into increasing wages, reducing the debt load, reparations, and more.
Still, Van Court states now more than ever she wants to get our entire community on a path to financial security, stability, and knowledge. That for certain is possible.
She’s asking that people will sign up a kid in their life no matter the relation to a goalsetter account to meet the goal set forth, put a little something in it to get them started and tell other friends about the endeavor. She says, “Help us celebrate Juneteenth and celebrate freedom by celebrating financial freedom in our community.”
For more info on signing up to goalsetter click here.
Main Image: Tanya Van Court with two of her children