ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — James Mitchell has been using art to reach local kids in the minority community for years. According to him, the seed for an all-new approach to art was planted after some students came to him after lessons.
“A lot of the children asked or the question to me was, ‘Hey Mr. Mitchell, can I recreate some of these activities in my own home and sell my soaps or sell my candles?’ Obviously, that let me know that these children had an entrepreneurial mindset,” Mitchell explained to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Mitchell is the CEO and founder of Young Futures, alongside his 14-year-old daughter. He said they both try to come up with fun, educational opportunities together, and teaching financial literacy spoke to him deeply after recalling his own youth living in a rough neighborhood.
“I was raised in the Bronx, and I know I can just speak from my experience, the idea of getting money illegally was introduced to me before I turned 14,” he said. “They’re seeing the same thing, so we just want to give them a new perspective on how you can make money, new avenues that they can do right now.”
Mitchell said art helps kids better retain tough financial concepts. He said he first tried out the idea of merging financial literacy and creativity back in November with a series of candle making, painting, cake decorating, and other activities all while learning concepts like equity and assets.
“There was a little girl who came to the program with her older sibling, she was only five years old, and I asked her two weeks later, ‘What was your favorite art activity?’ She was so excited and said the candle-making class, so I asked her, ‘What was the financial principle that we talked about during that class?’ She was able to regurgitate the lesson and what equity was, the definition of the word,” Mitchell explained.
“Equity is a concept that probably you and I are both still trying to wrap our heads around. Even if we have an understanding of it, how would we know how to explain that to a third grader? So our classes are not taught by somebody who has no experience in that field. The equity class is taught by a real estate agent. The banking and budgeting class, we’re looking for Key Bank to come in,” he said.
“Equity isn’t necessarily a fun topic,” laughed Virginia Rawlins. She is an experienced real estate agent and the CEO of Building Blocks Together. She is one of the specialized experts who teaches for the Young Futures program. “I think pairing any lesson with art and giving kids a creative outlet—for instance, in that class, where it was candle making. As they’re putting things in the candle, we can talk about starting out with something and putting things into it like money, sweat equity, whatever, and creating that value just like they would with a house.”
Mitchell said he’s taken the pandemic downtime to perfect his curriculum, and the Young Futures Financial Arts Literacy Program is ready to kick off its next five-week series in March at the African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region.
Rawlins said she’s excited to teach again and combine her two passions for kids and helping others understand real estate. “There’s a lot of technical mortgage language, very technical real estate jargon that even adults don’t understand. So I ask myself if I wasn’t in this 24/7, would I understand it? Most of the time the answer is no. There’s a lot of acronyms and things like that, so you really have to work that back and boil it down,” she explained. “I think relating it to things that they might be more familiar with. Is LeBron James an asset to his team, right? Name the ways that he is an asset to his team. And then liabilities, your grades, and things like that. Giving kids kind of like that outlet, almost like a distraction if you will, but while they’re learning lessons.”
Signup for the Young Futures Financial Arts Literacy Program will continue until Friday. The free course for 7-to 15-year-olds also lets parents choose which day of the week their kids are able to attend—Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays.
Mitchell said he hopes to give kids skills they may not get in school, but desperately need for future success. “It’s not just I want a thing, but do I value that thing enough to now save, have a goal—goal-setting is a big piece of what we’re doing—and also, preparing them for the future,” he said.