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2nd annual Wealth Literacy Conference at Monona Terrace on Saturday will offer “The Wealth Recipe”

Afra Smith, the founder and CEO of The Melanin Project  Photo: Hedi LaMarr Photography

When people highlight wealth empowerment, they often focus on multi-millionaire celebrities or high-powered businesspeople. But sometimes the most inspirational people and stories are much closer to home.

“I want people to see regular folks who are in this city who have successful businesses, who are running homeownership programs, who are just generally doing well,” Afra Smith, the founder and CEO of The Melanin Project, tells Madison365. “Wealth doesn’t always have to be multi-millionaire status. Wealth can be owning your first home or investment property or starting to put money in the bank and I think that we have to start at those very basic levels.”  

Smith’s The Melanin Project is getting set to host the 2nd annual Wealth Literacy Conference which will take place on Saturday, April 13, at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Themed “The Wealth Recipe,” this conference aims to be a catalyst for change as it paves the way for a more inclusive and diverse wealth education experience.

“Each of the speakers this year I intentionally selected to move about four pillars of wealth empowerment,” Smith says. “People will have the ability to begin to create their own personal recipes and we’ll have some prescribed instructions that they will get from each speaker to kind of help push themselves forward. 

“So the goal is really for people to hear these culturally responsive stories from these successful people who have a story to tell,” Smith says. “We don’t hear that other side of the story about their journeys to success — how they have been able to defy the odds and overcome poverty or teenage pregnancy or immigrating to the United States. I’m happy to have people that I think that folks will identify with that you might not normally see on platforms so that they have an opportunity to really engage. I’m excited about being able to cultivate that in a very unique way.”

With a mission to break down existing systems, redefine paths, center personal empowerment, and foster dialogue aimed at overcoming obstacles and embracing freedom, attendees can expect an immersive and empowering experience, according to a press release from The Melanin Project announcing the conference.

“Our goal is to make sure people are connecting into the community because that’s a big part of it, right? We either don’t know about the resources or we don’t seek them out,” Smith says. “Or we are in a place where we’re so conditioned that that’s not something that we’re heavily focused on. And so a big part of that is ensuring people know how to continue to connect.” 

Last year, the first annual Wealth Literacy Conference was held at Goodman Community Center. (Photo: Hedi LaMarr Photography)

At “The Wealth Recipe,” people attending the Wealth Literacy Conference will get what Smith calls “recipe boxes.”

“They’ll be able to put those tangible ingredients into this box and forge what a path forward would look like so it’s kind of going to act as a time capsule for them to continue to keep going throughout the year until we come back again next year,” Smith says. “I plan on staying connected to the attendees because I’m going to continue to do some other things throughout the year and have partnerships with some other people throughout the year to just bring some additional learning education in smaller capacities.”

Smith says that she believes that true wealth empowerment transcends boundaries and should be accessible to everyone, regardless of background or identity.  

“I’m really grateful for the people who have been connecting and the building of the community around this conference. That’s been big for me,” Smith says. “Perfect strangers are reaching out, offering support, offering to volunteer, making connections … it’s been so much I can’t even handle the volume of it. I am so excited about that. To me, that community building and networking so people can be successful.”

State Rep. Shelia Stubbs

The morning keynote speaker on Saturday will be State Rep. Shelia Stubbs. For the full list of speakers and workshops at the 2nd annual Wealth Literacy Conference, click here.

“I’m excited that people trusted me to create a space like this because the majority of the speakers at the event are representative of Black and Latino communities,” Smith says. “We’re also going to have those honest conversations at this event. This conference is not about the status quo conversation. I’m creating a tangible solution where we’re not going to be solely focusing on racism and other -isms. I don’t want this conference to be that … I feel like there are already conferences that are heavily focused on that. But this space is about personal empowerment and being economically mobile from where you are, and that’s an important frame for me in order for us to move forward.”

Lunch will be provided along with additional resources for participants to access during and after the conference.   

“This conference is something I hope to see continue to grow.  I think as it begins to get bigger, there are other areas of the state that could probably use this sort of venue closer to home,” Smith says. “But I think for right now, Madison is my home base and I will continue to grow the venue here in hopes of channeling some additional support so that we can continue to cultivate the atmosphere that we want to have for participants and move the numbers … move the needle a little bit on some of these disparities.”