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The racial wealth gap is just one example of the many inequalities continuing to burden Black Americans. As of 2022, white households had average net worths nearly $1 million higher than Black households, according to the St. Louis Fed.

It’s this disparity that inspired Shareef McDonald, better known as Ross Mac, to become a financial educator. Not only has systemic oppression made it harder for Black Americans to build wealth, but there’s a huge education gap that prevents many from finding financial success, he says. 

To bridge that gap, the 33-year-old created the Maconomics digital series where he combines his Wall Street experience and Chicago street smarts to create informative financial content aimed specifically at the Black community.

It started when Mac was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and realized this Ivy League education was an opportunity that many from his community could never imagine. He refused to take that for granted.

Here’s how he’s using what he’s learned to empower and uplift those without the same opportunities he had.

Learning the tricks of the trade

Mac’s wake-up call to start investing came early in his undergraduate career. 

“I was in an econ 101 class sitting next to a kid who was day-trading in the middle of class,” Mac tells CNBC Make It. “That was the one thing that opened my eyes and my curiosity and made me say, ‘OK, I want to start investing.’”

From there, Mac opened a brokerage account, which at the time wasn’t as straightforward and low-cost as getting started investing is now, he says. But he was determined to get on the same level as his peers.

His interest in investing and wealth management eventually led him to a career on Wall Street. Mac spent his summers during college interning at Morgan Stanley and Barclays. After graduation, he worked for Morgan Stanley full-time as a sales analyst. 

“I truly realized I’ve been lucky because I was exposed to so many different things,” Mac says. “Not only did I have a good job, but the type of conversations that I was around — being able to walk down the aisle and see a senior member on my team checking his 401(k) and seeing two or three million dollars — it’s like, ‘Oh, I need to start thinking about retirement now.’”

In 2015, Mac returned to his hometown of Chicago after three years on Wall Street armed with the experience and motivation to bring financial literacy education to his community.

Bringing Wall Street to Main Street

For Mac, exposure to the investing big leagues was his biggest teacher, and he recognized that kids and adults from his own community probably wouldn’t have the same learning opportunity. While working for Morgan Stanley, he began exploring ways to share what he learned.

Making music as the “Wall Street Rapper,” Mac began fusing the worlds he’d come to know so well: Black and urban hip-hop culture with Wall Street financial know-how. He saw a need for someone to speak the language of Black communities like his in Chicago.

“Ever since I was a kid, one of the things we always argued about was who’s better, Iverson or Kobe? or Michael Jordan or this person?” Mac says. “What I really wanted to do is just transform inner city kids all around the world to start having a conversation like, ‘What’s a better company, Microsoft or Apple? Do you like Netflix or Facebook?’”

Having those types of conversations can help “make financial literacy more digestible and accessible,” he says. 

Mac thought of the spaces in his community like the barbershop where friends and neighbors debated sports or shared advice on relationships in a comfortable, welcoming environment. He believed getting people to shift some of those conversations to financial topics could help make investing and money management less intimidating.

From spitting bars to signing brand partnerships

Mac’s music and Maconomics call-in style videos on Instagram and YouTube struck a chord. Viewers poured in and Mac amassed a big enough following to capture brands’ attention. Today, his YouTube channel has over 10,000 subscribers.

Revolt TV, a media network founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs, reached out to develop a content partnership. At first, the company just wanted to repost Mac’s videos, but it grew into Mac hosting his Maconomics show on the network in 2019. 

Though Mac already recognized the financial education gap between Black and white Americans, the murder of George Floyd and equal rights demonstrations in 2020 made his mission ever more important. 

“When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, it saddens me to think we are having the same fight and protests that our ancestors were having,” Mac says. “In a capitalist society, those without capital tend not to have power. I want to focus on liberating my community by giving them the knowledge and exposure to gain wealth.”

Mac adopted the slogan “Black wealth matters” to bring attention to the idea that economic empowerment is a major step toward equality for Black Americans. “Once we start becoming financially free, we can hopefully become politically free,” he says.

Starting them young

Mac continues to produce content for Revolt TV as well TheStreet and BET. He recently starred in the Netflix documentary “Get Smart with Money” alongside other financial pros like Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche. He’s also pursuing his passion for music as a creative outlet and income generator through sync and licensing deals. 

Looking forward to growing his audience — which already includes over 76,000 Instagram followers — Mac wants to expand into content geared toward children to help his followers get started understanding money even younger.

He hopes his own children will be able to learn how to use money and create even better opportunities for themselves than what he had growing up. Thinking about financial literacy like a language, Mac believes early exposure can promote long-term fluency.

“Despite the fact that my children are only 1 and 2 years old, I speak to them about the economy, stocks and credit scores,” Mac says. “I want them to become submerged in the life of finance because it will make them more confident in their financial decisions as they get older.”

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