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113: Aimée Eubanks Davis – From Hardship to Hope: Aimée Eubanks Davis’ Astonishing Story

In this episode, I speak with Aimée Eubanks Davis, the inspiring Founder and CEO of Braven. Aimée shares her personal journey, from growing up in a hardworking family in Chicago to leading a national nonprofit that empowers first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented college students.

We dive into her experiences and the pivotal moments that shaped her understanding of economic mobility, systemic barriers, and the importance of education. Her passion for creating equitable opportunities shines through as she discusses the importance of internships, social capital, and long-term economic mobility.

Aimée’s story is a testament to resilience and the transformative power of opportunity, making this conversation both heartfelt and enlightening. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in education, social justice, and the power of community support. Join us for an engaging and motivating discussion that highlights the incredible potential within every student.

Key Takeaways

00:03:28: Starting and Growing a Family Business

00:10:28: Turning Point in Family’s Financial Situation

00:12:24: Moving to the Suburbs and Realizing Economic Differences

00:17:45: Challenges Faced by First-Generation College Students

00:21:37: Introduction to Braven and Its Mission

00:26:01: Measuring Success and Impact of Braven

00:28:00: Unique Approach of Braven in Higher Education

00:31:41: Scaling Braven and Future Goals

00:34:39: Closing the Systematic Loop and Wealth Gap

00:38:23: Long-Term Impact and Wealth Gap Analysis

Memorable Quotes

“One thing that I often talk to people about is how many things are tied together, from education to healthcare to economic mobility.”

“I think in some ways, I got an accidental education in being an entrepreneur, but also in how systems can actually work against certain people being able to acquire money and wealth over time.”

“Who you know matters, but it’s actually who knows you that matters more. And if you’re not in certain networks, you have no idea that an internship matters.”

Connect With Aimée

Website – https://braven.org/

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/aimee-eubanks-davis

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aimee.eubanksdavis/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/aimeeeubanksdavis

Twitter – https://twitter.com/eubanksdavis

Mindful Money Resources

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Episode Transcription

Aimée Eubanks Davis
0:00 – 0:35
So one thing that I often talk to people about is how many things are tied together, from education to healthcare to economic mobility, and how my mom was actually put in a position of being a single mom in a very unexpected way. She was not thinking that her husband was going to die while she had two young children. And so as a result, she went back to school and went into a class that was a business class because she was trying to figure out how she could actually earn money, but not necessarily in a traditional nine to five, because actually childcare was also a challenge for her.

0:38 – 1:00
Do you think money takes up more life space than it should? On this show, we discuss with and share stories from artists, authors, entrepreneurs, and advisors about how they mindfully minimize the time and energy spent thinking about money. Join your host, Jonathan Dio, and learn how to put money in its place and get more out of life.

Jonathan DeYoe
1:03 – 2:05
Hey, welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money Podcast, I’m chatting with Ami Eubanks Davis. She’s the founder and CEO of Braven, a national nonprofit working to ensure first generation, low income and unrepresented in the professional workforce. College students have the skills, confidence, networks, and experience they need to land strong first jobs. AMI is a 2023 John P. McNulty Prize winner, 2020 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, 2019 Obama Foundation Fellow, and a variety of other things. In the last ten years, Braven has empowered 10,000 students on their path to economic mobility. So one of the goals at mindful money is to bridge the racial wealth gap through educational scholarships, financial literacy, education, and business investment. And I wanted to have AMI on the podcast to talk about their work promoting mobility ever since Ben Wildofsky, who was on a previous episode, introduced us a few months ago. If you haven’t heard it, go back and listen to that episode as well. Ami, welcome to the Mind for Money podcast.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
2:05 – 2:09
Thank you so much for having me, Jonathan. I’m excited to be here.

Jonathan DeYoe
2:09 – 2:18
I’m excited to have the conversation. I love talking to Ben, and immediately when we’re done, he’s like, you got to talk to this person. And this person. I was like, okay, great. So first, where do you call home and where are you connecting from?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
2:18 – 3:09
So I call home Chicago, which is where I grew up. My parents were very hardworking people, like many people in our country, and they happened to be residing in neighborhoods that were lower income and actually populated by black people. And so they happened to build a business when I was four. Between the ages of four and 14, that business started to strengthen, and as a result, my older sister and I, in particular, really got to experience what it meant to be economically mobile. And so it’s one of the reasons I’m super excited to be here with you today is just from my own lived experience. I really do understand what it means to have more financial resources coming into a household. What that does for the children, in our case, that are living in it, in terms of basically opening up your aperture, in terms of having opportunities, that’s a great.

Jonathan DeYoe
3:09 – 3:27
The aperture. That’s a good analogy. So between four and 14, they started and grew this business. What are your memories of workload time away? Did they come to your theater events, your games, your things you participated in? Or were they just constantly working? What do you remember about that struggle building that business?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
3:28 – 8:13
Yeah, I would say it was both. And so, first of all, it was a very accidental start to the business in the sense that my biological dad happened to pass when I was two and a half years old. And he got sick, actually, when I was nine months old. So one thing that I often talk to people about is how many things are tied together, from education to healthcare to economic mobility, and how my mom was actually put in a position of being a single mom in a very unexpected way. She was not thinking that her husband was going to die while she had two young children. And so as a result, she went back to school and went into a class that was a business class, because she was trying to figure out how she could actually earn money, but not necessarily in a traditional nine to five, because, actually, childcare was also a challenge for her. And so it was actually in this business class that she ends up meeting another student who was involved in real estate, basically finding homes on the south side where we grew up, turning them around, flipping them, and then selling them. And he was in partnership with someone at the time. And he gets to know my mom, and she starts telling him about her financial situation, which was bleak. So my oldest and I, by the way, are coming to night school with her. So he was also like, who are these kids that are in tow with you, and why are they here? And he basically said, you know, maybe one of the things that you might do, even with your limited resources, is actually thinking about buying a piece of investment property that maybe you all live in and then rent out so that the girls and you have want a place to live and also have some income coming in. And that’s really how this very unusual business relationship that ends up being in a marriage comes to be. And so this purchasing a property and then purchasing a property together is what then puts both of my parents in a very unusual entrepreneurial real estate business in lower income neighborhoods. And one of their pieces of property in particular, ends up being in a neighborhood that, in that ten year period. And then now that’s been going on for over 40 years, starts to gentrify pre dramatically, and that’s where additional resources start to come in. But when I think about their time, there were black people in a black neighborhood that was being redlined by the banks, and so no banks would lend them money. And so I often remember the very tense conversations about being way over their heads financially with this decision. And honestly, what it would take to put this building back together. Because it was two thirds fire damage, they actually bought it out of building court. That’s why. That’s how and why they couldn’t even afford it, was that it was very undervalued, given this massive fire that had happened. So my earliest years of their business, I’m just, like, with them. Kind of like I was with my mom in school. Cause there was no childcare, was like, okay. They decided to make this really unusual decision business wise. And so I’m, like, hanging out with them. They’re trying to figure out, with no money, how to put this business and building back together. And I always talk about how they really built it brick by brick. But it also means that I have these memories of being, like, four and a half on the roof of the building on planks, walking with them. I don’t know why they would let me do this, where you can literally look all the way down, three stories down at the ground, because the building that had burned that bad, where the roof was, like, not fully there, and so then you could literally see straight through. And so I think that’s how they actually made it work where it was like, we were just at, especially me, work with them. My older sister was then in, like, elementary school, et cetera. But basically, work became life, like, this building of this business, and their lives was completely integrated because it’s also integrated into a marriage. And so I just think we watched our parents work really hard and sit at a table that often had the conversation going on about truly the systemic racism that was happening around who gets to loan money to who and why, and what makes you a high risk person, even if you’re hard working, doing everything right simply because you are black or the color of your skin, and where the business also happens to be located. And so I think in some ways, I got an accidental education in being an entrepreneur. Clearly, because they were entrepreneurs, but also in like something that I think is really hard for many people to put their finger on, which is how systems can actually work against certain people being able to acquire money and wealth over time. But then my parents were like super engaged in their business, and they were also super engaged in our lives, in school, et cetera, because what did they want? They wanted us to have more opportunities than they had. And so they were very in tune with what was going on. But I would say I just watched people, like, work pretty much around the clock unless they were sleeping and usually not like a full 8 hours trying to make it work on all sides.

Jonathan DeYoe
8:14 – 8:18
Do you carry that same work ethic? I mean, do you put in that kind of time, you know, in what you do?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
8:18 – 10:28
Yes. So that is one thing that did carry over for my older sister and myself. And also I have a younger brother and a sister that then came as a result of their marriage. I mean, I just think by and large, like work being a part of who we are, I think did carry over in a good way. I think there’s some downsides to that too. I have to admit that I did, you know, I would like to believe in it is out of love, but I didn’t think that I then wanted to go into business with my now husband. Like, that wasn’t something like I saw the downsides, honestly, of, like, it constantly being about this business at the dinner table and otherwise, like, you just couldn’t have a conversation with them just about, like, whatever without it also then seeping into the business. And so. But that said, I think from a work ethic standpoint, absolutely. And I also would say my older sister and I never took for granted because we remember the climb, like, we remember the times when there was not a lot of liquidity at all and the choices that they were making, including where we went to go shop, like, we went to all the discount stores, like, we never ate out. Like, I never remember as a kid, even into my teen years, like, I don’t really remember going to a really fancy restaurant with my parents until I went to college. Like, I don’t remember us spending because we didn’t. We just didn’t spend a lot of time downtown Chicago. We weren’t like shopping on North Michigan Avenue. Like, that was not an existence that we lived in. But I do think understanding what it took, I think then, of course instill the work ethic, but also, I would argue, just a deep understanding of the group of students that we have the privilege of working with. At braven and just a practicality of what it really does mean. Not from like a. Like, everybody should just want to be a billionaire or whatever, but no, everybody should want to have the ability to take a few vacations a year. Shouldn’t want the ability to not worry about, like, literally, we used to stand in the light bill line or the phone bill line or the water line, like, on the day the bill was due, because, like, it couldn’t go in any earlier than that, or the checks might bounce and then. So things shut off, et cetera. Yeah.

Jonathan DeYoe
10:28 – 10:52
So I’m curious what sort of, given that scenario, and it sounds like it. Well, let me ask this question instead. At what age did you start to see the turn? You know, it’s rough. It’s rough. It’s rough. You’re climbing on the scaffolding. It’s. You’re probably wielding a paintbrush when work has to be done. You’re probably moving the bricks here and there, whatever, because I did the same kind of stuff. What age do you notice? Oh, it’s kind of turning. It’s getting a little better.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
10:52 – 14:13
Yeah, no, so, yeah, we totally were free labor for the business in various different ways. One of the biggest ways, interestingly enough, was actually organizing their receipts for tax purposes. So I got very good at organizing piles of paper at a very young age and also collecting the quarters from the washing machines, which that actually became their strategy for taking summer vacations that were like, not in hotels. We had like, a place on camper that attached to the van that my dad drove every day for the business. Right. And so when I think we realized that things were turning in a different way for us than others in our family, we have 28 1st cousins on one side of the family alone. And the people we go to church with to this day, who all had families that were hardworking, all of these. I never knew someone that wasn’t, like, working hard and whatever they were doing. But I think we started to realize that our parents business was giving them more financial leverage than some other jobs might be able to, was when they made a decision based on school for us, but also based on unfortunate challenges that were happening on the violent side of the neighborhood that we were living in, to actually move to a suburb for high school for us. And it was not an easy move for them, also financially. So things were going upwards, but it still was like, lots of conversations around, which house can we afford? Oh, we’re actually not going to buy the brick house in this neighborhood. We’re going to buy the frame house because it’s a little cheaper. Honestly, like, how can we just get into this neighborhood that will still wasn’t, like, flush with cash, but it was the move into the suburbs where all of a sudden I was like, oh, people live a very different way, and children have a whole different set of opportunities. And most kids are not actually in a business with their parents every day, like, semi helping them with it, right. In various different ways. I think it was when I started to see that there were other young people who were, like, playing tennis during the summers, whether that’s a country club or at the park district, and we were, like, jumping double judge in front of our house. That was camp. Like, there was no, like, we go our way to camp in any form of going away to camp, whether that was locally or let alone, like, sleepaway camp. And so I think that’s where I would say, yes, the knowledge of our parents being able to make that move was clear. But I would argue even more interesting for us was then the deeper understanding of, like, how much wealth other families had and how much that actually gave their children in terms of opportunities. And it didn’t necessarily mean that those children were any brighter. And I’d almost argue in some way not as hard working because of just the necessity of work in our lives. But I think it’s all of a sudden where I started to realize, wow, like, opportunity is not everywhere. It is actually not. And so I think that then really starts me thinking about, okay, well, I’ve had this interesting journey that actually, I’m now, you know, still a black woman, still things that are going to be harder for various ways, but actually in an interesting position of privilege of actually having that walk, because I now, like, have range. I’m like, I can talk to anybody, anywhere for various kinds of reasons. And then over time, where I started to say, well, I want to do something to pay it forward into the black community to help more young people through education first. And I still believe in that. Be able to have the economic opportunities that my family had.

Jonathan DeYoe
14:13 – 14:21
It’s a perfect segue. Tell us what you did. We’re going to get to braven in a second, but tell us what you did before starting braven. Like, what was the arc that got you to braven?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
14:21 – 17:44
Yeah. So I had that journey through high school, which I’m not going to go all into. Like, how actually hard it is to then all of a sudden be one of the few black families in a mainly white area where all of a sudden you’re coming from Chicago, public schools, and you go to a high school that is like your dad from system, so you should be in remedial classes, like, not even regulars. Thankfully. My mom was like, absolutely not. They are very good students and have been. And by the way, they did fine and well on these tests, so we’re putting them in honors classes. And so after the whole experience, I then decided to make a college choice where I wanted to go to a college where, you know, another part of the journey was that I was their very social child. And so they actually said that I talked a lot more about the journey of how hard it was to also, like, all of a sudden try to, like, navigate into this higher income community that was also largely white and how much I didn’t love that. Like, that. There was real emotional challenges to get that done. And so I ended up deciding to go to a pretty small school and all women’s college on purpose, where I felt like I really could focus on, like, my academics and building the who am I? Part of myself. And through that journey, I really kept coming back to, like, you know, I’ve actually had this pretty interesting walkthrough life. I want to pay it forward. And so I ended up applying my senior year to teach for America. And I really wanted to teach in a community that was largely black on purpose, just given my own life path. So I ended up in New Orleans, Louisiana, teaching 6th grade right after college, and fell in love with that group of students and their families in that community, and ended up living there for seven years, teaching and then running a community based organization that helped get young people into stronger high schools on the path, ideally to college if that’s what they wanted. And that’s where sort of this journey that I had around educational access and opportunity and equity started to come in. And it was watching those students grow up and actually make the choice to go to higher education like I did in terms of colleges and universities, et cetera, but actually being shocked about how hard it was for them, especially that first group of students, to come out and earn an entire dollar instead of $0.66 on the dollar after coming out of phenomenal universities, from Xavier to Dillard to schools like Tulane to Northwestern University here. And that group of students happened, that first group of students happened to come out of college the year of Hurricane Katrina. And so many people, I think, would think, oh, you’re like, struggling to get a job because New Orleans is underwater. And it’s like, actually, no, Chicago’s not underwater. Atlanta’s not underwater. Houston’s not underwater. What is wrong here? And also because I was that teacher along with their parents. So they’re, I always think of the teachers and the preachers and the parents all coming together in communities in general, like the village, saying, oh, you should go to college and rack up good debt, and that good debt is going to be paid off because you’re going to come out with stronger economics outcomes. And that was alarming to watch that not be as true as I would have thought that it would have been for them and as their families would have thought it would have been for them. And then having played a pretty darn big role in saying good debt, and you’re like, oh, no, you’re shackled with debt and you do not have a job that can help you pay that off.

Jonathan DeYoe
17:45 – 17:55
Let’s kind of touch on. So there’s a lot of, I’ll say, staggering statistics around sort of first generation college students and economic mobility. So can you paint that statistical picture?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
17:56 – 21:23
Yeah. Bottom line, and actually, this has gotten more complex over time, even from the time I came through college. Truly, it used to be that you could go to college and come out and just kind of how things were. I would argue working in the country, and I would also probably say, because we weren’t in quite the level of technological world that we’re in now, I do think the higher ed decision to go to college and or to a university really did sort of equalize the playing field a bit more. I will say. I now know, looking back, that it wasn’t quite equal in terms of, like, many women that I went to Mount Holyoke with who were from higher income families, actually were in some pretty nice internships that I just didn’t even understand. Like, I didn’t know what a consultant was. I had no idea what a banking analyst was like. I don’t. I didn’t know those sets of roles because those were some of the roles my parents were in. But I watched other women go into those fields, and then I got curious and understood it. What I watched happen with my students and what I think has happened more and more over time is that who you know matters, but it’s actually who knows you that matters more. And if you’re not in certain networks and you have no idea what people are doing to gear up to get into those networks, if they’re not in them, then you actually just have no idea that an internship matters. And so there are over a million students every year that go into higher education believing, as they should, that it’s going to bring them out on the path to the american dream, however you think about it. And basically, the vast majority of them will come out and not earn at their level of income that they should be able to earn simply because they didn’t have strong internships, they didn’t build strong networks. They had no idea they were supposed to be doing that. And so they will likely earn $0.66 on the dollar to their higher income peer, and it will create a lasting scarring effect. And why that is so devastating is that there’s no good reason why they shouldn’t be able to come out and actually earn just like their higher income peers. And that scarring effect can happen even if they’re actually at the same exact school as their higher income peers, with the exact same majors, minors, gpas, et cetera. And so that’s just something that I started to realize was a real unfortunate gap going from college to the workforce for this group of young people was that there was just no one really thinking about how things had shifted and then thinking about how we need to then evolve. Because I’m a big fan of four year degrees, if that makes sense for you. It’s not for everybody. Let me be clear. My dad now did not get a four year degree. He went to trade school. Like, that was part of his. Part of the building of the business was actually on the manual labor side, putting the apartments back together, etcetera. So work is dignity. My father in law and my brother in law are electricians. My father in law loved being an electrician. That’s great. And with his youngest son, my husband, he takes him out on his truck and is like, you do not have a knock for this. You better stay in school. And he did and has done quite well and in business in his own right. But I think it’s just alarming to me how many young people really do have the academic talent and the ambition to get through higher education, who then are on the cliff, on the back end financially? And now, I’d say a double cliff, because they’re then shackled with debt that they can’t pay off.

Jonathan DeYoe
21:23 – 21:37
So tell us about Bray. Give us a thumbnail sketch of the program. What makes braven different? Who do you serve? It sounds like we’ve started talking about them and then sort of as a corollary, how do they find you? Because there’s a million, you said, I’m sure that not all of them find you.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
21:37 – 26:01
No. And we hope one day to be able to scale even more so, because what we really found in the world of braven. As we started to study, the issue area was that there was actually no one in the space of, how do you help a first generation going low income student? Often, but also student who’s underrepresented in the workforce because of their racial background. So racial background or income background, interestingly enough, can actually leave you not strong on the back end. And so what we did is we actually built an organization that actually partners deeply inside of higher education institutions that are really innovative. In my opinion, the Braven partners are some of the most innovative schools in the country that have leadership and faculty members and staff that are, like, we actually have to evolve how we’re doing for this group of students if we’re gonna make sure that they can land strong on the workforce side or actually into graduate school as well. And so we partner with them to run a credit bearing course that students often take in their sophomore year or if their transfers from community colleges. 40% of the braven students are actually transfers. And basically, the course is very dynamic. It’s a high impact practice course in higher ed where we actually do a lot of experiential learning, where the students go through rigorous, like, how do you get yourself ready and prepared for the workforce after? And it looks like, quack like, talks like a duck. It actually meets the bar of a course. It’s rigorous for a bunch of former teachers and talent nerds. Like, I like to term us, but they’re met, actually, by people who come in from the professional workforce, from nonprofits, from the government, from for profit companies, who coach teams of five to eight students through the braven semester long experience, which starts the braven experience. And honestly, why that second part is so important is that’s how we actually manufacture social capital. That is how we actually make sure that students have people that know them. So it’s not just who they know, but actually people who know them who are then, like, hey, I actually know of this internship. Just like I might know of this internship for my cousin. I know of this internship. Let me put your name in the hat for that. Or let me introduce you to my friend, et cetera, et cetera. So one of the biggest things that we do in the braven experience, in addition to, like, making sure that they know how to use data to tell a story, making sure that they know how to organize themselves in a project, making sure that they know how to network and communicate for the workforce and actually sit up with confidence about their amazing life stories that they have, like, gotten to this point, overcome. So many barriers they should come out strong is actually we also then help them really crack open their networks. And then after the course concludes, we continue to work with them in their schools to figure out what additional things they might need based on their major, their minor, their GPA, and honestly, what they’re looking to do next. Because a student who’s looking to go to graduate school next after being a history major, like I was, let’s say, coming out of Spelman College, where every single Spelman woman in her sophomore year goes through Braven, we then need to work with them a little bit differently if they want to get a PhD in history than if they are a history major, like I was, but they actually say, I want to actually go to work first. So it could be that they do something like a teach for America, or it could be that they decide that they want to go into a company and work on a marketing team or work on an HR team, or they want to go into some kind of a credentialing program that allowed them to be like some form of, like a computer scientist, because they decided that’s something that they’re interested in. And so that back end two and a half years is more tailored to the student versus what the student is trying to do, trying to get out. But one thing that we absolutely do is if a student is in their second semester of their junior year and they have not had a high quality internship, that, by the way, is paid in their field of interest, where then, like, hi, there’s someone who wants to be a professional mentor to you. That basically means you’re not on track. You’re gonna come out and underarm. We’ve got to make sure that we are helping you figure out what you want to do and help you get to that next step. And so then we have a thing called the professional mentoring program that is far more one to one to make sure that student is going to come out strong. And what we’ve seen over the course of the last ten years is that our students are anywhere between 14 and 22 percentage points above the national average for earning that entire dollar in five semesters. And in five semesters, 76% of them actually out earn their parents in terms of their parents starting place at the same exact time in life.

Jonathan DeYoe
26:01 – 26:06
So explain the five semesters. I heard there’s a. It’s a one semester course. Is it junior year, senior year?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
26:06 – 26:10
It usually starts, actually in sophomore year, sophomore year.

Jonathan DeYoe
26:10 – 26:15
So what is it? Is it five semesters starting in sophomore year? So it’s every semester for the last two and a half years of school.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
26:15 – 26:45
Yeah. So the big dose comes in sophomore year, or if you’re a transfer, junior as a junior, transferring in, or you’re a junior. So you’re either a sophomore or typically a junior. That’s at Braveness League of church. We’re open to everyone. So if you’re a second semester senior, we would prefer not to see you at that moment in time, but we actually will see you because that’s what we’ve decided to do. And then we will then continue to work with the student for another two and a half years until they come out strong into the labor market. And so that’s where the two and a half year experience comes in.

Jonathan DeYoe
26:45 – 26:55
Got it. And how do you measure, are you measuring success on an individual student basis, or are you measuring success, like, on a national, global impact basis or both?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
26:55 – 27:39
It’s both, yeah. We look at the national data in terms of, like, what’s happening with this group of students coming out of four years. Six, you know, different colleges view whether you should come out in four years or six years. It’s usually an average of six years. So we look at the data for bigger groups of students in terms of how they’re coming out of similar type schools. But then we also look at it actually by region, where we’re looking at the Bay Area is a little different in terms of the tech sector than New York City, where you have the financial sector. We’ll do regional based data, but then we even go down to the, what kind of a job does this young person want if they want to be a computer scientist? That’s actually different than if they want to be a teacher. Right. So you have to actually also look at the labor market they are trying to get into.

Jonathan DeYoe
27:39 – 28:00
I’m wondering, is there anyone else, because you said earlier that no one else is doing this or no one was doing this. So is there anyone else doing this now nationally, or do you know, like, I think it’s called Berkeley community scholars. It’s like somebody in Berkeley who does first and family, and it ends up being the people that you also serve. So is there somebody else doing this nationally? And do you know about and partner with other small groups in local areas that do this?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
28:00 – 31:27
Yeah. So there are others organizations that do focus on this transition moment between college and career. And this is where I got to know Michael Ben, but no organization has decided to be, as I’d say, I like to use the word innovative at moments when I’m being honest, I’m like, we were crazy and we didn’t know we were being crazy. We did not realize that saying we wanted this to be a course in partnership fully with higher education was actually going to be a beautiful thing from a scale standpoint, but actually super complicated. We all came out of k twelve, pretty much. We did not really understand higher education and we made some assumptions. Thankfully, we were humble to begin with where we really got this going with San Jose State and a group of deans and a senior level faculty member. So we actually were working with faculty members and deans all along the way. But I will say I’m so glad I did not know that. It’s very complex to get a course inside higher education for credit. I’m really happy I didn’t understand that could be getting close to the third rail of getting one spit out, because actually that made it so that we really did do this in full partnership with higher education institutions. And so I always say Braven is a model that is in complete partnership with administration, faculty and staff. That also means that it’s an unusual model enough where other people actually on the for profit side as well have said, oh, I want to get into this space or I’m going to come into this space and compete with you. And I’m always like, feel free, come, come on in. Because what people do not understand, and I think aren’t then humble enough to understand, is that you really have to decide to go slow, to go fast and build really deep entrusting relationships inside of higher education institutions that we deeply respect and we respect their work and we believe that. Look, like I said in my own family, there’s the range when it comes to employment and employment types. And yet there is no denying that a bachelor’s degree for a first gen, low income student makes them five times more likely to get into the american middle class. Period. End of sentence. And as long as white young people from the most well resourced backgrounds and high income backgrounds are making a choice to get a four year degree or six year degree at the BA degree, as long as that is the case, that degree holds the most amount of currency at that moment in life. And so what’s been interesting about Braven is that I think there are people that get interested and then quickly decide, like, we’re just not going to try to do this in the way that you all have done this. And I mean, at some point in time that might change, but I think it’s because they start to really understand that the leverage in the model actually is because we’re inside of these institutions, working alongside of them. So, for instance, we went with seven from 17 students at a boot camp at San Jose state ten years ago to 10,000 students now. So be on a path to 25 to 30,000 students in the next five years or so. But I believe that we can get to 80 to 100,000 students in the model at any given time. That would make us 10% of the minority serving institutions in the country, like their student population, which makes us the largest pipeline of talent and diverse talent of this group of young people, regardless of race, coming from low income backgrounds. And if you also put race in that, but also who are diverse racially as well, coming out of higher education institutions, if you just think about any large institution, like most large institutions aren’t as big as 25 to 30,000 students at a time.

Jonathan DeYoe
31:27 – 31:41
Okay, so that’s it? That’s you’re going from 17 to 10,000 to like, 100,000 in the next, say, ten years or so. What’s the arc to that scale? Like, how do you add on that scale? Are you seeking new partners, specific geographies? How do you find them?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
31:41 – 34:38
Yeah, great question. By and large, we look for innovative partners. And innovative, that means chancellors and presidents. Yeah. In the higher ed world. And also deans and faculty members, like, people who are like, you know what? We believe there is an absolute. And that’s what I feel personally myself. I was a liberal arts major, know people who were business majors or who were, you know, something that’s more, quote unquote, technically placed like computer science majors. I believe that there is an absolute. And we keep meeting, thankfully, a bunch of colleges and universities who believe there’s an and to that you can actually do Chaucer and actually have a career on the back end. It’s an and it does not have to be an orange. And so what we will do is continue to partner with institutions that are deeply committed to seeing more of our country’s young people from humble beginnings come out and reach the american middle class dream or whatever it is, the american dream in their sense of the word. And we will keep doing that again and again. And what we’ve had the great privilege of is that the institutions that we’ve worked with, and I think some of them, like San Jose State or Rutgers Newark, we’ve been workout since the very beginning, were just, they say to us, Braven’s the real deal about this partnership piece. Like, you all are always in partnership with us when things aren’t going well. If we’re giving each other feedback to get better. And so what that has led to, for example, at Rutgers Newark, a school that has about 9000 undergrads in it, is that they have decided that every single one of their sophomores should have Braven in their shopping cart and have to opt out. Every. They are going to put a thousand transfers juniors into the braven experience come the fall, and they will have to opt out of it, they would say. We have seen for ourselves that this organization, in partnership with our career services, in partnership with our deans and faculty, in partnership with us, actually does catapult a student into a career or into graduate school at just a fundamentally different level than we could on our own. And so what I think we will see is more schools making that kind of a choice, like a records new or like a Spelman college. That said, every single sophomore at Spelman, this is going to be a part of their Spelman experience. Every single sophomore at Delaware State, this is a part of their experience. I think we’re just going to see more and more schools make us a large scale partnership as we go forward. But we will only work with schools that have that kind of like leadership through and through. Because I look at, I believe teachers are leaders. I was a teacher. I believe I led my classroom every day. I believe faculty are leaders, deans are leaders. Of course, presidents and chancellors are leaders. But that has that kind of leadership conviction around the ability to have a high impact practice within higher education that actually has an ROI for, honestly, their school because they’ll retain more students. 91% of Braden students actually come out on time. And that is simply because I believe purpose drives persistence. But also it’s going to have an ROI for their alums and for their alums and then cycle back and be leadership coaches and donors to their colleges, et cetera, and just show, improve what is possible when young people really have equity and access to a high impact practice that can really scale.

Jonathan DeYoe
34:39 – 34:42
I mean, that’s closing the systematic loop.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
34:42 – 34:42

Jonathan DeYoe
34:42 – 35:09
The systems loop, right. Which is very. So I’m curious, have you, so students graduate more, they graduate more into higher paying jobs. They close the gap between the full dollar. Have you also looked at the data about how that then affects, because I’m curious about this personally. Wealth gap. So there’s an income gap, but the income gap actually creates the wealth gap and exacerbates over time. So have you done the data analysis on how this affects the wealth gap?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
35:09 – 38:23
Yeah, it’s a great question. I would say this is where braven is still somewhat young as an organization. So this is what’s interesting is some of our very first fellows are now, like, getting towards, like, mid career. So it’s been interesting where we have a very special relationship with LinkedIn, where we’re able to actually kind of, we’re able to track our students through LinkedIn over time. And we’re about to get into a very exciting research study with an economist named Raj Chetty from Opportunity insights and where he’s going to be able to help us really think about this longitudinal thing. So we have data that we can see that we think is proving the you get students out strong, earning that full dollar. The ripple effect of that is absolutely promotion. So braven is an economic mobility nonprofit. I like to say there are other nonprofits that I totally believe in that are about economic stability. Those are two different things, actually. We really want to see more of this group of young people be able to earn more over time, to be able to. There is no way that the black wealth gap in this country shrinks if Spelman women, regardless, actually of income background, are coming out earning fifty cents to white men. You cannot actually have a serious conversation in this country about the black wealth gap if the number one HBCU in the country has students coming out under earning their peers at other institutions. And so what we’ve seen, anecdotally is that our students actually are getting promoted quicker out there in the world of work. But we also now have students like Dylan Bramble Brown, where it’s just really interesting. I mean, he came into our Rutgers, New York site, so that would have been eight years ago. Transfer student had a rocky start to college, even questioned like, should he stay in? Comes into the brave and experience. We start saying, Dylan, what do you want to do? You’re like, awesome, you’re bright. What are you going to do? I don’t know what I want to do. But, you know, I’ve been thinking about being a lawyer because I’m from an immigrant family and I’ve been helping my parents forever with all their paperwork and all the things in their world, and I think I should go into being a lawyer. And then he started to say, we started saying, okay, cool, well, do you know how to law school? Like, let’s get brass tacks about that. And we did. And then we started saying, well, Donald, where might you go when he starts giving us schools that he’s thinking about? Those are great schools. And you know what? You might also think about this other set of schools as well. Throw your hat in the ring, see what happens. He gets into Georgetown. He talks about making the decision to go to Georgetown and he’s like, I was like the only person there. Most people at Georgetown, I’m gonna get this number wrong, but it is something as high as like 85% of them, 90% of them were actually full pay at Georgetown. He was not. Then he was like, that was a moment, right, where it’s like, wow, like people’s parents or fail or somebody can help you. Full pay. That is not me. But he goes to Georgetown, does incredibly well there, is now working at Lathan Watkins in New York city. I mean, he must be making quadruple what his parents make. And so when you know that Dylan exists and then we have many, many, many Dylan’s that we are able to see and stay in touch with and honestly, they come back and volunteer, which is like super fun as well. We do believe that we are going to watch with the group of students who we’re working with and we’ve worked with be able to shrink the wealth gap in comparison to other young people like them.

Jonathan DeYoe
38:23 – 38:37
That’s. It just sounds so exciting. It seems like this has been going on. The gap has gotten better and then worse and better, but it’s never. The gap is just, it’s consistent. I hope this, the data you get from Ross Chetty and that, and then the continued work you guys are doing. But we all hope it does. Right.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
38:37 – 39:39
Well, I mean, one of the reasons, I mean, this is on the financial side, and I know, you know, this is that certain types of jobs also open you up to the 401k. Yeah. And that is one of the most important engines of economic mobility if you, especially if you’re coming from a lower income background. And that is something that we do talk to the students about, post the course and actually factors into something being a strong first job is actually. Is there an engine? Basically four hundred one k a, four hundred three b, whatever it is that you can actually not only put your own money into, but your company’s going to put money into that over time. The markets usually are in all of our favorites. I know sometimes they’re bad market days, etcetera. But many of our students, and this is actually from my own personal background to this day, my parents did not have a 401k. They did not at all have any instrument like that. Neither did my husband’s parents. They were like money under the mattress people. Right. And so I think we just don’t understand the upside of also certain industries and certain jobs and certain companies for literally building passive wealth as well.

Jonathan DeYoe
39:39 – 40:15
I wasn’t going to go down this path, but you just said something that makes me want to go down this path really quick. Of the students first and family, and you said the money under the mattress people. So I’ve read, I don’t have this experience. My parents both had 403 B’s, 401K type things. But I’ve read recently that there’s a mistrust of institutions. So that when you have the 401K, you’re like, I’m not going to put my money in the 401K because I can’t get it out. And there’s a bunch of rules. I don’t understand the rules. So is there an educational process that you guys are offering within braven or with a braven partner to say, you’ve got to do this, you graduate, and this is really, really important? This is how you bridge that wealth gap?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
40:15 – 42:15
That’s right. We can never make a student. They’re grown people do things. We can give them knowledge, though, that actually helps them understand this important aspect. And so we don’t really do it while they’re in the course, other than making sure they understand these dynamics of what makes a strong course job. So the 401K is absolutely a part of it. So we actually talk to them about it in the course and say, this is why you should consider this. After the course, we actually are beginning to do far more on this. Like, seriously, this is why you want this kind of wealth engine, and this is how you want to use this wealth engine. Here’s another dynamic that I think Raven has the absolute pleasure of being able to start really thinking through, that I think a lot of people miss about low income young people. When you start making money, it is impossible to say that you are not going to contribute into your household some way. Most of the time, maybe not all the time, but most of the time. And so one of the things that I think we’re able to do is have these cohorts of people who are also having the same experience about how do I make sure that I am planning for my tomorrow, for my own family while still helping my family today. And I don’t think many people understand how complicated that journey is to walk. And so that’s the other thing that we’re beginning to see that we are doing and that we probably want to do a bit more of is actually this group of young people who is actually honestly beginning to earn money. And you just heard me say 76% of them earn more than where their parents starting places. Like, how do you balance this very careful dynamic of your parents have absolutely done everything for you, as you heard me say, like, bought buildings, walked on like, roofs, looked at the floor beneath them, talked about work all day, every day to get you into, like, school and keep you going. Your answer to them when there is still need and that family cannot be. No, but it has to be. And how do you also make sure that you are building for your tomorrow, for your children as well?

Jonathan DeYoe
42:16 – 42:31
So I could keep going. I’m actually editing things out because I have other things to ask. But I’m editing, and we’re getting close to time, and I want to honor that time. So just before we wrap up, I want to go back to personal a little bit, and I always do this. I hope you listen to an episode so you’re a little bit prepared. So what was the last thing you changed your mind about?

Aimée Eubanks Davis
42:31 – 43:58
Oh, my gosh. I feel like in my role, I changed my mind about a lot of things. And that’s because there is an incredible diverse team at Braven, not all of whom, but many of whom share the backgrounds of our students and those who do not believe that this is a country in which we’ve said the access to opportunity for all should be true. Like, should not be a fictional thing based on your zip code. It should be absolutely true. And so I would say just this morning, I changed my mind on whether or not we have been doing enough to communicate, for example, on how Braven is actually using AI to enhance the experience for our students. So I was kind of making the case like, no, I think we’re doing this well, and all the things and whatever, blah, blah. And then I was on the phone with one of our executive directors, who’s like, our executive director of the Bay Area, who was like, no, we are not. And let me just tell you why, given where I sit. And I was like, that is a really good point. We need to make sure that we are really thinking deliberately internally and externally in a very careful environment, because we will never run faster than one of our schools in terms of their comfort level with how AI gets used. But we do have the ability, because of the large technology platform that our students feed into, to make sure that it is, and it is actually the most current way of being able to deliver to students in a personalized way. And so I would say, you know, just an hour and a half ago, I changed my mind about whether or not we were doing a good job in terms of the communication inside, in terms of what we’re doing, but also the communication externally to our school partners, to our employer partners, to our donor partners, et cetera.

Jonathan DeYoe
43:59 – 44:05
Wow. Second and sort of final personal thing is what would constitute a perfect day for you.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
44:05 – 45:30
Yeah. It’s so interesting to have this question because I would say goes back to my own childhood. I do think I’ve been so lucky to be able to match my personal with my professional, like, passions. And so the perfect day for me if, like, truly, like, time and money wasn’t a thing, would be to first be with my children and my larger Chicago family in some kind of a winter sporting activity like downhill skiing. I have some funny stories about how I became a downhill skier growing up in the black church on the south side and then getting to ski slopes with, like, cotton mittens on and jeans and being frozen stiff and then being like, but this is so fun. And so it’s not an activity that you usually see, honestly, a lot of black people do, but I love doing that with my family from these climates and my kids in particular. But then I would do work a full day at Braden and do the work that we do, and then I would end the day absolutely at the corner of Canal street in New Orleans as the Endymion parade rolls by at night in front of a bank that is actually a banking partner of ours. It’s a community based black bank, one of the largest in the country, called Liberty catching beads in the night parade for Mardi Gras. Because my husband’s from New Orleans. New Orleans is a very unique in special community because that’s where I taught, but also where he’s from. But basically being able to do the thing that I love, which is meld my personal passions with my professional passion.

Jonathan DeYoe
45:31 – 45:35
That’s a beautiful answer. Put it all together. The other thing that has to be no object is travel time.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
45:35 – 45:55
Exactly. That would be none of it. Like, I have all the money. I can, like, zoom or, you know, like, literally through transport an airplane or otherwise to, you know, multiple different climates and still work a full day at brave in. But be it these communities that I dearly love and that have really nourished and supported me and where I am today and why braven even exists.

Jonathan DeYoe
45:56 – 46:01
I just want to say thanks for coming on. You know, all this stuff you, the show notes, tell people how they can contact you.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
46:01 – 46:33
Yeah. So it’s really easy. Just go to braven.com or bebraven.com, and we are all super accessible there. And my big thing is, you know, volunteer. Like, bottom line, one person can truly make the difference in one person’s life, to become economically mobile and on their journey, and to realizing their american dream. And so I always hope that people consider whether that’s a big volunteering activity, like being a leadership coach with us for a semester, or a smaller one where you’re a two hour mock interviewer. It all matters.

Jonathan DeYoe
46:33 – 46:35
Thanks so much. I really appreciate you coming on me.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
46:35 – 46:38
Sure thing. Thank you so much for having me. Jonathan.

46:47 – 47:14
Thanks for listening. Full show notes for each episode, which includes a summary, key takeaways, quotes, and any resources mentioned, are available at mindful money. Be sure to follow and subscribe wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, and if you’re enjoying the content and getting value from these episodes, please leave us a rating and review at Rate this podcast.com mindfulmoney. We’ll be sure to read those out on future episodes.

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