You have what it takes. For a long time, I’ve wanted more than anything to make a career out of fitness, and this desire grew especially deep in spring/summer 2018. I wanted at that point to become a digital influencer and thus sought the expertise of women in the fitness industry to figure out what I needed to do to follow suit, and in talking to them, it dawned on me that I really didn’t need to go through any formal procedure. I kid you not, I heard an inner voice clear as day reassure me, “You have what it takes”, so I followed that and though I put fitness on the backburner professionally following that period, that ultimately led me in a different direction, which was forming my first venture, The English Major Takes Tech.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Briana Franklin.
Briana “Bri” Franklin is a businesswoman and philanthropist on a mission to eradicate the 1.6T dollars+ student debt crisis. Upon graduating with a whopping 115,000 dollars in student loans, she experienced the challenges of grappling with the exorbitant monthly payments which were further escalated through lack of success in securing well-paying, full-time work and ultimately, having to abandon her previous entrepreneurial pursuits. Through The Prosp(a)rity Project, she takes immense pride in crafting the solution that will provide Black girls/women in the U.S. with the resources to achieve higher rates of success all the while putting an end to the threat of student debt.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My pleasure, and thanks for the platform!
My journey to founding The Prosp(a)rity Project started well before I was in the position to bring it to life. The pieces began forming the moment I went off to college since over the course of those four years, I tinkered off-and-on with the idea of entrepreneurship and identified a desire to help Black women specifically.
Post-graduation, I was met with an incredibly unconventional work trajectory that looked nothing like that of my investment banking, consulting and MBA-bound peers. As my circumstances would have it, I would go on to undertake a series of contract/temp positions over my first year-and-half into the workforce, attempt to teach English in China (which only lasted a month due to the program falling through), start my first venture, The English Major Takes Tech, then pivot into the health/wellness/fitness industry via part-time jobs at Athleta and OrangeTheory Fitness in late 2019.
I continued on with the latter upon relocating from my native Atlanta to the San Francisco Bay Area in January 2020, which lasted a cool 2 months before everything went left due to COVID-19, so from March to June of last year, I used that time of uncertainty to reevaluate where I wanted to go professionally and began picking up the pieces to move forward.
That process experienced a massive uptick the moment June hit, when the BLM movement exploded following the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery & George Floyd, as it dawned on me that that was the perfect time to put my entrepreneurial background, experiences with adversity fueled by misogynoir (sexism x racism) and desire to simply help others to work.
So, those first few days, I ran a survey to gather first-hand information about financial and professional disparity, in which I collected over 1,000 responses, and after seeing the disproportionate inequalities faced by Black women, specifically, used that data as basis for forming The Prosp(a)rity Project.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Hands down, the most interesting part of this is the identity that doing this work has caused me to take on in the eyes of others. I’ve been very vocal about the student debt crisis for about 2 years now, but at no point did I ever consider myself an authority on the subject (which is why this interview in particular is so significant to me!)
So it was astonishing to all of a sudden be regarded and referred to by others as a “student loan/debt crisis expert” when people would introduce me during interviews/virtual events and even in regular conversation. It’s been unbelievably rewarding that people trust in me so deeply to lead the way on this front.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
An experience that will always live in infamy in my mind from the early days of starting The Prosp(a)rity Project is our quest for 501(c)(3) status. To be fully transparent, I had no intention ever of working in the nonprofit space, let alone forming one, so it wasn’t until the organization and our first initiative, the EEI (Economic Empowerment Initiative) began taking shape that I realized going that route was the right approach.
Once I did put two and two together, I then set my sights on making things official by obtaining 501(c)(3) status, and because the only business formation expertise I had to lean on was that of establishing my first venture, The English Major Takes Tech, which was an LLC, I (very falsely) presumed that this process would be just as straightforward and that we’d get 501(c)(3) approved within a few days or a month tops.
I then learned that the typical turnaround is closer to 6 months — and that’s under non-pandemic circumstances — so for us, it would likely be closer to 9–12. Definitely was a tough pill to swallow.
Thankfully, we ended up finding a viable solution for the interim through a fiscal sponsorship, which allows us to legally operate with 501(c)(3) status while awaiting independent designation. Lesson learned was seek out and talk with experts early and often!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We’re addressing the 1.6Tdollars student debt crisis by way of our signature program, the Economic Empowerment Initiative (EEI.) Through this effort, we’re eradicating the 35B dollars in student loan debt Black women hold collectively and providing them with personalized financial/career guidance to optimally position them to build higher rates of generational wealth & generosity.
Most solutions that involve clearing student debt either stop there, take 10+ years (read: federal REPAYE programs and the like), are sporadic, or barely make a dent in an individual’s debt load. As a Black woman who graduated with upwards of 115K dollars in student debt, I’ve paid close attention to efforts like these over the years (mostly in hopes of lucking out as a recipient) and been disappointed to see they fall short in the ways mentioned.
So, when I and two of my co-founders sat down to configure our approach, our now Chief Programming Officer, Cori, brilliantly suggested that we tack on the financial coaching element to the EEI, and in the months that followed, all signs pointed to bringing on career guides/mentors as well, which rounded things out beautifully!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We’re actually at the onset of working with our Prosperettes (beneficiaries) and therefore don’t have any before-and-after case studies (yet!), but we’ve been in constant conversation with all 22 since they applied to our program last July and are thrilled to have accepted them all into our inaugural cohort last month.
One of our cohort members carries a student debt load of nearly 300K dollars as a result of obtaining a degree in pharmaceutical studies, but believe it or not, has dreams of opening a bakery. When I learned of that in our last conversation, it was the purest thing to me. She has a young son, and needless to say, has had to sacrifice a lot to keep things afloat for the two of them, so hearing stories like hers fuels me daily to keep taking the action needed to make sure she and the others can put this burden behind them for good and become their most successful, impactful selves.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I just want to say how much I love the language used in this question since the very essence of who I am as a person is addressing issues at their core and not simply putting band-aids on metaphorical broken bones, as tends to be the status quo.
To that end: yes, very much so! Those action items would be:
- Do your part to put out the flames of those actively on fire — aka up to their eyebrows in student loan repayments! If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position where you’re not affected by this crisis, consider using that advantage to help others by allocating your resources to organizations like ours that put funds directly to work to help individuals with real need.
- Adapt an outcome-based mindset, rather than the much more common default of process-based thinking. The latter is exactly what landed us in this 1.6T dollars nightmare. So many young people, especially those in the Black community, are terrified of exploring alternatives to traditional 4-year degrees out of fearing backlash from parents and relatives. The facts are, a Bachelor’s is not the guarantee for professional success it used to be in previous generations, and with there continuing to be no accountability measures in place either for institutions or lenders to cap tuition/loan amounts, respectively, these prices continue to soar and disproportionally penalize Black/minority borrowers. We must stop pressuring our kids to go the traditional route if they truly don’t feel it’s in their best interest, and instead, start encouraging them to consider whether a degree at the end of those four years will be a net positive or net negative. We live in a world that’s far too technologically advanced for us to keep treating colleges as the gatekeepers of all educational resources. Currently, the crisis is on track to hit 17T dollars by 2030, which is now less than a decade away, and the only chance we stand of evading that horrific fate will be empowering our youth in these ways and ensuring they know how to make sound financial decisions from an early age.
- Use your voice. Another thing I commonly see is people being afraid to speak out about their student debt situation because they’ve been told that doing so is biting the hand that feeds them. I say that’s BS because at the end of the day, you’re the one responsible for making the payments, and it’s your livelihood that’s affected. So by all means, turn up the volume and share that experience with as many people who will listen because there’s too much at stake for us not to make this behavior the norm. People are delaying marriage, living with family into their late 20s, 30s and beyond and even missing out on their childbearing years because of student debt, which to me signals that this system as it stands is tragically broken. The more people call it out and bring it to the attention of those in a position to help, the sooner we can rebuild it for the better.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I see leadership as stepping up to execute a call to action and creating new opportunities for others along the way.
I’ve worked in nearly a dozen environments and seen leadership at all levels — from retail managers to department directors to CEOs. Every time, I could tell who was a leader by nature and by force.
Natural leadership entails inspiring and motivating people to follow your guidance to achieving a greater good, whereas leadership by force is nothing but intimidation and manipulation, driven by inferiority complex and the need to impress or seem powerful to others.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Create your own buzz. This was the catchphrase I came up with shortly after graduating from college. I had two job opportunities on the table: one with the City of Atlanta in the aviation division and the other with a small, local PR firm. The former was arranged by a family member who along with a few other relatives/family friends spent his entire career in the public sector and was well-known by everyone throughout. It paid 50K dollars/year, would’ve been incredibly easy-going, albeit not at all in line with my areas of interest as a writer and was pretty much mine from the start — all I had to do was confirm the offer. The other paid far less at 15 dollars/hour, came with no benefits, and involved working for a really intense boss, but entailed plenty of opportunities for putting my English major chops to heavy use.I made a few people quite upset by walking away from the security and certainty the aviation role provided, but what kept me going was knowing that I was pursuing the path that was right for me and not relying on the “buzz” of someone else to move me ahead in life.
- You have what it takes. For a long time, I’ve wanted more than anything to make a career out of fitness, and this desire grew especially deep in spring/summer 2018. I wanted at that point to become a digital influencer and thus sought the expertise of women in the fitness industry to figure out what I needed to do to follow suit, and in talking to them, it dawned on me that I really didn’t need to go through any formal procedure. I kid you not, I heard an inner voice clear as day reassure me, “You have what it takes”, so I followed that and though I put fitness on the backburner professionally following that period, that ultimately led me in a different direction, which was forming my first venture, The English Major Takes Tech.
- Be intentional in all you say and do. From the moment I declared English as my major, I was hounded by relatives and strangers alike whenever it came up in conversation, with curious and in most cases skeptical minds wondering, “What are you going to do with that — teach kindergarten?” Politely and patiently, I’d always reply nay, making sure to mention that I have nothing but respect for teachers, as I come from a long line of educators on both sides of my family, but that I just didn’t see myself going that route. Yet, that seemed to only buy me about a month or two before the question would resurface. So in late summer 2018, my grandparents shared with me an opportunity to do just that, as they were housing a foreign exchange student from China who was seeking American talent to sign on for the forthcoming school year. Exhausted from going around and around about how teaching English wasn’t of interest and also dismayed at lack of other viable job prospects, I conceded and thought, “It’s what everyone expects of me anyway. May as well.” After about 3 months and boatloads of paperwork, both I and my partner embarked upon our journey to ZhengZhou, for what was supposed to be a minimum of 12 months, but ended up being just one, since the program quickly revealed itself to be a sham. While it was wonderful having been able to travel together internationally for the first time, it was such an off-base move that I deep down knew from the beginning was somewhat of a mistake, and I resolved that that would be the last time I’d passively go through life without a concrete, targeted plan.
- Don’t use facades; be authentic. After China, I came back ready to dive completely into TEMTT, which as mentioned, was my first foray into entrepreneurship. I started it with limited knowledge of tech but was driven to sell myself as a trustworthy source, so I started creating video content in which I’d discuss a relevant topic or happening in the industry. It started smoothly since the first few clips were me simply telling my story of how I gained interest in tech, despite having a background in English Literature, but I struggled to keep material coming because once the pieces of my actual experiences had all been shared, I was taking stabs in the dark to produce more material, and the quality deteriorated significantly until the content ran its course completely just 3 months in.
- Your quest for validation is wasted energy. I’ve learned this one on multiple occasions, with a particularly memorable instance occurring around a week or two into forming The Prosp(a)rity Project. Like with everything, I started out as a complete newbie with zero prior nonprofit experience under my belt and therefore took all developments as they came to me. For some added background, what put me on the road to forming TPP was making contact with a former longtime idol of mine, whose work I’d followed for 10 years. After catching one of her Instagram stories about seeking to bring more Black female talent onto her team, I put in a bid which surprisingly was met with interest, so believe it or not, this whole organization started as an effort to pitch to her. But, as the data came in and I started connecting the dots in a broader sense, I gradually began moving further in the direction of going “independent” and opting for Prosp(a)rity overworking for her. I turned to two trusted sources in hopes of getting clarity on which route to choose, expecting to be told to trust my gut or encouraged to keep going, given they themselves were Black women, and was extremely disappointed to hear both try to dissuade me from moving forward with the organization.
The general consensus was that my focus need not be on building a startup, but rather getting my foot in the door [with the influencer] and helping her stay “on trend” in my prospective role on her team.
I was super bummed to hear these two figures whom I’d respected and admired greatly discouraging me from pursuing a solution that would help so many others, but I refused to play it safe and tuned out this advice, which was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Two words: Generational generosity! Leading The Prosp(a)rity Project has undoubtedly been a quest to empower Black girls/women with tools to thrive, which we’ve been equating mostly to financial freedom and the creation of wealth, but over the past few weeks, a few headlines caught my eye that led me to step back and reflect.
The first pertained to MacKenzie Scott and discussed her ongoing benevolence by awarding large sums to money to Black-owned/oriented institutions with no strings attached, while the other was a deep dive into the generational culture shift taking place among America’s wealthy, highlighting the millennial heirs and heiresses who have no interest in preserving their parents’ billion-dollar fortunes and instead are actively seeking to reallocate that capital for philanthropic purposes.
What jumped out at me while reading both was the theme of boundless generosity since we’re used to hearing about the ultra-wealthy being fierce gatekeepers of their riches/resources and in other words, stingy.
And I compared that with the rhetoric frequently used by opponents of student debt forgiveness, who say things like, “That’s not fair! I already paid my student debt off, so why should these people be let off the hook?!” or “I had to struggle and barely get by, so you should too!” and thought, Generosity is our only hope for moving forward.
That said, giving freely without expectation of being paid back but instead, using your blessings to pay it forward for others is something our programming and infrastructure heavily reinforces. After our Prosperettes receive 100% student debt relief and financial/career coaching from our EEI, we don’t ask for anything in return except that they pay their newfound financial freedom forward by sponsoring/mentoring a future Prosperette, or volunteering with our organization.
From this new precedent, we hope this idea catches fire and becomes the new norm for the next generations, since when we finally stop making our own benefit the sole focus and start envisioning how helping others generates ongoing benefit for society, we can accomplish more in a shorter timeframe, and it becomes a self-perpetuating, beautiful domino effect.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m of course a wordsmith, so I’m always clinging to new phrases and memorable teachings at the drop of a hat. But, if there’s one life lesson quote that I’d have to say is my favorite, it’d be, “You deserve whatever you’re willing to work for.”
In today’s instant generation, it’s especially easy to fall into the entitlement trap and feel as though we have the right to whatever it is we desire just because we see xyz object/experience posted all over the internet by celebrities and our peers, but life as I see it is a series of work and reward cycles, and I truly believe that it’s up to us to earn whatever it is we want by working both hard and intentionally/strategically.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Robyn Rihanna Fenty (better known as Rihanna!) She’s everything to me, and I actually have aspirations of one day being mentored by her. I read a fantastic article at the top of last year about how she took her financial situation from being on the decline at the beginning of the 2010s to topping Forbes Richest Self-Made Women’s list by the end of the decade as a result of building her Fenty brand empires.
That story drove my admiration for her up even further, since we often hear about celebrities who hit rough patches and start spiraling because they feel as though because they’ve already made such a big name for themselves, they’re exempt from having to work hard ever again. In her case, she put her nose back to the grindstone and turned roughly 2–3 million dollars into a nine-figure enterprise in just 8 years, which needless to say I find hugely motivational.
Moreover, I’d say she’s been one of the biggest influences on my life, since I admittedly knew and cared absolutely nothing about make up before she launched Fenty Beauty, and it was that line of products that won me completely over because of the unapologetic focus on inclusivity and putting more Black women (especially those with darker skin) at the forefront of her campaigns and tailoring all of her products to meet their needs.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My personal handles are @justb.frank (Instagram), @brianabfranklin (Twitter) and Briana B. Franklin on LinkedIn.
To keep up with all things Prosp(a)rity, we’re @theprosparityproject on IG, @prosparityproj on Twitter and The Prosp(a)rity Project on LinkedIn/Facebook. (Our site is https://theprosparityproject.org!)
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Right back at you! This was such a fun set of questions to answer, and I truly appreciate you extending to me the Authority Magazine platform.