Restoring Generational Wealth through Education and Empowerment

Woman standing and holding books
By Toni Critelli

For St. John’s University alumna Ebony (Rentas) Beckford ’03CPS, founder of Fin Lit Kids, self-reflection and finding a community through her darkest days as a student helped her to ultimately achieve the success she enjoys today.

Tragic Beginning

After losing her sister—and then less than two years later losing her mother after a short battle with cancer— Ebony, 18, was left with a deep feeling of desolation and minimal resources to navigate life.

“When my mom passed, that is really when my world turned upside down,” she said. “My brother and I had to quickly learn many adult things, like managing finances that we weren’t prepared for. We kept moving forward; I knew immediately that I would have to pause on grieving my mother and deal with reality.”

Her First Job

Determined and driven, Ebony went on to complete two years of college in Boston, MA—and soon after, landed a temporary job at a financial investment company back in her hometown of New York City. However, she soon faced another hurdle.

“I will never forget this moment,” she recalled. “My boss sat down with me one day and said the only way I could get hired and no longer be a temporary worker was to further my education.”

Ebony, hesitant at first—with minimal finances and much-unprocessed grief—made the decision to start searching for colleges.

“I learned about St. John’s University, and little did I realize the journey on which I would embark.”

Finding Herself through the St. John’s Community

While earning a bachelor’s degree in communication arts at St. John’s College of Professional Studies (now called The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies), Ebony was living in the Bronx, commuting and attending classes at the University’s Queens, NY, campus during the day, and working in Manhattan at night. In addition, she was taking care of her nieces and nephews on the weekends.

St. John's University front gate with students walking on/off campus

“Between commuting, working, and studying for classes, there was very little time for me to have a social life,” she recalled. “And on top of that, I was still dealing with the big, unsettled trauma of losing my mom and sister. I had much anxiety in my early days at St. John’s. The memories were very blurry for me for a long time.”

Yet, through all the dark days at the University, which included the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September of 2001, the St. John’s community was Ebony’s light.

“I ended up losing my job due to layoffs a year after 9/11,” she said. “It was not an easy time.  However, through the St. John’s community, I could rebuild myself, find my voice again, and have the strength to complete my degree.” 

Ebony formed many friendships during her time at the University and recalled that her theology professor had a profound impact. “Our professor asked us to read about the synoptic Gospels. I had never taken an interest in reading the Bible until then. It really shaped how I thought about the world and taught me to be open to others’ perspectives.”

Ebony’s Self-Reflection Before Motherhood

Years after dealing with her grief, Ebony was ready to start a family of her own and share her story. During her pregnancy with her daughter, Madison, Ebony reflected on the experiences leading her to become the strong, independent woman of color that she is today.

“When my mother died, I had to experience adulthood on my own, which was terrifying,” she explained. “I wanted to have my daughter enter a world where she could be a strong, independent woman with the skills and tools to navigate life.” 

women standing and holding 2 books

Ebony’s Entrepreneurial Journey

In 2020 Ebony wrote the children’s book Madison’s 1st Dollar, which introduces the basic financial concepts of saving, investing, donating, and buying power.

“Research shows that kids begin to understand that money has a value between the ages of two to three years old, and the habits that inform their decisions happen around seven,” explained Ebony. “I never want my daughter to experience the struggles with money management I went through at 18.”

Ebony instantly received positive feedback from friends and family. Soon after, she started her own company, Fin Lit Kids, to restore generational wealth, especially in communities of color.

“As a black and Puerto Rican woman, I feel very connected to my roots,” she said. “I want to have an impact on the success of not only my daughter but other kids who look like her.”

She went on to create her second product, the money box, an interactive learning experience filled with fun and engaging games and activities—all designed to promote critical thinking in children. 

Fin Lit kids money box featuring toys that teach financial literacy

Breaking the Cycle and Empowering the Next Generation  

According to The Road to Zero Wealth, a report published by Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies, “The median wealth of African Americans will fall to zero by 2053 if the racial wealth divide is left unaddressed; median wealth for Latinx households is projected to hit zero 20 years later.”

“It all starts at home,” Ebony said.

“As parents, we are our children’s first teachers, and the school is their assistant. Your choice of actions and attitude have consequences and shape how children respond to the world. You cannot rely solely on the educational system to guide children through life. I hold this sentiment close to me as a mother.”

Young woman holding her child
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When asked why her Fin Lit Kids tagline uses the words “restore generational wealth” versus “building,” Ebony explained, “I was very intentional in my choice of the word ‘restoring’ instead of ‘building.’ Communities of color come from a rich history and culture that we can draw upon. We can leverage our networks and lean to our cultural traditions and community institutions to create sustainable economic growth."

A Bright Future Awaits

After a recent business feature on NBC News New York and being awarded a $10,000 grant funded by UPS Ignite, Ebony is excited about the future of Fin Lit Kids.

“What is on our website right now is probably only one percent of what is waiting to be launched,” she said. “My first book, Madison’s 1st Dollar, is part of a four-part book series, and I am excited to roll out the second book this April. The book, Madison’s First Budget, will include two new characters who help Madison develop her first budget.”

Ebony added, “I believe the content provides positive messaging that can be valuable for both children and adults. Be sure to follow our Instagram for more updates.”  

Young female professional

Toni Critelli

Digital Content Creator

Toni Critelli is a full-time staff writer for Johnnie's Blog. Through engaging content, she captures the essence of the institution, its students, faculty, and alums.