Rashal Bilal and Troy Millings sat on a blue leather couch in a swanky tapas lounge in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hills neighborhood. Famed Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz, who owns the place, sat across them as a female bartender walked over with their drinks.
Around them, a swarm of camera crews, producers, and bar staff hastily moved into position to record a casual conversation with 2 Chainz about his journey from rapper to entrepreneur.
“Talk about being in business for seven years …,” Millings said. “What are some of the lessons you’ve learned?”
“It’s a constant roller coaster,” said 2 Chainz, who later noted that Esco Restaurant and Tapas Lounge had grown to a franchise. “This is a day-by-day business when you think about ordering food, liquor vendors, liquor promoters, there’s just a lot that goes into running a successful business.”
Their conversation is part of a well-known series of interviews that Bilal and Millings host through their educational platform, “Earn Your Leisure.” The lifelong friends say they are on a quest to educate Black Americans on financial literacy, using social media, a podcast, and a YouTube series providing information on investing, real estate, budgeting, entrepreneurship and trends in the financial world.
Part of their strategy, they say, is inviting Black entertainers, artists, business owners, investors, and millionaires to “Earn Your Leisure” platforms and talk about their journey to success. And it appears to be working.
Since launching in 2019, Bilal and Millings have garnered some 1.3 million followers on Instagram and another 1.28 million subscribers on YouTube. They will host their third annual festival, Invest Fest, in Atlanta this August, which has grown from 4,500 to an anticipated 22,000 people this year. Sean “Diddy” Combs and billionaire businessman and philanthropist Robert F. Smith will headline this year’s festival.
Millings, 41, said he believes education – including the work “Earn Your Leisure” does – is critical to closing the nation’s racial wealth gap.
According to the Brookings Institute, the median wealth of a White household is $188,200, which is 7.8 times more than the average Black household of $24,100. In 2019, the homeownership rate for White Americans was about 73% compared with 42% for Black Americans.
Bilal, 39, said there are systemic issues that have set Black families behind.
“I think it’s obvious, you can start from slavery … redlining, racial discrimination in education, mass incarceration, drug epidemic, all of these things have disproportionately impacted Black people,” Bilal said in an interview with CNN. “You have to address the past if you want to look forward to the future. There’s been no remedy for the things those issues have caused.”
‘A new age of learning’
Bilal and Millings’ journey to building a financial literacy platform started with a childhood friendship. They both grew up in the close-knit town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, New York, and first met as middle schoolers. Millings said they played basketball together and were both picked to be extras in the 1996 film “Eddie.” They would later choose different career paths: Millings started teaching middle school physical education in the Bronx and Bilal became a financial adviser.
“We’ve gone from boys to young men to adults to fathers,” Millings said. “We’ve seen all those aspects of life with each other.”
In 2016, Millings, who had hired Bilal as his personal financial adviser, said he asked him for help developing a financial literacy component to a six-week summer internship program for teens in Greenburgh that Millings was leading.
For Millings, providing students with information that would be useful in their future was “fulfilling” and revealing. He felt he had a bigger purpose outside of the classroom and wanted the lessons on financial literacy to reach a broader audience.
So he partnered with Bilal – who was already posting videos about stock market trends and celebrity brand deals to his 50,000 Instagram followers – to form “Earn Your Leisure.”
The pair began recording a podcast show about finance topics available on YouTube, Apple, and Spotify and shared on social media. Show guests have included Ice Cube, Steve Harvey, mortgage industry guru Matthew Garland and Brooklyn Chop House owner Don Pooh.
The episode with 2 Chainz, hosted in partnership with Revolt TV as part of their series “Assets Over Liabilities,” is set to air in July.
Bilal and Millings agree that money and financial literacy have not been talked about enough in the Black community.
“There is a lack of understanding, a lack of education, a lack of representation,” Bilal said. “We try to highlight people that people can identify with as far as representation. I feel it’s a new age of learning that people haven’t been used to previously.”
Millings said he believes financial education has historically been kept out of Black communities because it’s easier to take advantage of people when they don’t have knowledge. And if more people understood the keys to wealth and entrepreneurship, that would shrink the labor force, he said.
Millings said he hopes “Earn Your Leisure” can change the mindset of Black Americans.
“You have people who aspire to be the CEO, but nobody tells you that you can be the owner,” Millings said.
He added, “Nobody ever teaches you about taxes, nobody ever teaches you about real estate but you’re going to have a home at one point and you’re going to pay taxes. But nobody is telling you about that.”
Since launching their platform, Bilal and Millings have earned the trust of their followers with some saying they appreciate the financial tips.
Laura Closure, a film industry consultant who has been following “Earn Your Leisure” for the last three years, said Millings and Bilal caught her attention because they are genuine and relatable. Closure, of Los Angeles, said she enjoys learning from them and other Black celebrities who came from poverty or working-class families and worked hard to build wealth.
“It’s good to see people that are like me that come from where I come from to teach me about financial literacy,” Closure said. “They are teaching you how to better your life. It’s refreshing.”
Teaching financial literacy in school
After four years of running their successful digital and social media platform, Millings and Bilal said they still see a financial education void in Black and brown schools.
They are currently working with New York City Public Schools to introduce a financial literacy class that will be offered as an elective. Millings said he hopes a pilot course can be rolled out at a few schools this fall and expand throughout the district next year. In the long term, Millings said he wants the financial literacy curriculum to be a state and federal mandate for the education system.
Young adults, Millings said, are coming out of high school and college and having to make major financial decisions, including borrowing and paying off student loans and establishing credit. Financial education is critical at those stages, he said.
“What if young adults got that information at a younger age?” Millings said. “How much further along could they be?”