Even with the political and social gains made in recent decades, many black families across the country remain mired in debt and generational poverty.  Experts and common folk alike agree that a substantial change in the status quo will require a shift in the way African Americans collectively think about money.

Dozens of men and women recently took that step during a two-day personal finance workshop at Francis Gregory Library in Southeast. The D.C. metropolitan region chapter of African Unification (AU), a national organization dedicated to bettering the situation of black people in the U.S. and abroad, hosted the event.

“Much of the black community doesn’t understand how money work and we know little about investment strategies beyond 401k’s,” Ameer Baker, president of the D.C. metropolitan area chapter of AU, told AllEyesOnDC.

On Saturday, Baker and his colleagues opened up the workshop with a short discussion before showing “7AM,” a documentary featuring black economist and author Dr. Claude Anderson that explores the missteps African-Americans made in starting businesses and gaining wealth in the decades since the end of chattel slavery.  On Sunday, finance expert Rob Boyd talked about credit and AU members raffled off three finance books.

“We have issues with money management and that’s why we end up in debt. People don’t understand generational wealth,” Baker added. “This event will help people become more comfortable in understanding how money works so they can be more financially well off. They should be investing in their goals and knowing how a strong financial foundation looks.”

The poverty rate in black America currently stands at nearly 27 percent, a level higher than that of war-torn Iraq, according to data compiled in the U.S. Census. Despite $1.3 trillion of buying power, African-Americans own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth. A report released by the Urban Institute earlier this year said black families attained nearly $11,000 in assets, a dozen times less than their white counterparts.

Though some reasons for the wealth gap include loss of property and lack of retirement accounts, Claude points to a myopic mindset among black business owners and a lack of support for black-owned businesses in “7AM.” Some people who watched the documentary on Saturday shared his sentiments.

“It’s about self-love and self-respect.  Our money has to circulate in our community,” Doc Kahres, budding entrepreneurship and chess instructor, told AllEyesOnDC. Kahres’ business venture focuses on holistic health, particularly spiritual and emotional well-being. “We’re in an uphill battle with skates on. At this point, I’ve been so focused on helping people that I haven’t thought about profit. I have to be more profit-focused so I can put that capital back in the community. That scenario adds another aspect of the discussion for me,” added Kahres, 24.

Pamela Dobbins said the messages of the weekend resonated with her. She told AllEyesOnDC that laying a foundation for her young ones often weighs on her mind, noting that she has been able to do so by living a low-key lifestyle and spending as little money as possible.

“My main concern is providing for my children’s education,” Dobbins, a professional elementary school counselor of 20 years, said. “I didn’t come out of college in debt because my father paid in full. I live a humble life and I buy my cars outright. It’s all about passing on an understanding that we have to live within our means and invest in something that we can pass on to our children,” added Dobbins, 44, a resident of Richmond, Virginia.

Erica Jones agreed with Dobbins, praising AU’s efforts and expressing her hope that the organization hosts more information-packed gatherings throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. Jones, a program assistant for a Rockville, Maryland-based organization that assists adults with developmental disabilities, attended a forum about police brutality AU recently hosted.

“People don’t understand that making money isn’t just about starting a business. Financial stability is hard,” Jones told AllEyesOnDC. “We need to make more connections and spread this information through word of mouth. AU is a very humble group, especially for people who are conscious. They’re getting more organized and getting the word out.”