This working mom owes $240,000 in student loans. Now she’s fighting for total annulment to live her American dream “free.” & more news here
A California educator says she owes more than $200,000 in student loans.
Richelle Brooks, a South LA school principal, has joined the fight to cancel student loan debt for everyone.
She told Insider that a big part of her fight for relief is giving her children a future free of crippling debt.
One of Richelle Brooks’ dreams is to send her two children to college without borrowing money. She knows firsthand how taking out a loan for higher education can lead to crippling debt.
“My daughter wants to be an anesthesiologist. My son wants to be a computer scientist. Two little black kids want that for their future,” Brooks, 35, told Insider. “And this country tells me that it is impossible for me to take them there. It’s a terrible, hopeless feeling.”
Brooks borrowed a total of $203,000 to attend bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral studies. And has accumulated over $30,000 in interest over the years.
“Yes, $240,000‘ Brooks said.
In 2020, she decided to politicize her inability to pay off her loans. Alongside the debt collective, she joined a group of strikers called the Biden Jubilee 100, urging the president to cancel student debt in the first few days of his term.
Brooks’ American Dream is simple.
“My hope is that when my student loan debt balance is called off, I can start saving for them and planning for their future,” she said. “But I also hope that we can get a free college education so I don’t have to worry about funding her future either.”
Black student borrowers tend to have more debt than white college graduates, experts say.
Living as a single mom in California is financially draining, she said. She works as a director in South Los Angeles, a career she loves but often has to work a part-time job to make a living comfortably.
Given the strain of student loans, saving money for the future is not a luxury for many black borrowers.
Recent data shows that black borrowers have disproportionately more student loan debt and repay an average of $25,000 than their white counterparts, according to the Education Data Initiative.
“Black borrowers take on more student debt to go to school, and black women take on more student debt than any other group,” Cody Hounanian, executive director of the Student Debt Cris Center, told Insider. “For the majority of black borrowers, after 12 years of repayment, they owe more than they originally borrowed.”
And for black borrowers looking to move beyond a bachelor’s degree, they often have just over $50,000 in debt on average, 45% of which comes from grad school, according to the Education Data Initiative. Another factor to consider is that black graduates are paid less once employed, making it difficult to pay off their overwhelming debt.
Biden said last week his administration plans to forgive $10,000 of federal student-loan debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year, with up to $20,000 in relief for those who receive Pell grants and fall below the same income threshold. But that’s not enough for borrowers like Brooks.
Brooks decided to continue attending school because she couldn’t pay off her loan, a personal strike method she’s been using since 2012. However, the hiatus in student repayments during the COVID-19 pandemic was a temporary burden off her shoulders and gave her time off from attending school.
“So many demands are being made on me, on top of having to stay in school because I can’t pay this debt. It feels like enslavement,” Brooks said. “Getting these notifications is slightly traumatic. [The pause] gives you a sense of relief, a sense of hope, because you are not constantly being weighed down by that monthly payment.”
“I really just want the space to hope and dream freely”
Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Cori Bushand Rep. Ayanna Pressley, have been pushing for student-loan forgiveness — and ever since Biden announced his student-loan relief plan, progressive lawmakers have been calling for more relief.
Eliminating student loan debt could potentially close the racial wealth gap. Department of Housing and Urban Development Minister Marcia Fudge has stressed that the student loan crisis is making it harder for black people to own property.
And according to Hounanian, achieving generational wealth presents another hurdle.
Student loan debt hampers blacks, even with the highest degrees, “who simply can never access the benefits that education was designed to provide,” Hounanian said.
“The National Association of Realtors has said that student loan debt is one of the top issues keeping black people from buying homes … and that also perpetuates the issue of generational wealth,” he continued. “So it really has a knock-on effect that affects their finances for years after they leave school.”
Brooks called it a “deferred dream.”
“As soon as we reach a goal, the goalpost is moved,” she said. “It always feels like we’re drowning, and as soon as we take a breath we’re pushed back under the water.”
She added: “When I went to college it was sold to me, that’s a path to success. This is a path to advancement in this country. You become a person with higher education, and then you can buy a house and travel. Because of your hard work, you enjoy some freedom and luxuries, right? And it just wasn’t true.”
In addition to canceling up to $20,000 for people earning less than $125,000, the president also extended the payment pause through December.
The National Association of the Advancement for Colored People (NACCP) acknowledged the progress, but Derrick Johnson — the organization’s president — called for it Cancellation of $50,000 or more.
“I’m bored with it. It’s a mental limitation. We’re splayed with this balance hanging over our heads and it’s heartbreaking. It’s emotional fasting,” Brooks said.
“And I’m exhausted today, mostly because I’ve been fighting for a while. And I feel like I’ve been given crumbs. I really just want the space to hope and dream freely.”
Read the original article on Insider
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