Ayris T. Scales
Creating Generational Wealth and Building Legacy Through A Millionaire Mindset
With the mainstream shining a light on systemic issues over the past few years, generational wealth has been top of mind for everyone, and with good reason. As African Americans, we are far less likely to come from a bloodline of those economically empowered, nor have access to the resources that create long-term wealth.
Still, the entrepreneurial spirit has always been an integral part of the African American experience. Even with the many obstacles we face as a community, we have found ways to create our own opportunities where none existed because, let’s face it, our very survival was contingent upon it. I was fortunate to learn this from my parents at an early age.
My story isn't terribly unique. My parents divorced when I was 8 and until the age of 13, I primarily lived with my father, a Renaissance man in the truest sense - until his untimely death at the age of 45 from a heart attack. While I never wanted for anything, we were the working poor. We weren't “Good Times,” but we were far from “The Huxtables.” In middle school, while not free, I was a reduced lunch kid; yellow ticket embarrassingly in hand, I recall the dread of pulling it out to pay for my meals. Wow, what I wouldn’t give today to have a yellow ticket to help offset the absurd cost of living.
I remember my dad used to say, "Little Bit, we're only one paycheck away from being homeless." I couldn’t understand how anyone could go to work every day and still be a paycheck away from no longer having a roof over their head. Over the years, whenever I thought about money, I would hear his raspy voice in the back of my head. I would think about that yellow meal ticket and the fashionable trends of my idol, Denise Huxtable, and I knew money was never going to make me, but I was going to make sure I made money… whatever that meant to me at that time.
You could say I was born with a hustle in me. At 10 years old, I started babysitting neighborhood kids, as if I wasn’t still a kid myself. And at just 11, I finagled my way to become a member of a rap group (The Self-Esteem Team) securing my very first real paying job. You had to be at least 13 to join this group, so clearly I used some creative liberty to ensure two years were added to my life.
I remember my first check. It was over $200, which was considered great money at that time! Like any young girl in to fashion, I headed straight to the mall where I fell in love with and bought this fresh rayon black and white shirt for $25. I was so proud of myself for buying this grown up shirt and needing not to ask a single person for help purchasing it. It was empowering and freeing, a feeling I’ve never stopped pursuing.
I recall very clearly the conversation I had on the phone with my mom who at that time was in NYC pursuing her masters, and kick starting her new career path; when she heard I spent $25 on just one shirt alone she gave me an earful about spending so much money. Today that shirt equates to about $57 and if my child spent close to 10% of her paycheck on one shirt, I’d likely give her an earful too.
Somewhere between my mom's shock and my dad's insistence that we’re one paycheck away from being homeless, my beliefs about how to spend money were solidified. I knew that I always wanted to have money, so when I got it, I would make sure that I held onto it. I literally became afraid to spend money or take on any debt.
And while I was paralyzed from frivolous spending, I more so focused on living in a manner that wasn’t excessive yet still allowed me the freedom to enjoy myself without the stress of survival or dependency looming over me. I never wanted to rely solely on anyone else for my financial stability - not a parent, not a boss, not a job, not a man, nobody.
Finding Resilience in Motherhood
When I became a mom at 20, it was an absolute game-changer. Since I was an unmarried college student I qualified for and tapped into every resource available to me, from subsidized housing to food stamps to free childcare - I made sure I leveraged it all. Many people in my life reacted the way you'd suspect; they thought I'd drop out of school, move back home, and stay stagnant. No thank you. These resources are put into place to help people in need, and I was not above using them to get ahead.
Determined to break every stereotype associated with being a young, single, Black mom, I knew I couldn't let myself get comfortable receiving government assistance, nor build my lifestyle upon the financial inconsistencies of my daughter's father. Still, I knew void of either of those factors, it was important for me to be able to provide for my daughter while I continued to get my education and advance my career.
So, I hustled harder than ever and I did it. I earned my bachelor's, received my master's by 25, secured several fellowships and management roles, and lived in five different cities by the time I was 30. I was insistent on making a comfortable life for the two of us. Early on, I got my first taste of investing; at 23 years old, I purchased my first property in Atlanta, GA and at 24 I made my first investment in the stock market with just $2,500 at Wells Fargo while living in Savannah.
Amassing Wealth Through Multiple Streams of Income
When I was about 3o, I was fired for the first time in my career; not because of anything I’d done performance-wise, I just happened to be a political appointee, my candidate lost and there went my six-figure good government job that months earlier we were so proud that I held. It was the height of the recession; gas prices were escalating, homes lost their value overnight and stocks were plummeting at unprecedented rates.
I was gutted. I was scared. I had real responsibilities and no game plan. All those feelings of financial insecurity were triggered, but so was that reminder that I could not have my livelihood solely contingent upon others’ decisions and remembered my worth and my financial goals.
Fast forward to today, it’s all about diversification with a millionaire mindset. Besides property acquisition and gaining substantial equity from my current home in one of the country’s strongest real estate markets, DC, I continue to invest in stocks, IRAs, whole life insurance, money markets and yes cryptocurrency. And like so many of us, I’m blessed to pull a salary from a purposeful role as CEO of Walker’s Legacy and like so many of the women we serve, still somehow balance my side hustle, Abel Vision Enterprises which surpassed the national average last year for revenue generated by Black women-owned businesses.
These streams of income and profit all run parallel. If one stream runs drops, I have others to fall back on. Just as importantly, I have confidence, grit and tactics to either make it go back up or ride the wave until the market corrects itself. This system gives me peace of mind.
It hasn't always been easy, but it's worth it for me. People ask me all the time how I got to where I am and it really comes down to three things: having a purpose larger than myself, empowering myself through financial education and practicing delayed gratification.
If I could share just one thing that's served me along the way, it would be the concept of delayed gratification. Delayed gratification or living modestly doesn't mean deprivation. For me, it’s a form of liberation, mental wellness and a heightened sense of owning up to my responsibilities.
In our society, we're constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we need to have the latest and greatest things NOW. Whether it's the newest iPhone, the latest fashion trends or the current model of a gas guzzler, we're constantly being inundated with ads that make us feel like we need to keep up with the Joneses. And while there's nothing wrong with wanting or purchasing nice things, it's important to do it within reason and to live within your means, so you're not constantly trying to maintain a lifestyle you can't afford and ultimately no one cares about.
Those who are able to delay gratification, live within or below their means and commit to long-term goals are more likely to be financially successful. Not only does it take discipline but it takes confidence and the recognition that you have and are enough - to be able to resist the urge to spend money on unnecessary things.
My millionaire mindset did not and does not include using credit cards to pay for things that I don't appreciate, nor rushing to sell my property or pull out equity for quick cash but I am also not motivated by materialistic things. Now don’t get me wrong I have a fair share of high-end Italian designers in my closet and I travel the world like the best of them and pamper myself with frequent spa days but I am not going to do it to the detriment of meeting my monthly investment goals (30%) of whatever I gross nor at the expense of a 24%APR.
The other thing that's served me well is financial literacy. If you grew up anything like me, discussing finances was not only taboo, but when you don’t have it, there isn’t much to discuss. Also, as I mentioned, when I was young I was so afraid of not having money that I rarely spent it, so saving came easily to me. But it wasn't until later in life that I really began to understand the ins and outs of personal finance.
I read books, took courses, and spoke to financial professionals to learn as much as I could about money. And the more I learned, the more confident I became in my ability to manage my finances. Financial literacy is empowerment; it's knowing you have the ability to make your money work for you.
So often, we feel like we're at the mercy of our finances, but that doesn't have to be the case. When you understand how money works, you can make it work for you. You can use it to achieve your goals and create the life you want.
There are a lot of resources out there, so find one that works for you and commit to learning as much as you can. And remember, it's never too late to start taking control of your money.
Living for My Legacy
After my daughter was born, she was the driving force behind my need to create financial stability. I wanted her to have every opportunity to pursue her dreams, and I knew that started with creating a solid foundation. So much of what we do in life is for our future selves, but it's also for the people who come after us.
I remember the moment that building a legacy truly clicked for me. I was at a private meeting during the United Nations World Economic Forum being hosted by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair; literally three of the world's most influential and powerful men and 70 other global leaders. My attendance was purely divine intervention and the creative finagling of a JPM Chase Black woman executive who wanted me to be present. No one could understand why this 30-something, who despite leading a transformational national model on ending generational poverty in NE DC was sitting amongst them.
Dimon, Gates and Blair were leading a case for why it was imperative that these world leaders invest in a new set of vaccinations in western Africa to stabilize illnesses and ultimately begin to create a new class of consumers. Midway through the discussion one of the very few women leaders in the room asked candidly, “when will we see a return on our investment?” At which point one of the hosts replied, "None of us are going to see a return on this investment in our lifetime. We're not doing this for us, this is about the generations to come and future economies we’re creating."
I was blown away, witnessing a coalition being built around investing in a continent that had been pillaged for the benefits of others, and now would be built back up for the future benefits of others. It hit me that the economies we experience today, and the profits we reap now, are not about the actions we take in the present but the decisions we made in our past and the ability to see beyond ourselves. This is power. This is generational wealth building.
Legacy isn't just about what we leave behind when we die. It's about what we do today no matter how big or small, to create a better tomorrow. I'm not just focused on creating wealth for myself because of personal gain, not change. Generational wealth is the engine that propels us forward. When we have ownership, control over our resources, and authority to direct where those resources go - we create a space where chains are broken, our communities are lifted and our voices are amplified.