By Ryan Mack
August 27th, 2005 – I was in the bathroom using a washcloth and hand soap to clean the collar of one of my dress shirts. I didn’t have the money to use the cleaners so I just used the shirt that was least soiled, and made sure I wore my suit jacket to hide the grease stain on the front right side of the shirt. My dinner was water, which I had freshly boiled the night before and stuck in the refrigerator, along with some doctored up Ramen Noodles. Hot sauce makes anything a fine cuisine when you are hungry. I was preparing for a morning meeting to get my company’s first check from Michelle Kulikowski for $300. I didn’t have $1.50 for the subway from any other means but the pile of nickels stored in an old shoe in the closet where I had been storing my left over change. The quarters, a rare commodity in these days for me, had been spent many days ago. Yet…I was smiling and wasn’t worried.
This was my life as a new entrepreneur. I had seemingly done everything by the book, but the struggles still ensued. Just two years before that day I was making six figures at the largest NASDAQ trading firm in the world. I could afford to eat at the finest restaurants and take trips as I pleased. By the grace of God, I was saving up to purchase a home in NYC so I was amassing the future down payment.
One day…while I was a trader, my aunt called me and asked the question, “What is a stock?” This simple question rocked my entire being. To me, this question meant my own family didn’t know what I was doing and really didn’t have knowledge of the fundamental principles of the stock market. “How many others beyond my family don’t know about stocks?” I thought. This simple question started my quest to pursue a life of educating my family and community of what I was exposed to everyday.
I started to write feverishly every week through a Yahoo chat group I created called “Making Money Work”. This wasn’t enough to fill my thirst to educate. I turned my Friday Elementary after-work school step team into a financial literacy session about stocks. That wasn’t enough. When a young girl was shot and killed by gang members on my block in Brooklyn; I surmised those who pulled the trigger might not have done so if they were educated about other economic opportunities besides a life of crime. It was at this moment I decided to leave Wall Street and pursue a life as a financial planner.
I received a verbal offer to work for a large financial planning firm and turned in my resignation to my Wall Street equities trading firm. On the day I was to finalize the offer, I walked in with my pen ready to sign. I began to brag to the representative, who was a Black man like me, about all of the good I was planning to do as a representative of the firm. “I am going to take this firm to all of those in my community. My church, public housing, gang members, and all over the community,” I bragged. He looked me square in the eye and said, “That sounds good…but unless you only work with high net worth individuals everything else is a waste of time.”
I was crushed. I felt God speak to me telling me I was in the wrong place. I felt God telling me he had more for me than what this firm had to offer. I was scared because I didn’t have any other funds to fall back on accept the funds that I was saving to purchase a home. I left the office saying, “I needed to have my attorneys look over this paperwork!” I didn’t have any attorneys, but I did have a message from God there was something greater. If I was going to go into financial planning, I was NOT going to only focus on high net worth and I was NOT going to be a product pusher selling insurance/investments solely for commission. I was going to do what God laid upon my heart to do…educate my people. Knowing that God NEVER provides the vision without provision I rested solely on my faith He would provide.
Now I had to prepare for the blessings to come. I bought four books on how to start a financial planning company. I took a course on how to start a wealth management firm offered by the New York Society of Security Analysts. I asked multiple colleagues who had started similar ventures to mentor me through the process. I quickly realized I had all I needed to be successful and God began to show me the road map to success. I used the funds I was going to use to purchase a home and after I invested $28,000 in funds for the business I had enough left for 12 months of living expenses.
I was ½ month short of my budgeted projections and that brings me back to August 27th, 2005. The next morning, after I dried out my shirt with the newly clean collar by ironing it, I walked with $1.50 in nickels to the subway. I learned the subway only took $1.35 in nickels before it spit out the funds to you. Now I am standing, flat broke, “fronting” with my Burberry Coat on, with the subway token machine looking like an Atlantic City slot machine with all of these nickels spitting back out at me. The crowd behind me sighed in discontent as I held up the line trying to buy a subway pass. I got my money, ran across the street to the store to get a $1 and 2 quarters in exchange for my 30 nickels, put the money in the machine, bought my ticket, took the train to get my check from Michelle Kulikowski, then walked to the nearest bank to cash my first $300 check. I was grinning from ear to ear!
I walked two miles to my friends apartment to borrow $1.50 to get back home, got on the subway, arrived home to boil some more water to drink for dinner, then waited on the check to clear while I was assembling the financial plan of Michelle.
This was my life for the next couple of years. From the “balling” life of Wall Street to the life filled with nothing but faith for something greater (it is when you have nothing but faith you truly realize faith is all you need). I had to use my credit card for the first time as I struggled to make ends meet. I remember going out to eat with my friends and ordering nothing but cranberry juice with extra ice saying, “I just came from a dinner meeting and am not hungry.” My stomach growling loudly sounding like a sick cat told them otherwise. Through all of that, I still smiled because I knew that God had something greater for me. He told me I would be speaking to millions of people and I believed Him.
In 2006 I was making enough to make ends meet, but not enough to pay off my debt. So I made the hard choice to let the bill collector wait. I was always able to pay my rent, but there were a few months that I had to make the choice between lights and heat. When my heat was cut off for a week, I put on an extra blanket on the bed and my faith in His word kept me going. When my lights were cut off for a week, I lit some candles and used faith to keep me going. To this day I tell the story that EVERYBODY has a computer because it was during this week I was able to use the computer of the library to continue to work on my business and reach out to new potential clients.
In 2007 I was getting ahead slowly and the clients were becoming much more consistent. Meanwhile, my youth group was steadily growing into a mini-movement. My mentees were gaining a reputation as “those high school teenagers in the community who teach financial literacy to adults”. The gang members recognized me and called me “The Money Guy” affectionately and I had helped many of them to form their own businesses that helped to employ other Bloods and a few Crypts and Latin Kings. Working with others in the community we were able to help over 2000 formerly incarcerated men and women create companies and get jobs…I trained all of them for free in financial literacy. Then…on November of 2007 a reporter from Black Enterprise just happened to be in the workshop of my youth. They did a feature story on it and I have always jokingly called myself, “The brokest man to ever be featured in Black Enterprise”. It was nothing but God who put that reporter, Diane King, in the audience…she is now a very dear friend.
This was the catapult of many greater things to come. More clients, more exposure, and more hustle using faith as my guide. One day in 2007 I was watching TV and saw Gerri Willis, who at the time was the Personal Finance Contributor for CNN. I told God as I literally yelled at the screen, “I can do what she can do Lord. I am tired of living check to check. I am tired of my feet getting wet because I have walked holes through my good shoes. I want to speak to millions of people like you promised. She is speaking to millions. I am ready!”
That declaration was on a Wednesday. Nine days later on a Friday I ran into Alicia Stewart. Three years before I took her to coffee (although I really couldn’t afford that even) and she told me she couldn’t afford to pay me for my financial planning services. On this current day she said, “I’ve been watching the work you have been doing for the past 3 years…it seems you are doing a lot for the community. Have you ever thought about going on CNN?”
“I might have considered it,” I said.
“I just got a job as a producer for CNN. Want me to put in a good work for you?”
Twelve days after I was yelling at the TV screen for God to give me something greater, I received a call from the CNN producer. Thirteen days after I was yelling at the screen with Gerri Willis on it, I was ON CNN WITH Gerri Willis talking about financial literacy. Due to the market crash there weren’t enough people to talk about the economy so they called me 4-5 days per week, sometimes multiple times per day. The free marketing exposure catapulted me to another level. My phone was ringing off the hook for business and my speaking fees went up to at least $5000 per speech. I paid off my debt and never looked back!
Since…I have written 3 books, co-authored 2, travelled the world teaching financial literacy, still appear on national television teaching principles, speak across the country at various venues about financial literacy, and am doing what God said he would do for me…have me speaking to millions of people teaching His principles of financial stewardship. Nobody can tell me God isn’t real and I have many stories I could have shared, but I will wait until my book has a conclusion…because I am just getting started.
Faith is real...faith is tangible. I know it says “unseen”, but I am sorry God…I disagree with you on only that thing because I SEE the results of my faith in You everyday! It was faith that allowed me to keep smiling. I wasn’t smiling because I was happy to be broke; I was smiling because I knew the brighter day was coming. I wasn’t happy WITH my state, my faith allowed me to be happy IN my state. I am learning more and more everyday that faith is more important for others than it is for me, because my faith has allowed me to be a blessing to many others around the world. I regret nothing. I don’t regret trading in the millions I could have been making on Wall Street for the days of having to boil water. I continue to have the chance to change lives and exercise my faith for the benefit of others. Thank God I was never worried about the bad news, because God had already delivered the good news. I didn’t have to see it in my hands; it’s enough for me to have God put in in my dreams to know it is real!
What’s next? You will have to wait and see, but just know God has a plan large enough for ALL of us to make the haters very pissed! Believe it and receive it…keep the faith! #Voices4Ed #ChoiceIsOurs