Black man in a suit and tie looks at the camera.

Employee Helps Others Benefit From His Experience

As an immigrant and a Black man, BECU Portfolio Support Specialist Josias Jean-Pierre has faced big barriers to financial health. For him, success is about sharing his knowledge and experience, and giving others hope for a brighter future.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager
Published Feb 22, 2021 in: Advancing Equity

Read time: 4 minutes

Josias Jean-Pierre, 27, has a good job in the financial field, and he has his own side-business as a credit consultant, educating people to help them make good financial choices. His path to success has been long and difficult, but the challenges he has faced are, in part, what led him to his career.

Immigrating to America

Jean-Pierre was born in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Seeking a better life, his parents moved their family to the United States when Jean-Pierre was 6. They settled in Sea-Tac.

Jean-Pierre's mother enrolled in English language classes to help her with day-to-day life in her new country, and to increase opportunities available to her and her family. Relying on the translation of a stranger, his mother signed up for a high-interest loan, thinking she was signing up for a grant. For years, she was saddled with debt for a program she was unable to complete.

"We came to America because we heard it was the land of opportunity," he said. "The part we didn't know was that when you don't speak English, it's easier for people to take advantage of you."

Finding Opportunities and Building Wealth

Growing up, Jean-Pierre learned the importance of hard work, but he also noticed that no matter how hard they work, Black people seem to have a harder time than white people advancing professionally, and Black people seem to have fewer opportunities to start with.

Report after report validate Jean-Pierre's observations. The unemployment rate is twice as high for Black people in Washington, and Black people disproportionately hold the lowest paying jobs.

Not only is it harder for Black people to earn as much money as white people, it's harder for them to hold onto wealth because they typically aren't starting out with the foundation and safety net of generational wealth. In fact, it will take Black families an estimated 228 years to catch up to white wealth if the average Black family's finances continue growing at the current pace, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

"A lot of us don't understand generational wealth," Jean-Pierre said. "We're taught to support others before supporting ourselves."

Jean-Pierre thinks solutions can be found through a combination of empowering individuals with knowledge and dismantling systemic problems rooted in American history.

"I can't blame my mother and grandmother for the challenges I've faced," he said. "The problems are systemic."

Experiencing Racism

Beyond being a systemic problem, racism is also constant and hurtful on a personal level. Asked about his experience of racism, Jean-Pierre pauses. He sounds tired as he describes what happens to him nearly every day, from women clutching their purses as he passes, to people locking their car doors when he walks by in a parking lot. Sometimes, when he's on an elevator, people will wait for the next car, even if there's room. It doesn't matter if he's wearing a suit or something more casual.

Occasionally, when he's grocery shopping, Jean-Pierre will pay for his own order, then pay for the person behind him as a "random act of kindness." Recently, after paying for the items of a woman behind him in line, Jean-Pierre recalled another customer calling him the N-word.

"I can't respond. I have learned to just walk away," Jean-Pierre said.

Paying it Forward

Jean-Pierre doesn't take his success or achievements for granted, and he's determined to pay them forward. He understands how hard it can be, and he's committed to making the road a little smoother for others.

He is a firm believer that one of the best ways to overcome barriers is through education. He reads and learns about finance, investing and building wealth, and prioritizes teaching others — at work, in his personal life and in his business.

He also believes that people should find opportunities to translate their skills and talents into long-term financial health.

"Use your gift and create an income stream," he said. "Think about what you can pass down to your kids. Pass down an LLC. Pass down deeds, not debt."

For Jean-Pierre, his talent and dedication to helping other people has rewards beyond an income stream.

"This is why I'm on the front line when it comes to financial literacy," he said. "I take this work very seriously. I'm empowering people and equipping them with the knowledge they need to be successful."

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager

Katie writes for BECU about personal finance and social justice topics. Her career spans reporting for newspapers and communicating on behalf of government agencies and private businesses. Learn about Katie's career and education on LinkedIn.