When can the pursuit of bling mean more than just acquiring material things?
The answer: When Russell Simmons and others in the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) -- he's the chairman -- use their celebrity to bring financial empowerment to their core base of 18-to-35-year-olds, a demographic very much in need of it.
The latest nationwide biennial survey conducted by the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy among high schoolers revealed that African Americans and Hispanics lag behind white students in their financial knowledge. The survey also showed that a growing gap exists between students from higher- and lower- income families.
With HSAN, Simmons, the hip-hop mogul, began efforts to promote financial literacy a year ago with a national "Get Your Money Right" tour. This year's tour, sponsored by Chrysler Financial and Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD ) , began in March and again focuses on financial basics such as banking, credit, home and auto financing, and entrepeneurship. A free copy of the financial workbook can be downloaded from HSAN's website (registration required).
Simmons himself knows more than a little something about finances and entrepreneurship. His self-built business empire has consisted at various times of music and clothing labels, advertising, management, and media-production ventures. Bringing hip-hop culture into the mainstream of American life has been lucrative, with his net worth thought to be in the hundreds of millions.
Much has been said about the alleged hypocrisy of stars who indulge in materialistic excesses yet espouse financial responsibility. Instead, more should be made of those who say and do nothing. Simmons is not one of them. Active in many social causes, he has made financial literacy among young people one of his goals. He also developed UniRush Financial Services, a company that promotes a prepaid Visa card offered to those without traditional banking relationships, and teamed with Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU ) to give young tax filers the convenience and speed of online filing.
The word bling was around well before it became popular in mass media, synonymous with gaudiness and ostentatious spending. It has its roots in street culture, where young men may wear expensive jewelry to display their wealth, sometimes acquired through crime. The items worn can imply the illicit source of their funding or the wearers' inability, real or perceived, to use other ways to protect or enhance their assets.
If HSAN can reach its core audience and expand financial literacy, then bling it on.
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Fool contributor S.J. Caplan writes frequently on the topic of financial literacy. She does not own shares of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.