This working mom owes $240,000 in student loans. Now she’s fighting for a full cancellation in order to “freely” live her American dream.

Brooks told Insider she owes over $200,000 in student loans.Courtesy of Dr. Richelle Brooks

  • California educator says she owes over $200,000 in student loans.

  • Richelle Brooks, a South LA principal, has joined the fight to cancel student loan debt for all.

  • She told Insider that a big part of her fight for aid is to give her children a future free of crippling debt.

One of Richelle Brooks’ dreams is to send her two children to college without taking out a loan. She knows firsthand how taking out a loan to pursue higher education can equate to crippling debt.

“My daughter wants to be an anesthesiologist. My son wants to be a computer engineer. Two little black kids want this for their future,” Brooks, 35, told Insider. “And this country tells me that it’s impossible for me to bring them there. It’s a terrible and hopeless feeling.”

Brooks borrowed $203,000 collectively to pursue undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies. And over the years has accrued over $30,000 in interest.

“Yeah, $240,000“Brooks said.

In 2020, she decides to politicize her inability to repay her loans. She joined a group of strikers called the “Biden Jubilee 100”, calling on the president to cancel student debt in the first days of taking office.

Brooks’ American Dream is simple.

“I hope that if my student debt balance is forgiven, I can start saving for them and planning for their future,” she said. “But I also hope we can get a free college education so I don’t have to worry about how to fund their future either.”

Black student borrowers typically have more debt than white college graduates, experts say.

Dr. Brooks and other members of the Debt Collective outside the White House.

Dr. Brooks and other members of the Debt Collective outside the White House.

Dr. Brooks (middle) and other members of the Debt Collective outside the White House.Courtesy of Dr. Richelle Brooks

Living in California as a single mother is financially taxing, she said. She works as a manager in South Los Angeles, a career she loves, but she often has to have a hustle to live comfortably.

With the burden of student debt, 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, paying off an average of $25,000 than their white peers, according to Education Data Initiative.

“Black borrowers have to 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, they owe more after 12 years of repayment than they originally borrowed.”

And for black borrowers who want to go beyond a bachelor’s degree, they often have, on average, just over $50,000 in debt, 45% of which is from graduate school, according to Education Data Initiative. Another factor to consider is that black graduates are subject to lower compensation once employed, making it difficult to pay off their crippling debt.

Biden said last week his administration plans to forgive $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year, with up to $20,000 in relief for those who received Pell grants and who fall under the same income threshold. However, for borrowers like Brooks, that’s not enough.

Brooks decided to keep going to school because she couldn’t repay her loan, a personal strike method she’s been practicing since 2012. However, the student repayment hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic has was a temporary weight on his shoulders and gave him a break from going to school.

“So many demands have been put on me already on top of having to stay in school because I can’t pay this debt. It feels like slavery,” Brooks said. “Receiving these notices is a bit traumatic. [The pause] gives you a sense of relief, a sense of hope, because you’re not constantly weighed down by this idea of ​​a monthly payment.”

“I really just want the space to hope and dream freely”

Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Cori Bushand Rep. Ayanna Pressley, have pushed for student loan forgiveness — and ever since Biden announced his student loan relief plan, progressive lawmakers have been demanding more relief.

Eliminating student loan debt could potentially close the racial wealth gap. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge pointed out that the student loan crisis is making it harder for black people to own real estate.

And according to Hounanian, this puts another hurdle in achieving generational wealth.

Student loan debt hampers black people, even with the highest degrees, “who simply can’t ever access the benefits an education was intended for,” Hounanian said.

“The National Association of Realtors has said student loan debt is one of the biggest issues preventing black people from buying homes…and it also perpetuates the issue of generational wealth,” he continued. “So it really has a domino effect that impacts their finances for years after they go to school.”

Brooks called it a “deferred dream”.

“As soon as we reach a goal, the goal post is moved,” she said. “You always feel like you’re drowning, and as soon as you get some air, you’re pushed back again.”

She added: “When I went to college it was sold to me, it’s a way to succeed. It’s a way to rise in this country. You become a person who graduates from college, and then you can buy a house, and you can travel. Because of your hard work, you’re entitled to certain freedoms and luxuries, right? And that just wasn’t true.

In addition to waiving up to $20,000 for people earning less than $125,000, the president also extended the payment break until December.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NACCP) acknowledged the progress, but Derrick Johnson – president of the organization – called for the cancellation of $50,000 or more.

“I’m sick of it. It’s a mental strain. We’re straddling this balance hanging over our heads, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s an emotional fast,” Brooks said.

“And I’m gutted today, mostly because I’ve been fighting for a while. And I feel like I’ve been given crumbs. I really just want space to hope and dream freely. “

Read the original Insider article

James V. Hayes