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This is the story of how becoming an economic casualty of the coronavirus pandemic put me on a path to finding success in a new career and a new positive outlook on life after not knowing where my next dollar was going to come from.
For the previous 17 years, I had been making my living as a full-time artist and manager of H2O Community Development Corporation, providing digital arts programming to students all over the city of Milwaukee. This was a dream job I created with my cousin and co-founder Dwight Gilbert back in 2007.
Things had been going great for our organization. Although small, we were growing and had finally gotten to the point where we could hire resident artists to replicate our program model and expand to serve more students.
However, in March of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic shut the doors of all schools by order of the governor, leaving us with no work and no way to make any income as an organization. All of our contracts were put on hold indefinitely. We were left scrambling to figure out how we were going to survive, not just as an organization — our personal livelihoods were in jeopardy as well. It was a very frustrating time to say the least. The entire world was at a standstill as the global economic lockdown kept so many of us from earning a living and doing the work we love.
Last year, if you told me that I would go from being a full-time teaching artist to a life insurance agent, I would have surely laughed in your face! I’m a creative! I make beats and write songs with kids for a living! Becoming a licensed professional in the finance industry would have been the most unlikely thing to ever happen to me. I have never worked in an office in my entire life. I’ve been in classrooms and community centers the last 20 years, so this was definitely outside of my professional wheelhouse.
As we waited and waited, hoping the school closures would be short-lived so we could get back to working and earning money, I began to worry that I would have to find employment somewhere. I feared ending up somewhere doing something I hate. I haven’t had a REAL JOB since 2012, so the thought of having to re-enter the traditional workforce and have a boss was terrifying.
However, a chance conversation with a random Facebook friend (now REAL LIFE friend, Marvin Ortiz) turned into a meeting where I was offered an opportunity I didn’t know that I was looking for. I went into his office to talk about life insurance, as I had a policy about which I knew very little, aside from knowing I should have it. I came out with an education about the different types of policies and realizing I had one that was not financially in my best interest. Long story short, I switched insurance carriers and became a client at the firm at which I am now an agent.
Today I am a life insurance agent at a firm that trains people from all walks of life to become licensed professionals in the finance industry. I started my training in April of 2021 and became officially licensed in June. I am licensed do business in Wisconsin, Florida and Texas, and I am also working toward becoming a fully licensed investment broker, which I hope to accomplish by 2022.
Life insurance is a product that every family should have, but for various reasons do not, only realizing its importance when someone unexpectedly dies without having it. Families are often thrown into financial ruin when tasked with how to pay for a funeral without any money. It happens far too often in the Black community, especially in Milwaukee. A simple financial product that not only covers memorial expenses but also leaves a sizeable estate to pass down to a beneficiary with the potential to produce generational wealth is often foregone because people either don’t know about it or don’t understand that it is how family assets are protected.
The topic also hits close to home in my own life, as my father, who died when I was 22, did not have life insurance, leaving his parents and siblings with the costs of his funeral and sadly, leaving no inheritance to his four children.
Reflecting on this, it has become my mission to inform and educate families in my community by sharing concepts that will increase financial literacy and knowledge about how money works. I have helped numerous families since becoming licensed, securing coverage for those without, getting more coverage for those who have it but not enough or the wrong kind, and securing coverage for those who need non-employer-based coverage that can go with them regardless of where they work.
I want to save families the added trauma of not having access to financial resources on top of the trauma of losing a loved one.
Death is a topic that many people are afraid to talk about because it forces us to face the reality of our own mortality, but it is not something that should be avoided as we all know it is coming for us one day and we don’t know when that day will come. We owe it to our loved ones to consider how their lives will be impacted by our passing and using the tools available to pay something forward. The proceeds from a life insurance policy can lift a family out of poverty and break cycles of generational poverty that plague so many of our communities.
The silver lining of my journey is that my nonprofit organization survived the economic crisis of the pandemic with the help of emergency grants from various sources that allowed us to stay solvent until we were finally able to resume work.
I now have two ways I serve the interests and needs of families and youth in my community, and I am grateful for the opportunity that crisis afforded me. It was the opportunity to learn and share valuable information that can help families avoid the distress of being financially unprotected in the wake of an unexpected tragedy. I love that I get to help people make sense of a confusing topic and give them assurance that the people that they love will be well taken care of if the unthinkable occurs.
Marquis Gilbert is co-founder of H2O Community Development Corporation and a life insurance agent with Primerica. You can reach him here: email@example.com