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Atlanta students get a melodic lesson in money management

When he was a young boy growing up in Wichita, Kansas; the frontman for the band Gooding said financial literacy was not a hot topic of discussion around the dinner table.

"I was raised by a single mom, a great woman, but we didn’t talk about this stuff at my house," said Gooding, who uses the name of the band as his own name.

That lack of knowledge about money didn't much matter to him then. He was most interested in music, he said, having formed a band with his friends in the seventh grade.

The band, currently based in Nashville, spent years on the road, performing in venues nationwide and honing their skills as a live act, but it took a while for him to get a grasp on his own finances.

"I had already screwed my credit up," he said. "I said, 'I don’t need to save, I am going to be a rock star.'"

For the past five years, Gooding has been trying to help young people avoid such flawed thinking about finances. Through a partnership with the non-profit, Funding The Future, Gooding visits middle schools and high schools around the country using music to teach kids that money management matters.

"The rock and roll is first and foremost. I am not a financial advisor," said Gooding. But he had been talking about things like having control of your life for years, not realizing that it all fell under the umbrella of financial literacy.

"So many people get in trouble with money and it puts them in such a bad spot," he said. "This is the common denominator for so many other problems."

At the events, one of which recently took place at Dunwoody High School, the group plays a 20 minute set followed by a video of the band with musicians and other famous people in Los Angeles. Then they offer a 20 minute information session on money management followed by questions from the students. The band is appearing at several other schools in the metro area this month including MLK Middle School, Tapp Middle School, Floyd Middle School and Turner Middle School.

No matter where they are in the country, similar issues crop up. Students ask them about credit scores and predatory lending practices. A lot of young people don’t realize how credit scores are used, and they don't understand how high interest credit can work against you, he said.

In some cases, the stories are heartbreaking, said Gooding. He recalled one student who talked about saving money only to have his parents take it away from him. Another young woman had the word "valuable" tattooed on her arm because people had told her all her life that she was worth nothing.

Some of the students recall the financial challenges their parents had in the most recent recession and have resorted to a money-in-the-mattress mentality, Gooding said. "These kids are dealing with this stuff earlier all the time," he said.

While the students don't hear the band singing about credit scores, they do hear them singing about issues that can arise as a result of not taking control. "The issues we talk about are in the songs," Gooding said, "but I don’t sit down and write about financial literacy."

The music, he said, eases the pathway to talking about why finances matter and the band isn't above using a bribe or two to keep students focused. Any student who asks a question about financial literacy is promptly rewarded with a free Gooding CD.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.