- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

DETROIT When Sherita Rankins won the Miss Michigan American Princess Pageant at age 7, she took her $350 winnings and opened a savings account.

In the decade since, the recent high school graduate has been saving and investing her money.

"By the time I was 15, I had about $7,000 that I needed something to do with it because it was just sitting there," she said.

Sherita now uses the $125 an hour she earns as a part-time model, along with her mother's $174-per-month child-support checks, to build her holdings in Estee Lauder Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., and other companies.

She credits her mother for teaching her the value of money.

Ruth Rankins, a schoolteacher, says she wanted her daughter to have a completely different concept of money than she had growing up.

"I wanted her to know that this money could afford her to do whatever her aspirations were in life," said Ruth Rankins, who experienced living paycheck to paycheck and didn't want her daughter to do the same.

Sherita now teachers her mother about the stock market and investing.

"As far as how stocks go up and down and split, I never knew that," Ruth Rankins said. "I learned that all from Sherita."

A group of black children in this city where more than 70 percent are eligible for free subsidized school lunches are putting their money from baby-sitting and other part-time jobs into the stock market.

Every third Sunday, about 100 boys and girls ages 8 to 18 gather in the foyer of an office building to learn stock market terminology and theory and discuss the next company they should invest in.

Gail Perry-Mason started the youth investment club with a group of boys in 1997 because a parent wanted her son to learn about investing and asked for help. Miss Perry-Mason is a vice president of financial services for First of Michigan, a division of Fahnestock & Co.

"You know how parents want to give their children more than they had or more than they were exposed to," she said. "This generation is giving the next generation the money and the knowledge."

Miss Perry-Mason says most of the parents who want their children to learn about investing are the first generation to get a college degree, join the middle class and send their children to private schools.

Around the country, concerned parents and various organizations are teaching black youngsters the principles of investing.

In 1996, Ariel Capital Management Inc., a Chicago investment management firm, teamed with Chicago's public-school system to create a small public school called the Ariel Community Academy.

First-graders in the school receive $20,000, which becomes the class portfolio. Their teachers teach them about investing and money management. Representatives from the school and Ariel manage the portfolio.

Starting in the fourth grade, the students take over management of 25 percent of the portfolio. By eighth grade, the academy's final year, the students will be responsible for managing 100 percent of the class assets, said Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management.

"One of many ways we thought to narrow the gap was to start with young people, so that they are socialized to the stock market and investing," Miss Hobson said. "Instead of having hypothetical paper portfolios, we thought the way it could really be embraced was if the kids had skin in the game."

Miss Perry-Mason's group of teen-age boys, who call themselves the U.S. Young Investors Club, has used its $10 monthly dues to build a stock portfolio that includes Compuware Corp., Walt Disney Co., Sony Corp., Donna Karan International Inc. and the World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Corp.

"I always tell them to buy what they know," Miss Perry-Mason said.

Brandon Celestin, one of two appointed researchers for his group, says he combs Web sites and reads the tips from analysts and experts for information on stocks the group should be considering.

"Really, we want stocks that will do better on the long haul," the 16-year-old said.

Miss Perry-Mason's teen-age girls are taking a different approach to paying their dues. Instead of investing their own money, they have held an art sale and book sale to raise money.

"The teen girls want to use other people's money," Miss Perry-Mason said. "Teen girls love to spend money. That's one thing I found out."

For Brandon and his fellow club members, the investment club has given them a wealth of knowledge.

"I think we will all gain experience from this investors club," he said. "And when we become wealthy adults, we will be able to look back on this experience and say 'This is a start.' "

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