Athena Valentine Lent is fighting the good fight to bring financial education to people of color. Her family didn’t know much about money, budgeting, or bank accounts. Then when Athena was a freshman in high school, her mother died. Immediately, she became a homeless teen on a rocky path. Fortunately, one person inspired Athena to go to college, get an education, and turn her life around. Today, Athena’s work as a program manager for a nonprofit allows her to help promote the importance of education, salary negotiations, and work-related opportunities for students all over the state of Arizona, especially those in low-income neighborhoods. In this episode, Athena shares how to negotiate a raise and how increasing your salary is an effective way to build wealth.
Athena Lent 0:00
Our demographics do not determine our destiny.
Danielle Desir 0:14
Co hosted by Acquania Escarne, the host of The Purpose of Money. And Danielle Desir, the host of The Thought Card, Millennial Wealth Builder Series is where we share the stories of women of color, building wealth.
Acquania Escarne 0:30
But this isn't your ordinary interview based show. Throughout the series, you'll be hearing from women who are creatively...
Danielle Desir 0:37
securing the bag...
Acquania Escarne 0:39
...stacking coins , you know what we mean.
Athena Lent 0:50
I think an opportunity that being brown has created for me, was really going to school and getting different certificates and getting my degree. When I was going to school for criminal justice and criminology there, even though I live in a highly populated Latino area, I live in Phoenix, Arizona. There was not a lot of Latinas in our criminal justice classes. And so if you look back to systematic racism, and you look back to all these policies and procedures that are put in place, law enforcement typically isn't like a really friendly brown career. And so because I was brown, and because I was a woman, I was kind of I don't want to say like a unicorn. But I kind of was, I had a teacher who was a surgeon, or he was a commander over at Phoenix metro. And he said, "I could get you a job tomorrow, if you want to be a cop." And I was like, "I'm not physically fit enough to be a cop. I couldn't do that." He's like, "No, but we can make it work because it would be filling a quota for us." So also, I was offered a lot of full ride scholarships to go get my masters at different criminology schools, again, because they have quotas they have to make there's no minorities in higher ed. And so I was offered quite a few fellowships, Fulbright scholarships, some of them I kind of regret not taking. But again, I think everything happens for a reason. And I had some health issues I needed to deal with. So it was it was good it didn't work out. But that was an opportunity that I wasn't necessarily going to have if I wasn't a Latina. And sometimes-I mean, I did have a high GPA, but at the same time, I'm kind of like, did they offer to fly me out and give me all this stuff? Because I was brown? Yeah, cuz they need brown people in higher ed. I did have an I do have an obstacle and the obstacle is my name. And it is I don't speak Spanish. So those are the two obstacles that I deal with on a regular basis, being Brown. So I do have a very Caucasian sounding name, it is Athena Valentine Lent. My mom was Penny Valentine. They dropped the Valentina to Valentine when she was in the military. And so she said it sounded more professional. So as a result, I have Athena Valentine, and my last name is Lent. So I will go and I'll put my name on meetings or all you know, I'll have phone calls, I'll do different things. And I'll show up to have a professional meeting and they get confused. They're like, "Where's Athena? Are you like, Hi, I'm meeting with a Ms. Lent." And I'm always like, "Hey, it's me." And they're like, "Wait, what? Like you're brown? You're brown lady. We're here to meet with an Athena Lent. Oh, it's you for real? Oh, okay." Like I mean, and that's that's happened a couple of times. There's also the microaggressions of "How'd you get your name?" I get that a lot from people and I don't think they realize it is a microaggression. But I do have to, you know, stop them and be like, "Hey, you're not supposed to ask people that." But yeah, I get a lot of microaggressions of, "How did you get your name Athena? Like, that's really weird for a Latina to be named Athena. How'd you get your name Lent?" and they assume my married because my last name is Lent. Um, so that's, that's a really weird microaggression. And then the other obstacles, I don't speak Spanish. And so I have kind of a love hate thing going on with it. My grandma migrated from Spain, and my grandfather is Native American. And he grew up on a reservation and they had to assimilate. And so as part of the assimilation, my mom and her siblings were not taught Spanish. And so they were in California, they were in LA, and they did not as a result, my grandparents did not teach any of their kids Spanish. So then my mom didn't know Spanish and she did it. You know, so then I didn't know Spanish. And my grandma didn't teach me no one taught me so it's it's kind of frustrating because there's like, you know, they they're one of my teachers at ASU said once your own people are the most oppressive. And I used to get bullied a lot when I was in school, for being too white. Didn't know how to speak Spanish. I had a white name. It was really frustrating. And now sometimes I feel like I'm not bullied. But I feel like sometimes people are like, "Oh, you're not Latina enough because you don't speak Spanish." And I honestly I had like this real moral dilemma for a long time even identifying as a Latina because yeah, I was brown, but I didn't speak Spanish. So I thought like, my street cred wasn't there, you know. But it took a lot and I realized, like, I don't have to speak a certain language to identify with a culture, especially one that I was born in. And you see every day when you look at me and I see every day when I look in the mirror.
Danielle Desir 5:35
Athena Valentine Lent is a twice nationally recognized youth development expert and certified trauma specialist who advocates for self resiliency for all. She is also the founder of Money Smart Latina, a website where she educates Latinas about personal finance. More than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Latinas typically earn only 55 cents for every dollar earned by white non Hispanic men, and must work nearly 23 months to earn what white men earn in 12 months. On October 29 2020, Latina pay finally catched up to that of white non Hispanic men from the previous year. Latinas must typically work longer than everyone. This disparity hurts not only Latinas, but also the families and communities they support. You just heard from Athena Valentine Lent, who is fighting the good fight to bring financial education to people who look like her. Athena identifies as Latina and Native American. Her work as a program manager for a nonprofit allows her to help promote the importance of education, salary negotiations, and work-related opportunities for students all over the state of Arizona, especially those in low income neighborhoods. This is her story of building wealth.
Athena Lent 7:03
So money growing up in my family was- it was a little rough. My parents didn't use checking accounts or banks. I was very used to us overdrawing, our checking account. And so we would go to certain places in town, and they wouldn't accept checks from my parents. So we use primarily cash and like payday loans, pawn shops, Western Union, money orders, that kind of thing. As a result, I didn't know how to use a checking account properly until I was about in my mid 20s. When I was 19, I had my checking account, and I thought it was like a credit card, I didn't understand the concept. And I ended up getting turned over to Check Systems when I was 19. And I'm from a very small town up north. In Arizona, it's very rural. So there's about three banks and the whole town. And I didn't have I didn't have anything. So it was really it was really hard for me. And then I finally was able to get another checking account and my mid 20s. So that helped. I also was homeless in high school. My mom died a few days before Christmas when I was a freshman. And as a result, I kind of was passed around from relative to relative, and it was whoever wanted to use me for my Social Security check. And so I was kind of like, "Alright", you know, I had to really hustle, I was homeless, I didn't really have a lot of places to stay. So as a result of that, even though it only was for a few years in high school, it really led me to have a feast or famine mentality, because I was so used to just trying to survive. And I wasn't actually able to break that until a few years ago in my early 30s. And it's funny that you guys asked this question because I really had to stop and think about it. And I was like, "Oh my god, I forgot that happened" because I have had so much trauma in my life that I've compartmentalised a lot of it. And so I'll randomly be answering questions like this, and I'll be like, "Oh my god, I forgot that happened. Oh my God, my family was a hot mess." I didn't realize until I was about 10 that not everybody lived with their grandparents. And a lot of multi generational households. Your grandparents will take care of you for your parents. So I was very used to my grandpa picking me up from school and he would make me my after school snack. It was always a bowl of oatmeal. He'd go watch Bonanza, do my homework I'd play. And then my grandma would be around like she'd come home after work. But I didn't realize it wasn't normal for people to not live with their grandparents. So when I was you know, and I'm Latina, so I was very strict. My parents were very strict, and so were my grandparents. And I didn't understand that, you know, I go over someone's house and I was about 10 or 11. And they didn't live with their grandparents and I was really confused. I was like, well, "Who's supposed to light the candles? And who does all the prayer and who cleans and like, who's holding the lock to like, who's holding the household down, like what is going on?" And, you know, everybody was like, "Oh, well, we only see our grandparents, like twice a year." But I felt so lucky, because I got to see my grandparents all the time. And they passed away when I was about 11, and 12. Even though they were gone so early on, I was still very grateful that I had those good memories with them. I probably wouldn't have had all those memories with them had I not lived with them. My mom's passing actually, it affected my life in so many ways, and it still affects my life to this day. My mom was like my world. Well, she was very chronically ill growing up. So I knew I didn't have like, I don't want to say a regular mom. But I knew my mom was different than other moms. But when she was, when she wasn't sick, she was like, so many things. It was really hard. Because when she was healthy, she was such a mom, like she'd make my Halloween costumes. And she would make midnight pancakes. And we would do all these things. And when she passed away, it was like, my world was gone. Like I didn't, I didn't have that one constant anymore. And it probably wouldn't have been so bad had she not passed away in front of me, she actually died in front of me. And that was really traumatic. And she died a few days before Christmas. And so all that together just had a profound weight, like a profound effect on my life that I wouldn't wish on anybody. For a longest time, I didn't let myself celebrate Christmas, I didn't let myself do certain things like Mother's Day, it was really hard. And
Forget that part of it was also really hard because I was homeless for a few years as a result. And I was passed around by her siblings for my Social Security check. And so I can joke about it. I was like I was passed around like a wet food stamp right? But it kind of it kind of was like that. And so I had to learn how to take care of myself. But at the same time, I didn't have stability for so long. And I ended up going into all these codependent relationships when I was younger, because I just craved stability. So anybody who I felt was stable, I would crave to them. And I would like hang on to them, even if they were like, not good for me. Even if there was we were just toxic for each other, I would just hang on to them. So that affected my life a lot where I lived, who I hung out with. I was scared to tell people no. I was scared to you know, like, I was trying to keep everybody happy. I did a lot of therapy, I did a lot of self growth. And I am happy now. Like I celebrate holidays. And I do things for my mom for Mother's Day like to honor her. And I do little rituals that my mom and I did that, you know, keep me close to her, she loved to host and have people over. So I always try to host and have people over. And I mean, she just you know, she was such a mom. And so like I made my Halloween costume this year. And I felt like I was connecting with her that way. So that was really cool.
But I don't know, like I think a lot of that just had a profound effect on my life. But, um, I do I do like to take I have a theme. I have a quote that I read a few years ago by The Frugal Girl. And she says nothing is all good and nothing is all bad. So I honestly and sincerely believe how not lost my mom and had I not- had like such a crazy high school experience, I would not be nearly as good. Not even like 5% as good as I am with my day job. And so for my day job, I work with first generation high school students and they're first generation, you know, college students, and a lot of them come from similar backgrounds such as mine, and they have barriers are in foster care, they're homeless, they're adjudicated, they're just they have all these like odds stacked against them, right? And I did too. And I was able to go and rise above it. And that's why I always say my demoraph- your demographics don't determine your destiny. And I truly believe had I not had that experience and that struggle, I would not be able to have the ministry I do now. And I would not be able to support and give to those kids the way I can. So I like to, you know, weigh the pros and cons. I'm not I'm not happy I went through it. I don't suggest anyone going through it. But at the same time it would not be able to connect and help all these kids that I do now as a result.
Acquania Escarne 14:46
Given what you went through following the death of your mom, how did you get to college? Who helped you? What was your motivation? How was it possible?
Athena Lent 14:57
My mom passed away when I was a freshman and I was I don't have to go to school. And so I'm not gonna lie. My sophomore and junior year I was running the streets doing hoodrat stuff with my friends. And I look back and I'm like, "Oh my God, thank God, I didn't get caught or thank God, nothing bad happened to me." But as a result, I wasn't going to school and I wasn't taking school very seriously. And my mom was the person that really like drove home, "like you're going to college, you're going to do this, you're going to do that." It was at the time-It was one of the times I was living with her sister. And I so did not get along with her sister, and you know, all that and but I loved her husband, my Uncle Albert, he was amazing. I always had the best memories of him before my mom died, and he was great. And then they took me in. And, you know, my aunt was doing her own hoodrat stuff. She was a hot mess. And so, but my uncle was a stable one, right? And you know, I craved that stability. And so I knew no matter what I could find my Uncle Albert, at the kitchen counter drinking a Bud Light after work listening to like Bob Seiger or Whitesnake, or country music. And I could talk to him and he'd helped me with my homework. And so anyways, it was one of the times that went to go live with them. And I was like, so angry, and I was like, "I don't even want to do this." It was like math homework or something. My uncle looks at me, and he's like, "I am so sad for you." And I was like, "What?" And he goes, "If I had half the brain, you did. I would be so successful. And here you are throwing it away." He's like, "I'm just so embarrassed for you." He's like, "I'm sad. And I'm embarrassed." And I was like, "What? somebody thinks I'm smart. It's not just me blowing hot smoke up everyone. Like someone legitimately thinks I'm smart and thinks I'm throwing my life away. Wow, this is such a novel concept. No one's ever said this to me." He He said that to me. And I was like, "Oh, crap, what am I doing with my life?" Legit that is when I started going to school, I started doing all my homework. I graduated with like a 1.9 GPA. But if I didn't have him, I would have not graduated at all. Because my senior year, I doubled up on high school credits, I was going to school as a senior, I would get up at 7 and be at high school 8 work, go to school till 2:30 work from 3-6:30. And then I would go to college classes. And I was able to graduate on time by stacking all those credits up on each other. So that was a real turning point. And that is why I ended up graduating high school and I went into college. But I went I had a very long relationship with college, I would go for a year or two, I would get sidetracked by something that happened in my life. And then I would go back and forth back and forth.
I finally was just kind of like motivated my when I was 23. And it was like my third time back in school. And I was motivated because I was angry. Only five of my classes had transferred from Arizona to Nevada. I went and lived in Las Vegas for a while. And I was like," I just want to be done." So like I sat and I like got that done. And then, you know, I had my associates, I went into the workforce. And then a few years ago, my boss I highly highly-she's my executive director now and I highly respect her. She was like, "I can't promote you until you get a Bachelor's." And I was like, "What? Because I just want to make money, right?" And she's like, "I can't promote you until you get a Bachelor's." So I was like, all right, and that was like the fire. Like I already knew I had to go back, I had to go back. I was putting it off putting it off. And then it was like, "I'm not gonna promote you till you get your bachelor's." But three months before I graduated with my bachelor's, and I did it I busted my butt for like two years straight. I did a study abroad program in Israel for a summer. I just like hustled and you know, at the end, like two, two months left before graduation, she pulled me aside, she's like, "Hey, we have this position, we think it'd be a great fit for it." I have a history of underearning. So a lot of people say nonprofit means no money. And so when I was I had just graduated in 2016, from ASU with my bachelors and I knew I was going to be moving into our management office. And I was like, you know, I really need to make more money. And I have an idea of what I want to make. And it was about almost twenty grand more than what I was currently making. And I went and I drew up a list. And I called it my Win List and I had a Win File. And so Dominique Brown actually recommends doing this-Your Finances Simplified. And he says keep a Win File. And so every time you have a win at work or you have something that you've like totally rocked, you put it in that file, so then you can go back to that file. And you can kind of look at and see what you've done what you've accomplished over the year. So then when it's time to go and negotiate your salary, you have a starting point. And so I started, I really sat and I thought about all the things. And so at the time, we were trying to build our relationship with law enforcement. And so I actually had already started doing that. And I was launching, I launched a program using different curriculum from different law enforcement for my position at the time, and so I actually took all those like things I was doing. So I knew that's what they wanted, and what they were looking for. And I kind of cross matched. And so I put my list together. And I went in, and I very calmly told my boss, I was like, "I would like to make this much and this is why." They kind of laughed at me. They're like, "Nobody, like on the management team makes that much." And I was like, "All right, well, I would still like this." And they came back. And they were like, "Okay, well, what if, you know, we were we were going back and forth? Like, what could we settle on? "And so, um, but because I sat there, and I was like, "This is what I want, this is what I've accomplished. You know, where can we go, can we meet in the middle?" And so they met me in the middle. And because I did go higher, and they went lower, we were able to go back and forth to a number where I actually was happy that I had, I didn't realize I like had out negotiated a few people that way, but I still was happy that I did that. So when I negotiate, I always tell everybody go high, because they're gonna hit you back low. And you can you can meet in the middle. So the three practical tips I have for negotiating your salary. I already mentioned keeping a Win File, it's much easier to go back and look at the things that you've accomplished over the year, if you have them all written down, and you have them in one place instead of having to go back. And remember over and over again, I know I have ADHD, so I forget everything all the time. And then another. Another practical tip I have for negotiating your salary is to research other opportunities and see what they're paying, you can go on places like Glassdoor I like to go on Indeed and see who's hiring for what. And a lot of times I myself because I have negotiated my salary and I have stayed at the same employer for so long, I find a lot of the positions that are being hired for me like a lot of other organizations that are hiring for my position, they're actually starting them off at about 13 grand less. So I'm like, "okay" but that's another great way to see what other people are paying so that way, you know, to go and negotiate for it. And then I also say don't be afraid to ask other people. I was able to help somebody negotiate their salary, they didn't know I was making about 20 grand more than them. And so I was able to go and negotiate and, you know, tell them like, "Hey, like, this is how much I'm making you. You're not making enough like you need to go ask for more ask for more." So but I wouldn't I wouldn't know if I didn't ask people. And you know, I do a lot of stuff for Money Smart Latina, I do freelance writing. And I get, you know, approached for different opportunities. And I go to my community, I go to my mastermind, and I say, "Hey, how much should I charge for this?" I know somebody who's famous and McDonald's wanted them to come do a speech and they were not going to pay them, they were going to offer them instead a lifetime supply of french fries. Can't pay your bills with French fries. So it's just ask other people. Don't be afraid to ask other people. I know a lot of companies are saying, "Oh, it's taboo to talk about your salary. You need to keep your salary confidential. You need to do this, you need to do that." Mmm.. I don't think so. Especially as the pay gap widens? I don't think so. I'm a Latina, I make 53 cents statistically to every white man's dollar. And I can't save what I don't earn. So I am going to ask everyone, I'm going to ask you, whatever I feel like asking you. You can tell me if you don't want to answer it. But I'm still going to ask. I am building wealth by retirement like I'm investing in my 401k at work. You know, I have my business I have Money Smart Latina, or I do personal finance for the Latinas. Hey, but then I also have Athena Valentine where I do virtual assistants I have a virtual assisting agency. I have my day job. I'm not above going and doing like side jobs here and there for friends and family. I feel like it's just really important especially like I said earlier as a Latina you know, we statistically don't make as much so I feel like it's important just to build as many income streams as you possibly can. And my future goal is that I would like to start also investing in real estate. I would love love love to buy a duplex somewhere. Real estate in Phoenix, Arizona is kind of crazy right now. I was hoping I might bottom out next year but we'll see. But I would love to invest in like a duplex. There 's this part of town. It's right up the street for me. It is not only by a hospital, but it's right. But it's in between a hospital, and it's in between a college. And so I was like, I want to get a duplex, And I wanna be a landlord, and I want to just like rent out all the little duplexes to everybody. Because I feel like that would be a good area for a duplex like or an apartment building. That's how I'm building wealth right now. And then I also, I want to start getting involved in the stock market. I don't really know a lot about the stock market, but I have a lot of friends. And it's also a different thing that I'm gonna, like, explore more in 2021. You know, if I didn't negotiate, and I didn't really hit hard, the amount of money that I'm bringing in, I couldn't be I wouldn't be able to have a high savings rate. I wouldn't have a high rate of things I could do like investing in myself. I'm a big, big, big firm believer of therapy. I wouldn't be able to do that. And it's kind of like a cycle. If I didn't have the money to do therapy, I wouldn't be able to function at my career. If I wasn't able to function at my career, I wouldn't be earning the money I'm earning. So it's just kind of a cycle. But I think, you know, if I hadn't negotiated I would have been like screwed. And not so much anymore. I'm not an underearner anymore. I'm not. I'm not proclaiming that over my life anymore. It's not illegal for me. But I have a history of doing that. So if I would have kept that cycle up had I not negotiated my income.
Millennial Wealth Builders is the proud recipient of the Plutus Foundation Fall 2020 Grant, the Caress Dreams to Reality Fund, and The Black and Brown Podcast Collective.
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Build Wealth By Negotiating A Pay Raise
In this episode we cover:
Wondering how to ask for a raise? Athena shares how to ask for a raise at work.
- What it was like living in a multigenerational Latino household.
- Athena Valentine Lent’s journey from homelessness to building wealth.
- The two biggest challenges she faces as a Latina in the corporate setting.
- How to negotiate a pay raise and increase your salary.
- Several ways to start building wealth.
- How the pay gap impacts Latina women.
How to ask for a raise
- Keep track of your accomplishments by keeping a ‘win file’.
- Research salaries of similar positions at different companies.
- Ask for what you want and prepare to negotiate.
Connect with Athena Valentine Lent
Athena Valentine Lent is a twice nationally recognized youth development expert, mental health and civil rights activist, and certified trauma specialist who advocates for self resiliency for all. She is the founder of Money Smart Latina, a website where she educates Latinas about personal finance.
YouTube Channel: Money Smart Latina
Latina Equal Pay Day
What is Latina Equal Pay Day?
Latina Equal Pay Day is the day Latinas finally make what White, non-Hispanic men made last year.
More than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Latina’s typically earn only 55 cents for every dollar earned by White, non-Hispanic men and must work nearly 23 months to earn what white men earn in 12 months.
When is Latina Equal Pay Day?
In 2021, Latina Equal Pay Day is October 21, 2021. This is the day when Latina pay catches up to that of White, non-Hispanic men from the previous year.
When was Latina Equal Pay Day 2020?
Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day was observed on October 29, 2020.
When was Latina Equal Pay Day 2019?
November 20, 2019, was Latina Equal Pay Day. This is the day when Hispanic women’s earnings caught up to non-Hispanic White men’s earnings from the previous year.
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Have any salary negotiation tips to share? Would love to hear your tips on how to negotiate a raise at work.
Danielle Desir Corbett paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27, and has traveled to 27 countries, including her favorites, Iceland, China, and Bermuda. Go here to learn Danielle’s incredible story, from struggling financially and in debt to finding creative ways to earn more and live on her terms. Listen to The Thought Card Podcast, where Danielle shares how you can creatively travel more and build wealth regardless of your current financial situation. Reach out to Danielle by contacting: thethoughtcard (at) gmail (dot) com.