Great Community Members Give Back!

by Michael Carlin, Century City News

February 26, 2007 (Century City, CA) - Bear Stearns and the Chaka Khan Foundation are two incredible members of this community. They brought 50 middle school children from Watts and Compton to the Century City investment banking and securities trading and brokerage offices of Bear Stearns on February 22nd. This was a "Chaka Believes" workshop on finance, investment and markets. CKF Founder and music icon Chaka Khan was present, as was special guest Chris Gardner, the entrepreneur whose extraordinary life story, The Pursuit Of Happyness , is now an Academy Award-nominated film starring Will Smith as Gardner.

Originally a critically-acclaimed autobiography, The Pursuit Of Happyness chronicles Gardner's inspiring rags-to-riches rise from homelessness to major investment world success and present renown as a motivational speaker and philanthropist. Gardner, who was with Bear Stearns from '83-'87, said of the workshop, "I'm honored to have the opportunity to interact with these great kids, and I thank the Chaka Khan Foundation and Bear Stearns for making it possible. We need to teach children the hard facts about making, saving, investing and spending money - financial aptitude is a crucial part of their education. I hope I will play a small part in instilling them with confidence, inspiring them to strive for their goals - however impossible others may say they are - and encouraging them to understand the keys to financial success."

John R. "Jake" Loftus, who heads up Bear Stearns' operations in Los Angeles, commented, "Bear Stearns has a long tradition of helping to educate children and inspiring them to make their dreams come true. The firm is happy to welcome back one of its own to tell his story of perseverance and inspiration as he traveled along a difficult path to fulfill his dreams." The workshop with Chris Gardner and Chaka Khan was be led by the company's Senior Managing Director Tracey Gluck, who also serves as Vice Chair for Chaka Khan Foundation. Morgan Stanley's Ramsey Jay introduced Mr. Gardner to the children by warming them up with a little education about stocks, the market and investing. Ramsey Jay used a clever 3-repetition exercise to help the kids learn complex concepts, and the kids were able to rattle back definitions that might challenge some adults. His theme that "big dreams can come true" was well received by the kids.

Chris Gardner's media career was jumpstarted by an interview with Barbara Walters. After the interview aired, Mr. Gardner got a telephone call from Will Smith. Immediately he thought it was a prank and hung up the telephone. The second call came in and he also hung up. The third try they finally ended up speaking. I guess Ramsey Jay's philosophy of repetition in three's was at work. Chris Gardner explained that his career began at Bear Stearns and that Bear is not just a company that is all about the money. "Of course, we all work for the money but Bear Stearns is a company that invests in people."  

The kids had all seen the movie and were able to ask questions after Mr. Gardner's inspirational talk.   One student asked, "What were you thinking in that public bathroom?"   Chris Gardner replied, "Some very important decisions were made in that bathroom. The most important decision was that I would not abandon my son and we have been together. My step father reminded me every day that I was not his son. I vowed that my children would never hear this."   Another student asked, "Did you ever feel like giving up?"   Chris replied, "I may have failed...I never quit. It's O.K. to fail but you can never quit! I didn't set out to make money. I set out to be world class at something and the money followed."

Each of the students received their own copy of "Money Mama and The Three Little Pigs" by author Lori Mackey. The book teaches children to spend their money responsibly and to save 10% of what they earn for a rainy day. Not a bad concept when over 2/3 of Americans have no retirement set aside.

The students attending are the first class of CKF's lauded Chaka Believes educational initiative, launched in 2006 with 50 kids from LAUSD's under-served District 7 in Watts. The program is tracking the students from grades 6-8, bridging the critical gap between elementary and high school and providing support to help them realize the dream of a college education and a bright future. It engages the children with diverse, transformational experiences throughout the school year, taking them beyond their daily environment and exposing them to positive role models, career possibilities and vital resources to empower them and foster success.