Ram greeting New Orleans community members at Essence Fest.

The Earnin Community Unites at Essence Fest

4 minute read

As many people in America were enjoying fireworks and hot dogs on the Fourth of July, Earnin took a trip down to Louisiana to attend Essence Festival (Essence Fest). We went to speak on financial inequality, and were blown away by the festival attendees we met, the city of New Orleans, and the Earnin community.

For those who don’t know, Essence Fest is the largest cultural and entertainment experience in the world. It’s taken place over the Fourth of July weekend in New Orleans every year for the past 25 years (except in 2006, when Hurricane Katrina’s damage to the city forced the festival to move to Houston). Essence Fest is a celebration of African-American culture, featuring musical performances, art displays, and vendor stalls. It’s also a hub for high-profile speakers, with this year including Michelle Obama; CEOs of major companies like Walmart, Kaiser Permanente, and Square; filmmakers; actors; political figures; and more.

Earnin’s own CEO Ram Palaniappan was on a panel speaking about overcoming generational financial inequality. Earnin is trying to address financial inequality by giving people access to their pay faster without charging fees or interest. We hope that will help people stay on top of bills while avoiding late fees, overdraft fees, and payday loans.

Even though getting to spread the message of building a fairer financial system was wonderful, our favorite part of Essence Fest was connecting with the Earnin community. Before the festival, we reached out to Earnin community members in the greater New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas asking them to share how they’ve contributed to their community in the fight against financial inequality. Through that we met one particularly impressive community member, Briana Williams.

Briana is a model of community involvement in her hometown of Baton Rouge. She works in an audiology clinic that administers hearing and speech tests to children in schools, seeing if they need extra help. 

Outside of work, Briana also volunteers with two organizations, City Year and MetroMorphosis. With City Year, Briana visits classrooms at high-need schools to provide mentorship and guidance for students in the community. On the weekends she goes to parks partnered with City Year to organize youth events. As part of MetroMorphosis, she meets with other Baton Rougeans to develop new ways to tackle community issues.

Involved in volunteer service since middle school, Briana told us, “This has always been a passion for me, it’s just gotten even broader and deeper as I’ve gotten older.” In her volunteer work she focuses on youth because she finds their success inspiring. “Being in Louisiana, me being from New Orleans, we are born into a lot of trauma, which is the trauma of poverty… I don’t want that same type of trauma to follow along down the line,” she said.

Briana has been taking care of herself since she was 16, and still deals with her own financial issues stemming from student loans and other debt. She’s used Earnin to help pay for gas and spot her on rent, which let her focus on other important financial goals like setting aside money for an emergency fund to cover sudden expenses. What's so incredible about Briana is that despite facing personal obstacles throughout her life, she uses her experiences to help others and pay it forward in her community - both in and outside of work.

We were so inspired by Briana’s story, and we wanted to pay it forward by giving her two exclusive VIP tickets to the festival. Even then, she continued to inspire us. 

When we reached out to Briana after the festival ended and asked her what her favorite part of it was, she didn't mention the celebrities or concerts. Instead, she said she really enjoyed the networking opportunities that her VIP ticket opened up with the community of attendees at Essence Fest. She met with people in influential positions, and exchanged emails and LinkedIn profiles. Briana hopes to leverage those contacts when organizing more opportunities for her community. She explained, “I’ve been put in a position to be able to help others, because if one can’t get into that type of position, then how can you help those behind you or those who are looking to lead just like you?”

In a world where so many resources are held by so few people, it can be easy to lose faith in your ability to affect change and improve your surroundings. If that happens to you, look around for people like Briana, who work to make society better. As Briana told us, if you’re trying to raise up your community, “It can be done.”