Inside Look: Meet Our Members

INSIDE LOOK: MEET OUR MEMBERS

Who are the people who work to help Californians build assets? Why do they do what they do? How are they trying to do it? CABC’s Inside Look: Meet Our Membersprofile series aims to answer these questions.

This series is part of CABC’s Valuing Who We Are at Work Project developed by Melody Ng, CABC’s 2021 Racial Economic Justice Fellow. Find more information on the Valuing Who We Are At Work page of our website.

Meet Kristin McGuire of Young Invincibles | November 2021

In my family, we’re always asking, ‘What are we doing to better our position as a people as a whole?’



CABC Steering Committee Member, Kristin McGuire is the Executive Director of Young Invincibles, a national nonprofit dedicated to amplifying the voices of young adults in political processes. As a Black woman raised by a single mother that provided for three children — who was often restricted from accessing work and other opportunities due to lack of access to proper childcare — she identifies strongly with the communities that she serves. “I feel like it’s innately in me to get my people free — not only Black people. I mean first generation college students, kids growing up in lower resourced single parents households, all those identities are part of ‘my people.’”

Civic duty and advocacy run deep in Kristin’s family. Her mother was one of a number of Black students that helped to integrate Reform Elementary School in the state of Alabama as a 7-year-old in 1969. Kristin feels obliged to carry and pass on this legacy of activism to future generations through her work. Her mission in life is to “demystify how policies impact people as everyday citizens” and to ensure that people like her — first generation college students, people who were raised in lower resourced environments — are valued as informants and partners in the policymaking process.

“In advocacy, we always have to remember we’re not advocating for, we’re advocating with. Community always has to be involved or it’s not advocacy. We can’t tell them what they need. People already know what they need. You need to take the time to ask them. They will tell you.”

Kristin McGuire, CABC Steering Committee Member

From Information Gaps to Wealth Gaps

Kristin’s experiences exemplify how lack of access to information and discrimination can make food and other emergency and supplemental aid inaccessible to people who urgently need them. As an undergraduate, she went to her local California Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) office with several other students to apply for CalFresh when they were in need of food aid. College students tend to have higher rates of food insecurity compared to households in the U.S. — with between 43.5 percent to 59 percent of college students experiencing food insecurity compared to 13 percent of households.

“When we got there, the workers were rude, they were looking down on us. One didn’t run my application, because she said I had on what they thought was new clothes. She said she knew I was ineligible, and I had mismanaged my financial aid money.” It’s a memory that she draws on often in her work.

Barriers to information access are among one of the many “unseen barriers” that BIPOC students face. Students of color still routinely face discrimination from teachers that impact the quality of their learning environment and consequently their life trajectories, especially when students of color feel “teachers don’t believe in you.”

Kristin recalls how an academic rivalry between herself and another student in the 6th grade made this clear to her. “Everytime Rachel got an ‘A’, the teacher would announce it. But if I got an ‘A’, it was never announced.” Later, when it came time for the schools to administer Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) Program testing, Kristin was admitted into the program while Rachel was not. “I can remember the teacher saying, ‘There must have been something wrong with the test.’”

"[I want to] make sure that people who come after me have access without these... I want to say unseen barriers, but they're not unseen to the people experiencing them. They're very visible."

She encountered these barriers again when it came time for her and her brothers to apply for college and figure out how to finance their undergraduate education. “High school counselors didn’t tell me about scholarships. We didn’t have it at home to know how to do it …That kind of marginalization, when information is withheld….Folks trying to predestine what was going to happen to my brothers and I based on our access to information.”

The disenfranchisement of communities often occurs and is exacerbated when people do not have access to the information they need to make informed choices for themselves, their families, and their communities. Given what her experiences have illuminated about the role access to information plays in creating racial opportunity and wealth gaps, Kristen knew that her work would center around eliminating these information disparities. “I wanted to make sure young people, when it came to … economic mobility, that we could try our best to control our futures.” She believes that education is key to helping communities develop economic security. She aims to “make sure that people who come after me have access without these barriers, I want to say unseen barriers, but they’re not unseen to the people experiencing them. They’re very visible.”

California’s Student Borrower Bill of Rights

Student debt has depleted Black and Brown families. Nationally, Black women take on more student debt than any other group (with an average of more than $41,400), while, in California, Latina women hold the most student debt. Almost a third of Black student borrowers make monthly payments of $350 or more, and half owe on average 12.5 percent more than they borrowed four years after graduating college. Moreover, Black women are more likely to default on their loan payments.

"I'm a student debtor. My husband is a student debtor."

That is why Kristin believes her most significant contribution to the economic justice field is the Student Borrower Bill of Rights (Assembly Bill 376). The bill, cosponsored by five organizations (including Young Invincibles, Student Debt Crisis, Student Borrower Protection Center, NextGen California, and Consumer Reports), was passed in 2020. “I’m most proud of that. I’m a student debtor. My husband is a student debtor.”

Education is the often only path to social mobility — a prevailing narrative for many people of color. But the lack of support they receive once after being admitted to college and the deficits in resources with which many of them start college almost guarantee that debt will be inevitable in order to collect the degrees they have been told are necessary to achieve professional success and economic stability. At the same time, these same students encounter barriers to employment and upward mobility in the workplace that prevent them from earning enough to repay their student debt. In sum, students of color borrow more to get degrees but are paid less once on the job — becoming ensnared in a “vicious” cycle of debt and “long default” that prevent them from building wealth.

AB 376 provides some relief to those trapped in this cycle by enabling individuals who have been victim to predatory debt collection practices to sue their debt servicers. It creates enforceable industry-wide standards for loan servicing companies and protects existing and future borrowers in California from predatory lenders. It also ensures that student loan servicing companies — like Sallie Mae, NelNet, Great Lakes, Navient, or FedLoan Servicing — comply with standards of legal and ethical debt collection practices. Many of these companies have employed practices that have frustrated borrowers’ ability to manage their loans — including misapplying payments, providing borrowers inaccurate information, and even steering them into more costly repayment options. 

The first of its kind, the bill has created an impetus for other states to start developing their own student borrower bill of rights, as its influence starts making waves throughout the country. A Student Loan Borrowers’ Bill of Rights Act is also currently being considered in a few U.S. House committees. “It got in a couple news articles, but people don’t know about it. People will see the change in the law and understand something is different for them, but they won’t know why. But I’m happy to sit in the corner and smile like a proud grandma.”

Delegitimizing the “Starving Student” Norm

Within five years, Kristin has gone from connecting with homeless students about their needs to witnessing every community college campus being required to establish a basic needs center — just this year. During this time, Young Invincibles has played a critical role “making college a little more affordable” for students each year by providing young adults with the wraparound resources they need to succeed — support services that ensure they can afford textbooks, to eat and meet other basic needs.

Young Invincibles has played a critical role “making college a little more affordable” for students each year by providing young adults with the wraparound resources they need to succeed — support services that ensure they can afford textbooks, to eat and meet other basic needs.

Prior to 2016, the idea that students were supposed to be “starving” was a pervasive norm. But Young Invincibles’ policy wins have helped to denormalize the stereotype of the “starving student.” Young Invincibles has worked with Assembly Members Shirley N. Weber and Monique Limón to pass student hunger legislation (Assembly Bill 214 and Assembly Bill 453) that ensures college students have easier access to the CalFresh program on school campuses (e.g. making it possible for all schools to participate in Restaurant Meals Program, which allows on-campus food vendors to take food stamps). This past year, they also helped pass legislation that increases CalGrants available to low-income students (AB 132) and that ensures that the Basic Needs Centers and Coordinators that each community college in the state is required to establish is provided for in the state’s budget.

In the 1970s, California’s UC system was the envy of the world. But the gradual privatization of public education in the decades since has stripped federal and state funding for public universities in the state, resulting in tuition and fee increases over the years that have increasingly placed higher education out of reach for young people — particularly students of color and those from lower-resourced environments. California now spends less per capita of its GDP on public education compared to other states, despite having the world’s fifth largest economy. Young Invincibles has been helping to reverse the impacts of this trend through its work to “[set] students up to be able to build wealth.”

Building Out Our Social Safety Support Systems

Young Invincibles’ wins aside, there remains much to be done to help people build wealth — including ramping up our social safety net programs, where many families in need have been and continue to fall through the gaps.

Like Kristin’s mother, these families are composed of working individuals that are still unable to make ends meet, yet ineligible for emergency and supplemental aid programs, like CalFresh and Medical. She notes that policies like Universal Basic Income (UBI) would have greatly benefited her family as she was growing up, helping them to make ends meet and providing them with some discretionary income. By some measures, 40 percent of all households are one missed paycheck away from not being able to make ends meet. This kind of income insecurity was prevalent even before the pandemic. “It’s why we were able to support the first ever UBI bill [which] was heard earlier this year, even if it didn’t pass. Situations like mine are not unique, not exceptional.”

“College students [from these communities] are driven to certain careers… because they are their parents’ retirement plan.”

Income insecurity and the ensuing wealth gaps it contributes to in the BIPOC community has also raised questions about when, if at all, workers in these communities will have the means to retire, how they plan to support themselves and their families when they are no longer working, and consequently, what kind of supports should be in place to meet their needs. Within communities of color, it’s a common expectation for people to assume financial responsibility for their parents in their old age. This is necessitated in part by the well-documented racial retirement gap and continual increases in the retirement age to access Social Security benefits. “College students [from these communities] are driven to certain careers… because they are their parents’ retirement plan.”

As for how to tell how a community is doing, Kristin believes we should be looking to caretakers, children, and college students — who she believes provide an accurate indicator of the financial health of a community. “How many kids are having lunch?…Who’s eating is a strong indicator of how a community is doing.”

Meet Shirley Yee of YR Media | December 2021


Stay tuned!