‘Why not us?’: Some Marcy House residents optimistic about Jay-Z’s Bitcoin Academy

Brooklyn-born rapper Jay-Z and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey have announced the launch of a new Bitcoin Academy at Beford-Stuyvesant’s Marcy Houses, where the rapper grew up.
Wikimedia Commons/Jim.henderson

Brooklyn-born rapper and producer Jay-Z and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey earlier this month announced the launch of the Bitcoin Academy — a series of free courses on how to invest and manage cryptocurrency, offered this summer to residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Marcy Houses, where the musician grew up.

Media outlets quickly found tenants to be skeptical of the initiative, some fearful of risking their money, others doubt the program will stick for any of the complex’s 4,200-plus residents. But, speaking to some directly, Brooklyn Paper found there to be some excitement for the opportunity.

“Why not us?” said 42-year-old Roger Thompson, a Marcy resident and father of three. “We hear all the time that people make a lot of money, millions even, with just investing, so why not give it a try? We are going to learn from the best in that field. We don’t have much, but we can start really small and see how it goes.”

The Marcy Houses — a 28-acre affordable housing complex built in 1949 as part of a push by the New York City Housing Authority to house the city’s low-income residents — had fallen into a state of dangerous disrepair by the 1970s, when Jay-Z lived there. It was once known as one of the most infamous public housing projects in the country, due to its high volume of gun violence, drug use, and domestic violence incidents.

Once called one of the most infamous U.S. public housing projects for gun-violence, drug use, domestic abuse reported incidents, Marcy had fallen into a state of dangerous disrepair by the 1970s, when Jaz-Z lived there. 

Rapper Jay Z chats with Charlie Rose at the Brooklyn Museum in 2011. More than a decade later, the music star is bringing a new 12-week financial literacy course called the Bitcoin Academy to his hometown of Bed-Stuy.File photo by Paul Martinka

The goal of the Bitcoin Academy is simple, Jay-Z said, “to provide people tools to build independence for themselves and then the community around them.”

Each resident who enrolls in the Bitcoin Academy will get access to free classes, devices, data plans and $25 starting investments. Children ages 5-17 will also be eligible for enrollment in “Crypto Kids Camp.”

The 12-week course will be taught by Lamar Wilson, who runs the website Black Bitcoin Billionaire, and Najah J Roberts, founder and CEO of a brick-and-mortar crypto-school in California called Crypto Blockchain Plug. Classes will go over how Bitcoin works, why it matters, and how to build a “financial future.”

“These people are smart and rich, they don’t need to be doing this, but they are doing it and they wont charge us a thing, so it must be because they think it will lead to something,” said Marcy resident and mother-of-two Camilla Esquirra, 39. “It’s hard to find the time since I have two jobs, but the point is to not need to have those two jobs at some point.”

The average household income for public housing residents in New York City is $24,454, according to the New York City Housing Authority. According to the academy’s, mission statement, it aims to get rid of some of those barriers, and debunk preconceived notions that new financial trends aren’t for everyone.

“Education is where we start. Dorsey tweeted. in a Tweet. “This isn’t just about bitcoin… it’s about long-term thinking, local economies, and self-confidence.”

And news of the program has already empowered some residents.

“I don’t know anything about it, but I’ve wanted to learn for a long time,” said 28-year-old Christina Almada, an online business student at Southern New Hampshire University. “I just always thought it wasn’t meant for me.”

The program, however, comes at an interesting time for the cryptocurrency. The highly volatile Bitcoin is suffering a “record-breaking rout,” according to Bloomberg, dropping from a value of nearly $51,000 six months ago to $18,809 today. Other currencies, like Etherium, are suffering similar fates, with Bloomberg reporting that traders are “bracing for the next crisis.”

In the meantime, residents like Thompson hopes the Bitcoin Academy can benefit his entire household.

“I want everyone in my family to enroll, learn about it and see where it takes us,” he said, “because, if everything goes well, it can be far.”

Enrollment is now open through the school’s website. Bitcoin Academy is presented in partnership with Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation, Cash App, Black Bitcoin Billionaire, and Crypto Blockchain Plug.