First period at Bennett High School was interrupted Monday by a rock concert.
At least it started out that way.
The Nashville-based, Kansas-bred band GOODING rocked the high school’s auditorium for four or five songs before the band’s lead singer and namesake turned teacher and gave the howling crowd of students a lesson on a subject they don’t often hear about in the classroom: money.
“Raise your hand if you want to buy a car,” he said.
Students raised their hands.
“Raise your hand if you want to buy a house,” he said.
Again, hands went up.
“Whatever your choice is," he said, "you can get there farther and faster with a little understanding about money.”
Students were ready for the unconventional approach. Shamiah Scott-Lokey said she’s never heard about financial literacy.
“Not really,” said Shamiah, 15, “but their message, I think, will help a lot of people – also myself.”
The morning concert at Bennett, and the one in the afternoon at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, was part of a financial literacy concert tour GOODING does at high schools across the United States, using music to slip in a little sage advice to thousands.
While you may recognize some of their music from movies and television – it's been placed on the DVDs of "Iron Man 2," "Walk the Line," and "Ice Age 2," as well as in commercials for Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler – financial literacy has become an issue near and dear to the four-piece band.
Inspired by Operation Hope, which teaches financial literacy to inner-city kids, GOODING started the nonprofit Funding the Future and received backing from the likes of Raymond James Financial to help underwrite their concerts.
The band includes guitarist Erin O’Neill, bass player Eric Santagada, Jesse Reichenberger on the drums and their lead singer and guitarist, who goes only by the name Gooding. The band's music is not about financial literacy.
“We’re a band that cares about financial literacy – we’re not a financial literacy band,” he said.
Gooding said he sees more and more kids on an uneven playing field who need sound life advice to get out of poverty.
“The more kids are struggling, the more they’re trying to get the easy fix,” Gooding said.
His message to them?
“It’s not very sexy, but slow and steady,” Gooding said. “If they will start saving today, they will break a lot of these cycles.”
The band played for almost a half hour, before Gooding stood on stage alone to talk to the students about financial literacy.
And yes, he knows: Financial literacy may sound boring to an auditorium full of teenagers. But Gooding – raised in a single-parent household where money management wasn’t taught – spoke openly about some of the pitfalls that once trapped him, too.
He cautioned the students about credit cards and explained credit scores. He educated them about compounding interest, warned them about predatory lending and encouraged them to give back to the community. He implored them not to believe the hype they see among the celebrities on television and in movies.
He told them of the financial problems of people they've all heard of – Dennis Rodman, Lindsay Lohan, 50 Cent. He told them about the high percentage of NFL and NBA players who were broke just five years after retiring.
Sit down and figure out how much you have coming in, he told them, and how much you have going out.
“If you’re spending more than you’re making, you’re going to suffer,” he said. “Control your money or it will control you."
His recommendation: When you’re 18, start setting aside $50 a week in a Roth IRA account. With an average return of 6 percent, you will have amassed more than $678,000 by the time you're 65.
“If you do nothing today, open a savings account,” Gooding told them. “Start investing in yourself.”
“What bank do you suggest to start a savings account?” one student asked.
“I’m a big fan of credit unions,” Gooding said, “and local banks are great.”
The band was brought to Buffalo by Lisa Walsh of the Walsh Group of Raymond James, a local financial planning team.
Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the nation, she said, and this concert was a small step in helping the next generation break that cycle – even if the message gets through to only one student.
“If I get up there and speak to them, it’s not very cool,” Walsh said, “but after just four or five songs, they’re listening to what the band has to say.”
The kids enjoyed it, said Principal Susan Doyle.
“No. 1, they caught them with their music,” Doyle said, “and he was very down to earth and honest speaking about how you get into financial trouble.”
“There’s no financial literacy,” Doyle said. “With the Regents now, you don’t have any of that and it’s practical stuff that needs to be taught to kids. I wish someone told me at 18 that I should put $50 a week into an account.”
The program lasted about an hour. Afterward, the students took photos with the band then headed back to class for second period.
Freshman Rashod Malone liked what he'd heard.
“I like how they explained to us about saving,” said Rashod, 14, “and their music is nice, too.”