This Working Mom Owes $240,000 in Student Loans. Now She’s Fighting for Full Cancellation to Live Her American Dream ‘Freely.’
Taylor Ardrey, Insider, August 28, 2022
One of Richelle Brooks’ dreams is to send her two children to college without taking out any loans. She knows firsthand how taking out a loan to pursue higher education can amount to crippling debt.
“My daughter wants to be an anesthesiologist. My son wants to be a computer engineer. Two little Black kids want this for their future,” Brooks, 35, told Insider. “And this country is telling me it’s impossible for me to get them there. It’s a terrible, hopeless feeling.”
Brooks borrowed $203,000 collectively to attend undergrad, graduate, and doctoral studies. And over the years, has accumulated over $30,000 in interest.
“Yeah, $240,000,” Brooks said.
In 2020, she decided to politicize her inability to pay back her loans. She joined a group of strikers called the “Biden Jubilee 100,” calling on the president to cancel student debt within the early days of being in office.
Brooks’ American dream is simple.
“My hope is that if my student loan debt balance is canceled, I can start saving for them and planning for their future,” she said. “But I’m also hoping that we can get a free college education so that I don’t have to also worry about how to finance their future either.”
Living in California as a single mother is financially taxing, she said. She works as a principal in South Los Angeles, a career which she adores, but she often has to have a side hustle to live comfortably.
Recent data highlights that Black borrowers disproportionately have more student loan debt, on average paying back $25,000 than their white peers, according to Education Data Initiative.
Biden last week said his administration plans to forgive $10,000 in federal student-loan debt for borrowers earning under $125,000 per year, with up to $20,000 in relief for those who received Pell grants and fall under the same income threshold. However, for borrowers like Brooks, it’s not enough.
Brooks decided to continue to go to school because she could not pay back her loan, a personal method of striking that she’s been doing since 2012. However, the student repayment pause during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a temporary weight off her shoulders and gave her a break from attending school.
“So many demands are put on me already in addition to having to stay in school because I can’t pay this debt. It feels like enslavement,” Brooks said. “Getting those notices, it’s slightly traumatic. [The pause] gives you a sense of relief, a sense of hope, because you’re not constantly weighed down by this idea of that monthly payment.”