Imagine finally meeting your birth mother and asking the question that every adopted child asks — after “Why did you give me up?” — “What was I like as a baby?” And when the response is “I don’t know, you were black and I didn’t want to touch you,” there is no need to ask the initial question.
Gail Perry-Mason’s Caucasian mother delivered that harsh blow, when as an adult, Perry-Mason met her birth mother for the first time. But the renowned financier is living proof of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” The author of Girl, Make Your Money Grow! was approached to run on the Democratic ticket with Virg Benero for Michigan’s lieutenant governor, and recently had to decline a casual invitation to the White House to honor a previous engagement — it’s not surprising that engagement is with her “kids,” as she calls the young participants of her annual Money Matters camp. –roz edward
Her early life:
“When I was very young, I couldn’t walk or talk. I was baldheaded. I was labeled special needs and hard to place. So nobody wanted me … This social worker — who had already adopted a child, a cousin of hers — looked at me and said, ‘I really don’t want any children. I am almost 60 years of age and I don’t want any more kids.’ And then my grandmother moved in with her and said, ‘You know that little girl, maybe … you’re supposed to have her.’ So when I was 3 ½, my mother said, ‘Bring me that little girl.’ So I ended up moving in with my mom and she was like, ‘what have I done? She can’t walk, she can’t talk, and she has braces on her legs? What’s going to happen to her?’ And my grandma was like, ‘Well, she doesn’t have any hair, we can put Glover’s Mange and Sulfur 8 on her hair.’ Then Dr. Arthur Thompson, who lived down the street from my mom, walked over to the house one day and my mom was like, “What am I going to do with this girl? I can’t keep taking her back and forth to the hospital.’ He said, ‘Don’t take her to the doctor ever again. Take the braces off her legs and just hold her, hug her, and love her. Now I’m running marathons … so I think love is the answer to anything in this entire world.”
“When I was in college, I got pregnant, married and divorced all in one year. I ended up getting a job at a brokerage firm. I didn’t know what a brokerage firm did, but I was broke, so I thought it was a godsend. I worked as a receptionist and then became a secretary. I watched wealthy people handle their money so I asked if I could become a broker. They said, ‘no.’ But someone left their book out on a table and I xeroxed it. I studied every morning before taking my son to day care, and I ended up passing the [brokers’] test. My employer then promoted me to licensed secretary.
“But then I partnered with a Chicago money manager to host an investment seminar at the St. Regis Hotel. I booked the room, but I owed them $350. So the nights I didn’t go to school, I worked as a waitress for two weeks. I was nice to everybody, but I was horrible with orders, but I earned $350 in tips. Then I went to the St. Regis with all these dollar bills and quarters spilling out of my hands. … I had over 100 accounts come out of that seminar. Then my job thought I was on to something and they put wheels on my chair, so I could sit at the broker’s desk, but [my boss told me] if it didn’t work out ‘you can roll back over to your secretary’s desk.’ Now my job title is first vice president of investments for Oppenheimer & Co.”
Economics and religion:
“My mom said, ‘Have a joint account with Jesus at the credit union that only you and Jesus know about.’ That was my financial literacy growing up. But, I talked with a rabbi recently and he was like so amazing. … He told me ‘Jewish people will never help you or ask you for anything. We will never do anything, but [accept] your money.’ I was so angry with him until he said, ‘I’ll tell you why, if you bring me your Bible, and bring the King James’ version.’ I can’t remember which Scripture it was, but he directed me to go to Hebrews, where it said ‘spend money with your own tribe.’ He said, ‘We will be cursed, as it says in the Bible, if you don’t spend money with your own tribe, and if you don’t, you won’t have any money.’
“We don’t spend money with our own people … before we even get a dollar, we plan on spending it outside of our community. There are 11 Jewish synagogues in the city of Detroit to our 11,000 churches. The synagogues carry zero debt; every single church we have is in debt.”
“I’m working on my new book, From a Full-Figure Woman to A Seven-Figure Woman: A Woman’s Guide to Shifting her Assets. … And I’m working on a business and I’m on top of the world about it, I’m going to have my own line of pearls. I wear pearls every day of my life and I give away pearls all the time. I won the Role Model of the Year Award from Alternatives for Girls a couple of years ago, and I gave each girl pearls and wrote pearls of wisdom to them. I always buy pearls and put them in a little box and write quotes to them, so my friend who owns a jewelry store suggested it.”
Advice to women:
Don’t run your house like it’s a nonprofit.
Don’t let your money retire before you do.
Know what your net worth is. Know your liabilities. Numbers don’t lie.
Stop putting your trust in money and put your money in a trust.
Every day when I wake up, I pray that I make the right investments for my clients. The Bible says if you’re a good steward over your money, he’ll give you more, and I think it’s the best financial book in the world. … Collaborate and work together, that’s how things get done.