"One of my goals is to serve as many black people as possible. I am black. I understand the struggle and what we go through history-wise. My goal is that whatever black [people] need, I wanna help them as much as I possibly can."
- Milton Straham
FLINT, Michigan — There’s an audible gasp between us all as we discover that a bird has made the top of Milton Straham’s head — newly braided and oiled — its restroom. An eruption of laughter commences as he and his best friend Cheree Riddlein rush to wipe it off before it dries. This moment caps off my peculiar conversation with Straham and an even crazier photoshoot.
We’re in downtown Flint, taking up sidewalks, running back and forth in the middle of the street, blasting music, hauling expensive camera equipment and a lone wooden stool at the behest of photographer Bryce Mata. It is to match the ‘business professional’ vibe of the mint white suit Straham's wearing in over 90-degree weather.
There’s a playfulness to Straham, who, at the age of twenty-seven, holds a bachelor’s in Business, a master’s in Accounting, and an MBA, all without any student loan debt. He works for a consulting firm and owns two businesses, Straham Consulting, which provides financial consulting and facilitates workshops for nonprofits and companies.
He also works closely with high schoolers and their families beginning in the ninth grade, giving them a roadmap to navigate through the realm of college. An area of focus that stems from days in TeenQuest
and as a graduate of Genesee Early College. But with all his degrees and success, our conversation now moving inside The Sauce Italian Kitchen is casual, down-to-earth, and surprisingly very funny. He answers questions carefully yet loves to joke around and banter.
Between the jokes and business talk, a shift in his energy occurs around the topic of community activism. Having grown up in the Sarvis Park neighborhood, Straham's experiences are at the heart of wanting to speak up and let the community’s voice be heard. Flintside caught up with the young entrepreneur to talk about financial literacy, his growing passion for community activism, and the advice he wishes to share.
"I feel like there's a little activist inside of me. And I think it's important for our voice to be heard about community issues." - Milton StrahamFlintside
: When we met, you said you owned a business. What made you go into business?
: "I originally was going the health route; I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. My mom had more of an entrepreneurship spirit. She was working [a job and] at the same time on her own business. I found out I wanted to be my own boss. After pre-nursing, I was like, this is not for me, so I switched to business. And ever since then, I stuck with it. I took my first accounting class, and I fell in love. I was much more passionate about business than any other major."
: Why start a business, and what services does your business offer?
: "I wanted to do some things on my own [with the] skills that I gained through college and education. So, I started Straham Consulting, a full-service consulting firm. We offer services for businesses and nonprofits, and we do a lot of facilitating workshops. For those that want to go on to a career college, we do college [prep] consulting on whatever topic, or you can get coaching on an individual level. College in itself is a game, so you have to strategize. I'm so passionate about that because I didn't have to use student loans for all my degrees."
: What age range do you focus on, having graduated college and now offering college prep services?
: "We usually start with families in ninth grade. I give them all the resources and strategies I use to get my degrees in a short period and to reduce as much student loan debt as possible. [We help pick] majors and talk about the right schools and universities that give the best financial aid package. I'm the principal consultant for most of the work, but if there is a business that has a complex issue that we're trying to solve, I'll partner with other consultants or the network that I have."
: Lately, there has been a lot of talk about generational wealth, especially among African Americans. What's your take on financial literacy and agency?
: "I'm a large proponent of financial agency. I feel it should be taught in every organization. It all starts with budgeting the money that you do have and increasing the money that you currently do make. Whether that be a side business, a promotion, or finding another career, inflation is always increasing, so we always want to hedge inflation. My motto is when one person understands financial literacy in the family, they spread it to the other members. We want to make sure that all our money is working for us — every single dollar. We always want to put that in the stock market if possible. The longer you are in the market, the more gains you'll make."
With multiple degrees and his own business, Milton Straham is making waves.Flintside
: You mentioned at our Editorial Advisory meeting that you were interested in community activism. Is that something you're also passionate about?
: "I feel like there's a little activist inside of me. And I think it's important for our voice to be heard about community issues. That's why I attended the meeting. I wanted to make sure that our voices are being heard about the issues that's affecting Sarvis Park, the City of Flint. How do we find a resolution for that? If not, how do we build to make this a better place? How do we make sure that the city stays involved with our parks and public areas to make sure that they're clean and [give residents] access to reliable transportation?"
: Adopting that mentality, how do you want to grow Straham Consulting and pivot that on a communal level?
: "I mean, with all businesses, I think we all want to see our businesses grow. Besides growth, I would love to give back more to the City of Flint students. I would like to grow bigger events where I can give back in larger ways and make more of a bigger impact. I want to serve as many backgrounds as I possibly can. However, one of my goals is to serve as many black people as possible. I am black. I understand the struggle and what we go through history-wise. My goal is that whatever black [people] need, I wanna help them as much as I possibly can."
: With multiple degrees and a business, it can be easy to feel above the people. How do you stay humble and focused on what's happening on the ground?
: "Yes, I have all this education, but I always make sure that I'm always taking in mentorship or whatever that might be. I take everything from everybody that's constructive and wants to help me build. I'm always open to that. It's due diligence, but at the same time, I know a degree is just education. I don't look at as being any better than anybody else. I want everybody to feel like they can be themselves around me."
: Achieving what you have, what is some good words of wisdom you can pass on to others looking to move beyond their circumstances?
: "I think the major one is it's not about where you start, it's how you end. The second one is to follow your heart and your gut and not be influenced. Third, don't let fear deter you from opportunities or challenging yourself. That's a major one for me because in everything I do, I've had fear, but I still push through. I continue to try."
To learn more about Milton Straham and Straham Consulting, find him on FaceBook and Instagram.