“Red” and “Black”
A funny thing happened on our way to Hollywood – we went to prison – by way of the school system. Needless to say, that was not our plan.
This is the story of two sisters, Tina Pennington (aka “Red”) and Mandy Williams (aka “Black”). Red is a warm-and-fuzzy, stay-at-home mom, while Black, who is highly pragmatic, retired from the oil and gas industry before she was 40 and started racing Ferraris to offset the boredom.
When Red’s husband was fired, she panicked because she knew nothing about their personal finances, and turned to Black looking for “answers.” Instead, she got questions – lots of questions, as Black realized her sister needed to learn to take control of her life versus having her life control her.
Unbeknownst to Red at the time, Black had decided to turn her “crisis” into a book, a brand, a business. After all, what are sisters for?!
The book offers a real approach to personal finance and prioritizing your life. However, it was intended as the basis of a TV sitcom about two very different baby boomer sisters (formatted using dialogue so entertainment industry executives could easily convert it into a script), which would also establish the “Red & Black” brand.
The theme that runs through it is that values and priorities should drive all your decisions. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, Black likes to describe her initial business plan as “Disney for baby boomer women.”
There was no way to know that our “message” would resonate with audiences ranging from middle school students to senior citizens, men and women, across all socio-economic levels. But, that is exactly what has happened.
At our first speaking engagement, we were asked why the “lessons” from our book are not taught in school. Thinking our next stop was Hollywood, Black basically ignored the question.
However, the next thing you know, KIPP Houston High School asked us to develop and teach a semester-long personal financial literacy and Life 101 program for their seniors. Determined to make it relevant, we created a task force of students, who ultimately suggested that we use our book as a textbook, stating it read like a “reality show in a book.”
The feedback surpassed our expectations, and several months later the Texas State Board of Education approved our book as a personal financial literacy textbook.
However, nothing prepared us for our next “detour.” Our book became the basis of a “Red & Black” book study program developed by a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) chaplain. What we find fascinating is that the men and women on the “inside” are sharing the lessons they have learned with friends and family on the “outside.” The program continues to expand within TDCJ, and now includes parole offices, and even employees. (Watch this video of the men who voluntarily participated in the pilot program.)
In addition, our book is being used by schools and community organizations, and educators have advised us that our approach to personal finance and other Life 101 topics use an assortment of proven educational strategies. Amazing when you consider neither one of us are teachers, researchers or financial experts.
We are honored - and humbled - when readers of our book or columns, participants in book groups or individuals at speaking engagements tell us that we have inspired them. And, when they tell us they are sharing our messages with others, it reminds us that none of know will ever know the ripple effect of our words and actions.
The road we are traveling may not have been part of the original plan (life rarely goes as planned) but there are many roads to the same destination – and our continuing journey is an incredibly fulfilling ENCORE act!