Why you should care

Tavonia Evans is bringing financial freedom to the Black community by teaching them to buy, trade and invest in cryptocurrency.

Several middle-school kids sit on gray upholstered office chairs around white tables, clacking away on their laptops, but with eyes sharply focused on the woman at the head of the class. A sea of black and brown faces, the children are enraptured by Tavonia Evans, as she teaches them how to use cryptocurrency — and how it can make them rich.

A two-decade tech entrepreneur and mother of eight, Evans, 44, spotted the potential for cryptocurrency early on. “When I first heard about bitcoin, I realized it meant financial freedom and additional sources of funding,” Evans says. But her plans were bigger than bitcoin — Evans wanted to launch her own cryptocurrency. And in 2017, she did. Ahead of its formal launch, Atlanta-based $GUAP — its name is drawn from urban slang for having a lot of money — has more than 2,500 wallet holders (users) on the platform and runs on its own blockchain. One $GUAP coin is currently listed at $44 and there are now just under 9 million coins in existence, out of a maximum total supply of 90 million. By comparison, there are approximately 17.6 million bitcoins in circulation (now priced around $5,000 each) and only 21 million that can ever be mined in total. 

Evans believes that crypto is the key to increasing Black wealth in the U.S. African Americans are responsible for $1.2 trillion in purchases annually, according to Nielsen. But a 2009 research project known as The Empowerment Experiment found that less than 3 percent of Black purchasing power is spent on Black-owned businesses. Evans is out to change that by teaching both kids and adults how to increase their personal wealth with cryptocurrency, understand exactly where their money is going and use that knowledge to invest in Black-owned businesses. 

Even if $GUAP isn’t around forever, teaching people how to use crypto is such a powerful tool, Evans says, that it will “help eradicate poverty within the next century.”

A New Yorker by birth, Evans grew up on Long Island in Amityville, of horror movie fame. She was positive she’d either be a lawyer or an actor — career aspirations that her mother, a caseworker with the city of New York, and her father, an artist, supported. “My parents came from an era where it was very difficult to be what they wanted,” Evans says, so they encouraged her to follow her own path. After attending Brooklyn Tech High School and then going to Central Georgia Technical College, she instead fell in love with the problem-solving nature of coding and the technology industry (her parents were cool with that too).

After moving south and getting an IT gig at Georgia State University in 2000, Evans worked as a web developer for software companies throughout the Atlanta area. In 2007, she launched a digital agency and development firm called She Interactive while continuing to work independently as a developer. Running a business came naturally to Evans, so she decided to keep going. In 2015, she co-founded Safe2Meet, an identity and background verification platform. But $GUAP was something different.

 

Evans realized the potential power of crypto but knew it would only work for her community if they knew how to use it. In the classes she teaches at AEI StartUp Factory just outside Atlanta in Lithonia, Georgia, Evans has different approaches by age group. “With children, I approach it from a gaming perspective,” she says. That’s what keeps them engaged. “With adults, I talk about how it builds worth,” she says. “Crypto is a game-changer because they [crypto owners] can support businesses in the community and actually see the results of it.”

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Evans photographed at home with her children.

The $GUAP platform collects and analyzes transaction information pulled from the blockchain so that users can see the growth of Black-owned businesses as well as understand potential financial risks. The currency will officially launch in May, after $GUAP’s point-of-sale infrastructure is complete. But it already has merchant partners on board, like Soultanicals, which sells natural hair care products. 

Nathan Dillard, founder and CEO of National Black Business Directory (NBBD), a business solutions platform, partnered with Evans last year to bring blockchain to his platform. NBBD is integrating $GUAP’s blockchain technology into its business directory software, and business owners on the platform will accept $GUAP alongside traditional currency for products and services of equal value. By funding and circulating the currency throughout NBBD’s merchant network, it will encourage consumers to support community businesses, grassroots organizations and historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs), says Dillard. “$GUAP will be the cryptocurrency that gives back, not only ensuring consumers will save but that they will have access to funds to build and thrive.”  

But the road ahead won’t be easy. “This is a fiercely competitive environment,” says David S. Bieri, associate professor of urban affairs and principal research associate for the Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience at Virginia Tech. “For all the promises of a grassroots revolution, in many instances, it is not entirely clear what the value proposition of a number of these cryptoassets really is,” he says. More importantly, Bieri says, there are still too many unknowns. “Cryptocurrencies are unlikely to satisfy the requirement of trust to make them sustainable forms of money.” For example, in 2017, the aggregate market capitalization of all cryptocurrencies increased by more than 3,200 percent. But bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency in the world, also underwent four drops in value of at least 20 percent within six months.    

Evans agrees there is still too much mystery when it comes to crypto, but she’s aiming to change that. Even if $GUAP isn’t around forever, teaching people how to use crypto is such a powerful tool, Evans says, that it will “help eradicate poverty within the next century.”

It’s a bold claim, but for Evans, it’s written in the stars. Licensed in cardology, Evans sells readings in the study of the ancient science of playing cards, and she also offers astrology readings under the name Aquarius Maximus.

The inspiration for $GUAP originally came from a spiritual awakening that told her she needed to create another form of digital currency to empower the African diaspora.

Somehow, in between helming several businesses, teaching and reading the future, Evans finds time to spend with her eight children ranging in age from 8 to 24 — though having four out of the house now does make time management a little easier. “We love going to the movies and playing virtual reality (VR) video games,” says Evans, who raves about the Oculus Rift and the underestimated potential of VR.

If Evans has her way, $GUAP will expand internationally and cryptocurrency will be as ubiquitous as credit cards one day.

As long as she can convince the world it’s real money.

Read more: An Oprah for Black media’s internet age?

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