Twitter co-founder and Block CEO Jack Dorsey teams with artist Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) to launch the Bitcoin Academy in Marcy Houses, the Brooklyn, New York public housing complex where Jay-Z grew up.
The initiative aims to provide financial education focused on Bitcoin as a path to financial freedom, with free classroom and online courses taught by Lamar Wilson, operator of content site Black Bitcoin Billionaire, and Najah J. Roberts, founder and CEO of, event and education room Crypto Blockchain Plug. The program runs twice a week from late June through September, and program participants receive smartphones, MiFi devices, and a year-long data plan. There is even a weekend program for children.
Dorsey and Jay-Z are longtime collaborators and Bitcoin evangelists. In addition to working on TIDAL, which Jay-Z sold to Dorsey, the duo invested 500 BTC together last year, with a focus on developing the cryptocurrency’s popularity in India and Africa. But The Bitcoin Academy is funded through personal grants from the two entrepreneurs.
Still, cryptocurrency’s promise as a surefire path to economic stability for low-income populations is far from guaranteed.
Given the volatility of cryptocurrency and the prevalence of scams, there are concerns that this project, while well intentioned, could negatively impact participants. As crypto builder Austin Robey put it, “If you were to ask Marcy House residents how best to meet their needs, how many would say ‘a bitcoin course’?”
“The simple goal is to provide people with tools to build independence for themselves and then for the community around them,” Jay-Z wrote in a tweet.
A spokesman for The Bitcoin Academy told TechCrunch that participants will be granted a small amount of Bitcoin, but the project is meant to be educational. The nature of the program depends on who is signing up – for example, they can host a Spanish class – and it explains the basics of what cryptocurrency is, how the blockchain works, and how to spot a scam. Teachers aren’t necessarily telling Marcy residents to invest in crypto, but it’s not hard to see how that kind of guidance can be implied.
Some vulnerable populations – such as immigrants and the unbanked – may be curious about crypto as an alternative to traditional banks, which have high international transaction fees and often require legal documents to access. Although wealthier investors may be able to safely weather the cryptocurrency’s dips and spikes, a market crash will have a more immediate, potentially catastrophic impact on those who regularly transact with their bitcoin.
In El Salvador, about 70% of the population is unbanked, but after becoming the first country to adopt bitcoin as legal tender last year, residents have not experienced the economic progress they had hoped for. The International Monetary Fund has even encouraged the country to phase out bitcoin as legal tender, citing the risk of inflation and a lack of consumer protection. The Central American country is expected to repay an $800 million government bond in January 2023, but some analysts believe the country could default on its loan.
“Actually, I don’t blame marginalized communities who end up believing a lot of the hype and promises [around crypto]said Tonantzin Carmona, a Brookings Metro fellow studying race, income inequality and social mobility. “It is understandable that they are looking for alternative ways to generate wealth or conduct payment transactions. But that doesn’t mean the alternative is actually better, safer, or actually helping them achieve their goals.”
Carmona observes a link between the promise of crypto-powered financial freedom and “predatory inclusion,” a term coined by Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor to describe discrimination in housing. Even after the reversal of racial policies like “redlining,” which regulated where black homeowners could build and buy homes, blacks continued to be exposed to unfair subprime lending specifically targeting communities of color.
“I see cryptocurrencies as part of this legacy of predatory inclusion,” Carmona told TechCrunch. “This access comes at a cost. They say you will have financial freedom, but that also means you will have access to the volatility and complexity of cryptocurrency. You get access to an area that is full of scams, scams, hacks and all sorts of things because with the current state of technology there is no consumer protection.”
TechCrunch asked Bitcoin Academy if there will be any safeguards in place to ensure residents do not experience any negative financial impact from the project. Although there are no formal protections for participants, the program spokesperson emphasized that the point of the program’s educational focus is to avoid these negative potential outcomes.
Though the program is funded by Dorsey and Jay-Z, the academy will function day-to-day with the help of a small staff from the Shawn Carter Foundation, which is led by Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria Carter, as co-founder and CEO.
“The Shawn Carter Foundation has always been about bringing education and opening doors to underserved communities,” Carter said in a statement. “Everyone should be empowered to make informed financial decisions to provide for themselves and their families.”