From the start it was a feat to raise eyebrows: two billionaires cryptographic evangelists funding a 12-week “Bitcoin Academy” for residents of a housing complex in Brooklyn, with lessons ranging from “Careers in Crypto” to a seminar on “Why Decentralization Matters”. Three months later, the class was dismissed and the tenants of the Marcy Houses have very different views on the whole affair, supported by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and rapper Jay-Z, who reportedly grew up in building 524.
Some residents are still ardent skeptics: “How are you helping us if you ask us to put in five dollars, 10 dollars and we’re all fixed income?” questioned Lydia Bryant, 57, adding that people’s money would likely be safer in “a real stock” rather than cryptocurrencies.
Some didn’t understand much: “I attended class but didn’t really understand much,” said a retiree who worked as a school bus director in Queens.
But some are new believers in Bitcoin, convinced that cryptocurrency markets will go up. “I thought Bitcoin was a scam,” said Danny Craft, 56, an academy graduate. “I come to find out, you just have to know how to work it. When you put money into it, you just leave it there and let it grow. “
In terms of student sentiment, it didn’t hurt that graduates got a surprise: $ 1,000 in cryptocurrency for completing the program. A female student told The Daily Beast that she has already begun transferring some of her other assets into cryptocurrencies, intending to buy more with each salary.
“If you take it off, you lose the advantage of having something long-term,” he said. She said one of her take-away from the academy was that his money would likely double or triple over time.
And if the opposite happened, was she worried? “As long as it goes up”.
Founded in 2009, Bitcoin’s value soared exponentially to an all-time high north of $ 60,000 per token last year. But it remains very unstable. Over the past 12 months, the price has fallen by more than half and on Monday and Tuesday alone it has fallen by almost 10%.
For someone like Dorsey, whose Twitter bio simply reads “#bitcoin” (plus a Bitcoin emoji), and who’s worth a valued $ 4.7 billion: Volatility is manageable.
But from the perspective of some Marcy residents, the risks are far greater, especially if they start pouring in their savings.
“For you to take your money you worked for, or your government-assisted funds, and invest it in something like Bitcoin which is really risky, it’s not a win,” said one tenant, who asked not to be named out of concern. on the “backlash” of some of its crypto-bullish neighbors.
Even the $ 1,000 grant, he said, is unlikely to produce a life-changing return in a place where some “people are broke and struggle to live.”
The retired bus director, meanwhile, said that while she doesn’t fully understand how Bitcoin works, she has raised enough to know “I can’t gamble with the money I get for my retirement.”
Others felt the academy had sufficiently highlighted the risks of cryptocurrencies and said the courses provided participants with information to make their own financial choices.
“The class didn’t tell them … ‘Yo, take your life savings and convert them to Bitcoin,'” said Matthew Powell. He attended sessions with Craft, his childhood friend of him; both said they understood that digital currency markets carry risks.
Powell said he “messed up Bitcoin” before joining the academy, but when the price fell, he cut his losses and saved himself. His new insight from the courses: “Take something, put it there and let it rest.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for The Bitcoin Academy said the group considers the first session “a pilot and [we] it will surely iterate and improve as we go along. We have interviewed students along the way and are looking at their feedback so we can understand more about the classroom experience and gain insight into their interests and goals as we think about how to design the next stage of the program. “
Sitting on a cluster of benches on the south side of the Marcy complex, another Bitcoin Academy graduate named Queen Bee said she found the course engaging. The classes came with a different free dinner each session, she said, including oxtail, fish, shrimp and “vegan night”.
Attendees got access to WiFi devices and smartphones as needed, and although Queen Bee said she had to skip a few sessions due to COVID and a hospitalization, she received her $ 1,000 bonus. She has no intention of selling, as this would involve tax liability, and she said that she has no interest in paying taxes on something she was given for free.
Sitting next to her, another participant, Tina, also had positive feedback on the course, although she skipped the sessions after her husband got sick, before he died. “I would do it again,” she said.
Built in 1949, the Marcy Houses were made famous by Jay-Z. When he was young, he said, the area was notoriously dangerous. “I’m from Marcy Houses, where kids die by the thousands,” he rapped on his 2017 track, “Marcy Me”.
The rapper has it made it back to the community in recent years and several residents have complimented her generosity. “It’s so good for our people,” said Jessie Mackey, a 65-year-old tenant who had to skip most Bitcoin events to take care of her sister.
Edith Williams, who said she attended a session, is pushing her adult children to enroll in the academy’s next cohort, assuming they have the chance. She has invested some money in cryptocurrencies and plans to wait a few months to see if she goes up. And if she does it, she said, she is not going to cash out: “Let it roll, let it roll, let it roll.”