Written by Isheka N. Harrison

Entrepreneurial power couple Pinky Cole and Derrick Hayes of Slutty Vegan and Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks fame are not strangers to using their creative and financial prowess to give back to the community. One of those initiatives aims to help Black men in a major way.

The Atlanta-based duo launched Square 1: The Liife Experience in June 2021 to provide 25,000 Black men between ages 18 and 45 with life insurance by Dec. 2023.

The duo offers the program through their philanthropic foundations – The Pinky Cole Foundation and The David & Derrick Hayes Foundation. They have collaborated with Prudential Financial to offer the $50,000, 75-year-term life insurance policies.

The couple, who were recently engaged and share two children, said helping Black men prosper in turn helps Black families.

“We established this campaign to create better lives for Black men and their families by providing life insurance and mental health treatment in underserved communities,” Cole said in a statement. “It is another way we are collectively using our platforms to pour into the communities in which we serve.”

“While growing up in West Philly, I witnessed people put together fish frys and create GoFundMe pages to pay for their loved one’s funerals. I vowed to change othat narrative with this program,” Hayes added. “Now I’m able to provide resources and benefits such as life insurance policies and mental health programs. I am sure we will bridge the wealth gap and strengthen the Black community with this campaign.”

Each policy will cost $11.50 per month or $138 annually and the foundations will pick up the tab for recipients during the first year. Those insured through the Square 1 initiative will be responsible for paying for the policy themselves thereafter.

In addition to the age range, eligible participants must be residents of the state of Georgia, earn $30,000 or less annually and not use tobacco.

According to Mia Ferguson, executive director of Cole’s namesake foundation, the entire team has been working hard behind the scenes, planning and laying the groundwork to implement the program since the initiative was announced last year.

“Because this insurance policy is so unique, we had to get the director of insurance on the state level to approve it,” Ferguson told Moguldom Nation in an exclusive interview. “It wasn’t just an idea we could implement … there’s a lot of legalities involved.”

Ferguson also noted that the Square 1 policy is the first to waive specific requirements for policyholders, including exclusion due to certain pre-existing conditions. She acknowledged how much teamwork it took to get to their current point and said they have a great relationship with Prudential.

“Literally, Prudential was so open to the idea that they worked with us to come up with something that was affordable, something that was sustainable,” Ferguson said. “Prudential literally built this policy to support our goals in the best way they could – which was getting that policy, at that price, at that term. It’s unheard of.”

It is a sentiment shared by Shané Harris, vice president of social responsibility and partnerships and president of The Prudential Foundation.

“Our support of Square 1 builds on our history of creating more equitable routes to financial security. We love that Square 1 is intentional in their support of Black men, who have been disproportionately excluded from opportunities to access to a more secure financial future. Prudential wants to be a trusted partner in that journey,” Harris said.

When it comes to marketing and outreach to the target audience for Square 1, Ferguson said they are being very intentional to ensure their true intent is clearly understood.

“How do we hold onto them? How do we love on them? How do we get them to trust us? How do we get our people to see that we are here for us?” Ferguson asked. “This cannot be, this will not be one of those things where they think we’re just doing it for kudos and limelight.”

“It’s not until you know the heart behind the people who are working here you understand that it really is about community, Ferguson continued. “It really is about building block by block, heart by heart and soul by soul … we’re in this for the long run.”

Harris added she is excited about what Prudential will learn through the Square 1 initiative.

“Working with Square 1 allows us to listen and learn from participants in the program about what is most important to them as they build their own financial legacy,” Harris said. “We know building trust takes time, and we are committed to doing the long-term work required to build on our experiences to connect with Black men in an authentic way.”

The Back Room event underway in Atlanta, Ga. for ”Square 1: The Liife Experience” (Square 1), a joint initiative from the Pinky Cole Foundation and The David & Derrick Hayes Foundation.
Though Cole and Hayes’ rising star power was used to help launch the initiative, Ferguson said the duo has made it clear it is not about them.

“They are two very humble individuals who really use their voice to be able to encourage and help people,” Ferguson said.

In addition to the financial benefits that come along with having life insurance, Square 1 offers mental health and financial literacy services to participants. They are also looking to expand their wraparound services as they further assess the community’s needs.

“It’s not just life insurance, it’s transitioning into another way of thinking, another way of life, exposing to some people things they have never seen before,” Ferguson said. “It’s literally about building of community through financial wellness and literacy, and it just so happens to be from the lens of a life insurance policy, mental health support and yoga that come with it. It’s like that mind, body, soul life just from a different perspective.”

Marcus Mitchell is one of the men who has already obtained a policy through Square 1. He discussed the impact getting life insurance has had on him. “It feels good to take a step towards securing my family financially,” Mitchell said.

While the program is currently only open to Georgia residents, Ferguson said they envision Square 1 becoming a national program.

“I told Pinky last year this will be a national program. This will be as big as Susan G. Komen, but the outcome is us helping our men,” Ferguson said. “We’re helping our men and we’re helping our kids and by this time next year we’ll be helping our mothers; and guess what that is, that’s helping our families.”

“It’s time we begin to see how investing in your future now can yield benefits before you die. We’ve gotta stop the fish frys and the dinners to bury our family members,” Ferguson concluded. “It’s a blessing to be a part of this initiative and watch it go from thought to fruition. It is exciting.”