'Brilliant Baby' event in Oakland celebrates college program for low-income kids

Seven-month-old Jemayah Mapp, a future college graduate in the class of 2020, with her mother at a Brilliant Baby event. 

Seven-month-old Jemayah Mapp, a future college graduate in the class of 2040, flashed a shy smile as her mother rocked her at a Brilliant Baby event at Children's Fairyland in Oakland today.

The celebration marked the second anniversary of the program, which deposits $500 in a college savings account for each of the approximately 300 low-income infants participating. It's part of Oakland Promise, a city initiative.

"My main goal is for Jemayah to go to college," said her mother, Jemetra Mapp of Oakland. "I dropped out. I want her to finish. Brilliant Baby provides aid for college. It's a start for her."

Compared with children with no savings, children with less than $500 saved are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate, according to a 2013 study published in Children and Youth Services Review.

Brilliant Baby, which launched in 2017, is the first program of its kind in the U.S. that combines a college savings account for the child with financial coaching for parents, Amanda Feinstein, the program's director, said.

The money is deposited in what is known as a 529 plan. Such plans are specifically designed to encourage early and affordable college savings. All withdrawals from the account used for higher education expense are tax-free. 

"Our approach is to support parents' hopes and dreams for their child's future while helping them tackle the real financial stressors they confront today," Feinstein said.

Part of the money for the savings accounts comes from the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, and the rest comes from philanthropic donations.

Brilliant Baby is part of Oakland Promise, an educational initiative launched by the city in 2016. In concert with its partner, the East Bay College Fund, Oakland Promise has helped to send 1,100 students to college, according to spokeswoman Maggie Croushore.

More than 200 people attended the event Saturday, which included tables from entities including the Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Public Library, refreshments and entertainment.

"When I say 'Boom,' you say 'Shake,'" the lead singer of the group by that name exhorted the parents and children sitting on tablecloths in front of the stage at Children's Fairyland. The group complied enthusiastically.

"We are celebrating as a community all our brilliant babies, their brothers and sisters and all the children of Oakland," Feinstein told the crowd. "Let's hear it for our children!"