Angel Johnson always had the type of fearlessness that would one day make her a bold investor.
Growing up in North Philadelphia near Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue, Johnson was taught to be confident by members of her large family. She attributes that to the success she would eventually find in her life, including as a cybersecurity specialist and cryptocurrency leader.
“I grew up in a family of love and that influenced my self-confidence growing up in a child,” said Johnson, who later lived in West Oak Lane and Mt. Airy and is now based in D.C. “It makes a difference for a child, especially a girl, when you grow up surrounded by love. I’ve always felt invincible and fearless.”
That fearlessness would show when her stepfather brought home a computer for the family to use. Johnson was the only one of her siblings to develop an affinity for using the computer, which became her favorite pastime outside of playing Tetris and other video games on the family’s Nintendo.
When her stepfather got a job in the Pittsburgh area and Johnson’s family moved before her high school years, she fell in love with algebra and English. Eventually, those subjects led to her majoring in computer information systems at Temple University. She found internships at PNC Bank and GE Capital through the INROADS professional development program. After graduating from the university just a few subway stops away from where she was born, she found work as a developer. Eventually, though, she felt she needed a change, and found success in real estate investing stating around 2001.
The dot com boom of the late '90s seemed to produce millionaires overnight. Johnson felt the same thing would happen with cryptocurrency.
After a few years, as she looked to reenter the tech space, Johnson moved to D.C., where she would go on to work for the likes of the Travel Channel, Huge and Marriott. She got married and had a daughter. Life seemed to be settling down for her.
A work trip to a conference in Philadelphia had other things in store.
“There was a man on a panel talking about crypto and said to just jump in [the field],” Johnson remembered about the first time she learned about blockchain-based currency. “I decided to study, learn, and look into 10 different coins. My goal was every time I got paid to put some money toward those coins. The next year it started to add up as values increased.”
Her fearlessness was paying off.
Johnson remembered how, when she was graduating from Temple, the dot com boom of the late ’90s seemed to produce millionaires overnight. She (alongside many other technologists, creatives and entrepreneurs) felt the same thing would happen with cryptocurrency and began to get involved with more crypto products.
Her search for a Black-owned coin led her to Guapcoin, which was developed in 2017 by Tavonia Evans. After becoming acquainted with Evans, Johnson was offered the opportunity to direct the Guap Foundation — and never looked back. Through Guap Academy, a component of the Guap Foundation, online visitors can access to free videos teaching about cryptocurrency, master nodes and more.
“What I love about the foundation is it has the potential to create Black millionaires,” she said. “Our focuses are reducing the generational wealth gap, having merchants that accept that currency and moving the needle on Black wealth.”
"My goal and the goal of the foundation is to educate as many people as possible and getting the merchants up to speed. We don’t want Black businesses to fail because they aren't prepared."
Bloomberg reports that 30% of Black investors and 27% of Hispanic investors own cryptocurrency, while just 17% of white investors do. Investing in cryptocurrency for marginalized communities has an added value: With systemic inequality blocking the traditional way to financial security for many Black Americans — redlining, Jim Crow laws — cryptocurrency presents an intriguing new prospect for wealth accrual because it is decentralized and works independently of most gatekeeping institutions.
Plus, there’s the potential to make a big profit on a small investment — though, too, the risk of big loss, especially because of its decentralized nature.
Though Johnson brims with enthusiasm when she talks about cryptocurrency, she realizes that others may not be as interested in it as a mode of social mobility.
“What I had to come to grips with was that for the people interested in it, I meet them at their need,” she said. “Education is so important. I believe that cryptocurrency works the same way. There’s a product status and fundamental rules about when to buy and sell. It’s very volatile and there are [still] a lot of opportunities. Crypto is not going away, so it’s about helping Black businesses to know about crypto as much as possible.”
Johnson is transparent in acknowledging that like many cryptocurrency investors, she does not know what the future holds for the market. While there have been surreal success stories, cryptocurrency can be extremely volatile. On Wednesday, May 19, the value of Bitcoin dropped 30% before jumping back up in the same day. The lack of a centralized bank for various coins and their limited supply contribute to what can lead to a trading experience not for the faint of heart.
But she is steadfast in her belief that cryptocurrency is here to stay — and that Black investors can find ways to succeed in cryptocurrency investment and create new streams of revenue in the process.
“It’s still really early and I believe it’s early enough for people to get in,” she said. “These things are available, but it’s not common knowledge. For our people, we receive information differently. We may hear it at a cookout, or at church. Our goal is to know crypto is growing, even with regulations possibly coming down. They can regulate it but can’t remove it. My goal and the goal of the foundation is to educate as many people as possible and getting the merchants up to speed. We don’t want Black businesses to fail because they aren’t [prepared].”
As the public continues to engage cryptocurrency, Johnson hopes that more Black investors can use it to put the community in a better financial space.
“We don’t have generations of wealth like other communities do so we have to come together to push things forward,” she said.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.