In lieu of being able to talk to my 20-year-old self, I’m hoping that one of my young nieces or nephews will read this.
Be patient. It will all make sense some day.
I’ve always thought I had a nimble brain. I was a whiz at finding things in the library’s card catalogue (and now I feel ancient) which I believe has made me a better Googler.
In the before times, when we went places, I was the person at the event who would make connections among strangers. Tell me something about yourself, and I will find a way to introduce you to someone else, following even the finest of common threads. It’s a cool parlor trick.
Still, when I was in high school and college, I felt like I was learning lots of isolated things but struggling to piece them together. I knew the information was important, but I didn't yet know why.
As my teens turned to 20s and 30s and beyond, I realized that seemingly random facts were beginning to fit into a broader context. Each year brought additional threads of knowledge, acquired through reading, watching, doing, or living – and sometime entirely by accident. Those threads were organizing themselves into a sturdy warp for my loom of learning.
In middle school, I learned about de facto segregation. Later, I learned about redlining and how neighborhoods suffered from disinvestment. For three years, I chaired Albany’s Historic Resources Commission, and saw first-hand the problems that lower-income property owners in historic districts – with old housing stock – had making costly repairs to comply with the city’s preservation ordinance. Just last year, I read several books that opened my eyes to the role systemic racism has played in preventing people of color from getting mortgages or buying property, and how that prevented families from building up the generational wealth that comes from home ownership.
Philanthropic organizations are suddenly making millions of dollars available to try to address America’s legacy of inequity and injustice. According to a recent article in Forbes:
“Profit-driven investing has often fueled extractive capitalism, damaging the environment and harming marginalized communities. Impact investing is so named because it has infused positive social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. To advance economic justice, the investment community as a whole, including venture capital and major banks, must change the way it invests, which currently leaves out people of color in huge margins. Federally certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) can help investors direct their capital — through purposeful lending — to the places that traditional financial institutions won’t invest.”
Through my work with the NYS CDFI Coalition and the Leviticus Fund, I’m fortunate to play a small role in righting our historic wrongs in truly innovative ways.
So be patient, my young friends, and keep learning.
One day you’ll find that things make sense. You might even find your calling.
Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
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Colleen M. Ryan is an