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OPEN ACCESS/REAP has 23 fellowships aimed to increase diversity

Following a highly successful inaugural year, on Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2022, the Open Access/REAP (Real Estate Associate Program) collaboration aimed at increasing diversity, equity & inclusion in community development finance, announced its selection of 23 BIPOC professionals for its second annual program. To date, a
third of last year’s fellows (eight from a cohort of 24) were offered full-time positions with the firms where they interned and two more were hired as consultants. The 2022 fellows were chosen from a wide pool of over 200 candidates spanning the nation from LA to New Orleans, Chicago, Columbus, DC, Philly, New York City and many other major cities. The Open Access program runs through April 15, 2022.

The community development finance industry, bolstered by the recent reauthorization of the New Markets Tax Credit Program, offers economic support to low-income areas in the form of lower-than-market-rate interest loans and other economic incentives to help support job creation, small businesses, housing, and other areas requiring assistance. The industry is urgently needed as the nation strains to recover from a pandemic that disproportionately affected communities of color in terms of health crises and the ensuing economic devastation that has witnessed unparalleled unemployment rates, evictions realized and threatened, food deprivation, and small businesses forced to close or struggle to stay viable.

Yet, while community development often serves communities of color, it is currently grossly under-represented by Black and Latinx individuals. Open Access, launched in 2020, is a group of executive-level individuals led by co-founders Gina Nisbeth, a director at Citi, and
Jeff Monge, managing partner of Monge Capital based in Newark, NJ. The goal of Open Access is to correct the imbalance so that BIPOC professionals will be significantly involved in and, increasingly, lead the efforts of community development finance to improve the health, education, and access to wealth of economically disadvantaged populations.

Open Access is offering paid, mostly virtual, fellowships as well as online experience, training, mentorships, and networking sessions to talented professionals of color seeking careers in community development finance. The program is presented in collaboration with
Project REAP, one of the nation’s most successful diversity initiatives connecting professionals to commercial real estate (CRE) for over two decades.

Says REAP Board Chair and Acting Executive Director Lamont Blackstone, “The nexus of commercial real estate and economic development has always been important for communities of color, the rising majority of America. Regardless of whether a development
project involves an urban retail district, a high-achieving charter school, or the historic preservation of a treasured theater, human capital equipped with financial skills is essential for development success. REAP is glad to support the Open Access initiative as it is
addressing the dearth of BIPOC talent trained in community development finance. The Open Access leadership, in concert with Project REAP, is correcting the invisibility that has hindered access by professionals of color to a career that transforms communities.
Opportunity unseen is opportunity withheld.”

In the words of Dr. King, “Every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom.” Open Access hopes to bring communities closer to the former.

The group proudly presents its 2022 Open Access Fellows:
Fellow Fellowship Headquarters Andre Lewis Advantage Community Capital New Orleans, LA
Asia Speights Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition Washington, DC
Lacey Johnson Aspira Capital Tenafly, NJ
Albert Matlock Baker Tilly Chicago, IL
Ariana Paz Capital Impact Partners Arlington, VA
Shenika Jackson Chicago Community Loan Fund Chicago, IL
Tyrone Thomas CohnReznick New York, NY
Jonathan Lopez Genesis LA Los Angeles, CA
Eliana Lozano Hunt Companies El Paso, TX
Willie Bolden LIIF San Francisco, CA
Christopher Thompson Merchants Capital Carmel, IN
Takila Oku Monge Capital Newark, NJ
Calvin St Juste National Equity Fund Chicago, IL
Rashidah Billups New Jersey Community Capital New Brunswick,NJ
Osvaldo Jimenez New Markets Support Company Chicago, IL
Deborah Owolabi NORF Companies New Orleans, LA
Bianca Cole Novogradac San Francisco, CA
Chris Bowers NTCIC Washington, DC
Jerry Valentine Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing Columbus, OH
Lester Simpson Rise Community Capital Pasadena, CA
Tyrone Patillo Stonehenge Capital Columbus, OH
Chris Mendez Telacu Los Angeles, CA
Kenneth Stallings The Reinvestment Fund Philadelphia, PA

In addition to paid fellowships, other programmatic financial sponsors include U.S. Bank, JPM Chase, PNC Financial Services Group, Monge Capital, Novogradac, Telacu, Dudley Ventures, Hunt Companies, Merchant Capital, NORF Companies, Advantage Capital, National
Community Investment Fund, The Bernstein Companies and Women in Housing Finance (WHF). For more information see

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