OPEN ACCESS/REAP has 23 scholarships aimed at increasing diversity

After a very successful inaugural year, on Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2022, the Open Access/REAP (Real Estate Associate Program) collaboration to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in community development funding, announced its selection of 23 BIPOC professionals for its second annual program. To date, a
A third of last year’s fellows (eight out of a cohort of 24) were offered full-time positions at the companies where they completed their internships and two others were hired as consultants. The 2022 Scholars were chosen from a broad pool of over 200 applicants spanning the country from Los Angeles to New Orleans, Chicago, Columbus, DC, Philly, New York, and many other major cities. The Open Access program runs until April 15, 2022.

The community development finance industry, bolstered by the recent reauthorization of the New Market Tax Credit program, provides economic support to low-income areas in the form of below-market interest rate 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 country struggles to recover from a pandemic that has disproportionately affected communities of color in terms of health crises and the ensuing economic devastation that has seen rates of unprecedented unemployment, completed and threatened evictions, food deprivation and small businesses forced to close or struggle to remain viable.

Yet, while community development often serves communities of color, it is currently vastly underrepresented by black and Latinx people. Open Access, launched in 2020, is a group of senior executives led by co-founders Gina Nisbeth, director of Citi, and
Jeff Monge, managing partner of Monge Capital based in Newark, NJ. The goal of open access is to redress the imbalance so that BIPOC professionals are meaningfully involved and, increasingly, leading community development funding efforts to improve health, education and access to the wealth of economically disadvantaged populations.

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

According to REAP Chairman and Acting Executive Director Lamont Blackstone, “The connection between commercial real estate and economic development has always been important to communities of color, America’s growing majority. whether it is a development
project involves an urban commercial district, a successful charter school, or the historic preservation of a treasured theater, financially literate human capital is critical to development success. REAP is happy to support the Open Access initiative as it is
address the shortage of BIPOC talent trained in community development finance. The Open Access leadership, together with the REAP Project, is addressing the invisibility that has hindered access for professionals of color to a career that transforms communities.
An invisible opportunity is a denied opportunity.

In the words of Dr. King, “Every crisis has its dangers and its opportunities. Each can be synonymous with salvation or misfortune. 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 Coalition for the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Washington, DC
Lacey Johnson Aspira Capital Tenafly, NJ
Albert Matlock Baker Tilly Chicago, IL
Ariana Paz Capital Impact Partners Arlington, Virginia
Shenika Jackson Chicago Community Loan Fund Chicago, Illinois
Tyrone Thomas Cohn Reznick New York, NY
Jonathan Lopez Genesis LA Los Angeles, California
Eliana Lozano Hunt Companies El Paso, TX
Willie Bolden LIIF San Francisco, California
Christopher Thompson Merchants Capital Carmel, IN
Takila Oku Monge Capital Newark, NJ
Calvin St Just National Equity Fund Chicago, IL
Rashidah Billups Community Capital of New Jersey New Brunswick, NJ
Osvaldo Jimenez New Markets Support Company Chicago, IL
Deborah Owolabi NORF Companies New Orleans, LA
Bianca Cole Novogradac San Francisco, California
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, Ohio
Chris Mendez Telacu Los Angeles, California
Kenneth Stallings The Reinvestment Fund Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In addition to paid scholarships, other programmatic financial sponsors include US 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 https://www.projectreap.org/open-access.

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