As 2021 kicks into gear, the 16 fellows in our new winter cohort are ready to make a difference. With cities working fervently to recover from the public health and economic impact of Covid-19, public service at the local level is more important than ever. At the same time, the pandemic’s disproportionate burden on Black and historically underserved communities of color underscores the importance of centering racial and economic equity in recovery efforts. In response, FUSE fellows are embarking on projects to address the most pressing challenges faced by cities across the country, from Atlanta to Houston to Oakland. Read more about why they chose to pursue these impactful initiatives and become FUSE fellows.
Shaun is working with the Office of Economic Development in New Orleans to help create a Generational Economic Development plan to address inequitable racial economics and build intergenerational wealth in historically underserved communities.
“2020 was a hell of a year. My mission of solving economic inequalities based on race started well over a decade ago, but there’s something about 2020 that pushed that work into overdrive. There’s something about 2020 that made me feel like whatever I was already doing just wasn’t enough. 2020 was the last straw. Let me be 100 percent transparent for a moment. When I say 2020, I’m primarily referring to seeing George Floyd murdered on camera. And before George Floyd, I was indeed one of the millions of people who watched footage and news clips of what happened to Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and so many more who were robbed of their right to just live. That said, becoming a FUSE fellow quite frankly offered me an opportunity to cope. It offered me an opportunity to dedicate every fiber of my being to strategically dismantling a system that allows those who operate within it to comfortably take life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness from others that they see as ‘less than.’ FUSE has given me the opportunity to wake up everyday for the next 12 months and combat that system in honor and in memory of those who lost their lives to it. And for that, I am thankful.”
Nia is working with the Office of the Mayor in Atlanta to implement targeted support for minority, small-business owners to help address racial wealth inequality in the city.
“I was born into a family of community servants, one that has always prioritized meeting the needs of the people who have been historically underserved and overlooked. We practice the principles of collective work and responsibility, as well as cooperative economics in our daily lives. The career path I chose was born of those same principles. I moved to the Atlanta area more than five years ago to start my family. I was excited about the possibilities of family life and the positive opportunities that Atlanta would provide for us. My parents live here, and there is an immense variety of Black culture. After living in Atlanta, I began to learn even more about the city’s culture and see firsthand the planned development and growth that was to take place over the next several years. At the end of 2017, I moved to Southwest Atlanta. Surprisingly, the growth that I was witnessing throughout the city seemed to have missed the historically Black neighborhoods of Southwest Atlanta. And in 2019, the data showed that Atlanta has one of the largest wealth gaps between Black and white families in the country. As a FUSE fellow, I have the opportunity to directly address this inequity, not only by researching policy and understanding the macroeconomic lens perspective, but also by creating innovative solutions, with the community and local government entities in alignment. I am 100 percent invested in the outcomes of the Southwest community. I have three daughters that I plan to raise right in this quadrant. I owe it to them and those whose shoulders I stand upon to continue the fight for justice and the liberation of historically marginalized people of color. Being a FUSE fellow allows me to move the fight forward on one of those frontiers: in the economic justice struggle.”
Jean is working with the Chief Executive Office in Los Angeles County to help implement the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative, which outlines recommendations to scale alternatives to incarceration and diversion, ensuring care and services are provided first and incarceration is used as a last resort.
“I love solving problems. It’s why I’m in the line of work I do, management consulting and strategy and analytics. But over the years, I started to wonder if what I was doing might be problematic in itself — that I might be playing a part in creating problems for society as a whole, even as I was ‘fixing’ problems for the companies and clients I worked for. What started out as a nagging doubt early in my career has definitely amplified, especially in recent years with our country’s political climate and the growing income inequality and racial injustice facing so many people in our country. I credit Anand Giridharadas’ book Winners Take All with pushing me to take the actual plunge into the public sector. I’d always flirted with the idea of ‘giving back’ later in my career, but more along the lines of working in or with nonprofits. Giridharadas totally upended my thinking, making me consider how even the most well-intentioned of us are complicit in creating systems of great inequity. It’s what made me realize the kind of impact I want to make is directly within the system itself, helping design it so it works for everyone, rather than reacting to consequences after the fact. Through my FUSE fellowship, I have the opportunity to do exactly this, which is incredibly exciting.”
Marc is working with the city of Birmingham, Alabama, and The Birmingham Promise — a nonprofit with a goal of enabling every graduate of Birmingham City Schools to advance their careers and education — to develop the organization’s operating infrastructure.
“My ‘why’ for joining FUSE is to help others do what I’ve been blessed to do beyond what I deserve. I grew up in an impoverished city called Highland Park, Michigan. I was the youngest in my household, and, in fact, I was the youngest on my street. Thus, I was surrounded by people who provided a covering over me. I was blessed to leave that impoverished neighborhood to obtain an engineering degree from an Ivy League institution; earn an MBA from the number-two business school in the world; have a successful career in corporate America that included executing deals in Russia, China, and India; and successfully start, grow, and operate a franchise business venture. While all of this happened to me, those individuals who served as my ‘covering’ did not make it out of Detroit. They were better and smarter than me and were capable of accomplishing more. To whom much is given, much more is expected, and I expect myself to help others start their journey of pursuing their dreams. There is no better place to start than with high school students and no better vehicle to reach them than through my FUSE project.”
Joshua is working with the Office of the Mayor in Houston to bring technology access and digital inclusion programs to historically underinvested communities.
“I was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. Life for me in Shreveport was very similar to the movie Menace II Society. I was surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence, and without a father around, I went down the wrong path at an early age. I emulated the men in my life and experienced my fair share of near-death experiences. I was breaking my mother’s heart and knew I had to make changes. I was fortunate to get accepted into college and enter the finance industry after graduating. But I wanted to give back, so I also volunteered with children who needed guidance and lived in underserved communities. That time working with children influenced me to transition from corporate America to education to give back on a full-time basis. Wanting to serve as many people as possible, I found the FUSE fellowship, which will help extend my service to thousands of people. I joined to be of service, and I hope I influence someone to do the same.”
Lizzeth is working with the Chief Executive Office in Los Angeles County to help establish an Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Equity Initiative that will guide, govern, and drive the county’s commitment to fighting systemic racism.
“I became a FUSE fellow to help L.A. County transform into an actively anti-racist institution — a powerful example of the successful advocacy of social justice proponents who have long called for policy changes that address the systemic racism plaguing historically marginalized communities of color and for government’s acknowledgement of its role in upholding and perpetuating these systems. At a time of an emerging national consciousness about the continued police killings of our Black brothers and sisters, we all have a responsibility to hold our government accountable to ensure that Los Angeles is a society where we can all thrive, starting with increasing equity for Black Angelenos. In my experience as a social justice advocate and as a previously undocumented immigrant, I have seen the power of government reform efforts and the continued leadership vacuums preventing effective policymaking that addresses community needs and advances equity. It is my hope that working alongside government allies we can dismantle the institutional racism that has exacerbated inequities in our communities, so future generations of Black communities will have equal access to safe and affordable housing, living wage jobs, high quality schools, clean air, green spaces, fresh and healthy food options, multi-modal transportation options, high-quality healthcare, and freedom of movement without fear from the police.”
Helen is working with the Office of the City Administrator in Oakland, California, to build a strategic performance management system that enables local leaders to drive equitable community outcomes and a faster recovery from Covid-19.
“My journey to becoming a FUSE fellow is a simple evolution of needs and a desire to serve. After spending more than 20 years building data and analytics capabilities for large corporations, I was at a crossroads, re-evaluating the meaning of tangible work and pondering how I can create a longer lasting impact on the people surrounding me. I started engaging in community-based activities through pro bono services and volunteerism and came across the FUSE fellowship. After an intense exploration process, where I found solace and resonance in the servant leadership philosophy of the FUSE fellowship and connected with FUSE alumni who delivered exemplary public services, I was honored to be selected.”
Maria is working with the New Orleans Health Department to address the root causes of health inequities faced by Black residents — inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic — and create a program that improves their health and economic outcomes.
“My inspiration in becoming a fellow is based on my desire to give back to a city and community that has given so much to me. While attending a historically black university in New Orleans, I experienced a four-year journey that fostered my career ambitions and nurtured a strong sense of public service, which inspired my passion for public health. During my senior year in college, I worked as a hospital administrative intern at Charity Hospital. This experience solidified my desire to serve my community, which historically lacks access to quality healthcare. Now I am coming full circle to ensure that I positively contribute to the greater New Orleans area by using my education, experience, and insights gained from over 20 years of working in healthcare to address the continued health inequities that have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Hassanatu is working with the Department of Planning, Engineering, and Permits in Birmingham, Alabama, to operationalize Shape Bham, which aims to improve the quality of life and health outcomes for residents by integrating equity measures into the planning process at the neighborhood level.
“I was born into service. My parents served in government agencies both in Cameroon and the U.S., and they taught their children to always give back as well. I have worked for international, national, and grassroots organizations and agencies, leveraging my background and past experiences in public health, education, technology, and philanthropy to be of service to others. I became a FUSE fellow to engage with local city government, which I have never worked with before, and to help shape communities for life after the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Violet is working with the Office of the City Administrator in Oakland, California, to help implement projects outlined in the Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors community plan by developing a communications strategy and supporting project partners.
“My motivation for pursuing this fellowship opportunity stems from my love for my adopted home. When I moved to the U.S. 30 years ago, I arrived in Oakland, and I recall falling in love with the city immediately in spite of the scary stories of violence and tensions that I had heard. As an immigrant, the concept of community has always been a shaky one for me, but after 10 years of living in Oakland and meeting wonderful souls from so many places, I found my home away from home — Oakland became my community. I moved from the city in 1998 and was stunned by the devastation I saw when I returned last year. I made a vow to find ways to contribute to the city’s revival. This fellowship presents an exciting opportunity to leverage my experience, pursue my passion, and learn from the community that I have come to embrace as home.”
Jeremy is working with the Office of the Mayor in Houston to help increase access to quality fresh foods in historically underinvested communities, while providing new pathways to employment through local job creation.
“I have always sought inspiration from the attitudes and actions of the people in my life. I am deliberate in choosing my friends and associates, but professionally I have generally found myself in circles of people that have left me wanting in terms of inspiration. Last year, one of my best friends from childhood died of an inoperable brain tumor. His name is Emile Bruneau, and he was 48 years old. He was a child of divorce and raised in near poverty by a single (and diagnosed with schizophrenia) mother. Yet he excelled in his life, getting degrees from Stanford and MIT and working at the University of Pennsylvania on cutting-edge international conflict resolution as a neuroscientist. He dedicated his life and his career, his brilliance and his humanity, to advancing some of the most important and impactful work on inter-human interactions ever attempted, and he likely would have won a Nobel Peace Prize had he lived long enough to finish his work. I want to continue to surround myself with people like Emile, both personally and professionally, and I want to live the rest of my life in the spirit that he lived his. I want to honor his legacy and forge my own. The commitment that FUSE has made to racial equity and the advancement of opportunity in historically underserved urban communities is a commitment that I have also made, and this group of inspirational leaders is the one that I choose to be a part of.”