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Chris Bowers of Atlanta Joins Open Access/REAP Fellowship Program

Following a Successful Inaugural Year, OPEN ACCESS/REAP Selects 23 New Fellowship Candidates in Community Development Finance -Initiative aims to increase BIPOC participation in a field that often serves communities of color yet remains seriously under-represented by diverse professionals

Through the Open Access/REAP fellowship program Chris Bowers of Atlanta is working with the DC-based National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) marketing and public policy team to support historic tax credit advocacy efforts.

Bowers notes that “This opportunity is instrumental in increasing representation. I believe that diversity matters, especially when our communities are involved. The most important stakeholders in our Black and Brown communities are usually not the decision-makers in what happens to those communities.”

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.

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


Last updated on February 10, 2022

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