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Inside the Greenwood Project's mission to create a more diverse Wall Street

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Faces of Change: How the Greenwood Project is removing barriers to careers in finance

Angelina Carreras, 20, a junior at DePaul University in Chicago, recalls the intense four-week training she had last summer before working as an equity trading intern at Charles Schwab.

"We initially started off with financial modeling. I didn't know anything about financial statements," she said. "It was definitely a big learning curve."

And, the most important lesson learned, she says, was about finding a new career path.

"I hope to be a wealth management advisor in the future," Carreras said. "Without the Greenwood Project, I would have not known that was even available to me." 

The Greenwood Project, a nonprofit based in Chicago, aims to expose Black and Latino high school and college students to careers in finance beyond entry-level positions by providing financial literacy training, internships and mentorships.

Greenwood Project scholars learn the intricacies of finance in an intensive four-week classroom training program.
Greenwood Project

"I wanted to make sure that there was access and pathways for students who may not know that opportunities existed in the financial sector," said Elois Joseph, 43, a former senior examiner for FINRA who founded the Greenwood Project with her husband Bevon, 44.

The name honors the historically prosperous Greenwood community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as "Black Wall Street." On May 31, 1921, a mob of white residents destroyed Greenwood and murdered over 300 Black residents.

Eloise and Bevon say they too are building a vibrant community of future financial professionals. "We are not just internships, not just high school programs in the summer. It's really bigger," Bevon says. "That's why we describe it as a family."  

While Latinos make up 18% of the U.S. workforce, just 10% of financial managers are Latino, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Blacks make up 13% of the U.S. workforce, while only 9% of financial managers are Black.

Bevon calls the Greenwood Project an overnight success — 20 years in the making. With over 40 years of combined experience in the financial services industry, throughout their careers Elois and Bevon all too often noticed the lack of diversity.

"I looked around the room, and not many people looked like me," says Bevon.

As his career progressed, the lack of diversity worsened, he says, and that is an environment which discourages minorities from seeking a career in financial services.

They started the Greenwood Project in 2015 in Elois's native Chicago after Bevon left his job as the CTO of a hedge fund.

Many of their students don't grow up talking about Wall Street at their dinner table, according to Bevon. Their motto is, "You can't be, what you can't see."

Creating a new generation of wealth

The Greenwood Project works with partner firms, including Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwab, and Janus Henderson, that invest in the Greenwood Project and hire their students as paid interns.

The Josephs hope that by exposing students to finance careers, it will ultimately enable them to create generational wealth. High school students in the program are encouraged to think about finance before they decide on college majors, and while they are not forced to pursue careers in finance, nearly 80% of graduates currently work in finance. 

Bevon (L) and Elois Joseph, co-founders of the Greenwood Project
The Greenwood Project

Currently, the college program attracts students from across the U.S., with interns in cities including Chicago, Denver and New York. The nonprofit's high school program serves kids in the Chicago area. High school students spend six weeks during the summer learning about the finance industry by visiting different companies each day.

The pilot class consisted of five college students in 2016. Since then, the Greenwood Project has served over 400 high school and college students and plans to help 220 college students in 2022. Today students are recruited nationwide through online ads. Alumni serve as ambassadors recruiting students and showing them what prospects lay ahead.

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"They're supplying you with a network that you would never be able to tap into," says Greenwood Project alumni Hayes Bynum, 26, a fixed income associate at Piper Sandler. "I always felt that I was talented and I always felt that I would be successful. I just felt like I did not have enough information or enough of the exposure to the career paths necessary."

"What we're doing is we're planting seeds across the industry. Our young people are going to keep getting promoted, rise to the top, and they'll bring people along with them," Bevon says. "We tell young people in our program, 'the Greenwood Project is going to open a lot of doors for you, once you get in your job is to keep the door open.'"

Everything changed after George Floyd

In the beginning, the couple relied on their social capital to find partner firms. But everything changed in 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. More firms wanted to partner with the Greenwood Project.

"In the summer of 2020 we went from 20 partners over three years, to ending the year with 30 partners." Bevon said.

Today, the Greenwood Project partners with 55 firms, with more on the waiting list.

"More people are becoming aware of the need for diversity in talent, diversity in people and we have become somewhat of a diversity supplier," Elois says.

This year, the Greenwood Project announced a new partnership with Citadel and Citadel Securities to expand its summer high school program. With funding from the Chicago-based hedge fund giant, the project will expand to over 60 high school students in Chicago's South and West sides.

Bevon says both students and partner firms benefit from these programs. Students learn more about the industry and gain access to mentorship. While firms, especially smaller firms, get access to an untapped talent pool.

One of the shortcomings of modern recruiting, according to Bevon, is its lack of diversity. "They keep fishing in the same ponds and don't look at a lot of smaller schools. We're disrupting financial recruiting," he said. 

To celebrate Black History during February, CNBC + Acorns Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow. is spotlighting everyday Americans who are investing in neighborhoods, schools and small businesses to create brighter financial futures. CNBC also asked readers to nominate "Faces of Change", individuals in their communities making groundbreaking changes.

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