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September in Detroit
September Hargrove, JPMorgan Chase’s Detroit Program Officer, is using her own experience as inspiration to transform the lives of Detroit residents.
It's 7:30 am when I head out my front door and jump in my car. With my coffee securely in hand, I'm ready to head to work. My destination is Detroit's Chase Tower, roughly 20 minutes from my house in Bagley.
As I drive, I pass green lawns and restored homes, mothers walking with their children and neighbors heading to the office. I see proud, hopeful people enjoying the limitless opportunities of a city on the rise.
Not too long ago, Detroit’s future was unclear. High unemployment and significant blight had plagued the city for many years, resulting in the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Not exactly what a place wants to be known for.
Five years later, while things are still far from perfect, the city’s progress amazes me. I am honored to run JPMorgan Chase's $200 million investment in the Motor City. To date, the investment has helped more than 5,100 businesses get access to capital and technical assistance, created or preserved over 2,100 jobs and helped more than 13,500 Detroit residents receive job skills training.
Detroit's story resonates with me because—like Detroit—my success also happened against all odds. I was born the oldest of six children to an absent father and a mother who was battling drug addiction and mental health issues while trying to raise us.
When I was a kid growing up in Sacramento, CA, we moved around a lot. From a three bedroom house by Southside Park, we moved to a homeless shelter in Del Paso Heights, then to a hotel room in South Sacramento.
Because of my unstable home life, my future was uncertain. Especially because our final move to the hotel meant that I couldn't attend school—my safe haven—for many weeks. I remember feeling completely defeated, like the world didn't care about my brothers and me. But I was determined to not let my circumstance define my fate.
One day, I had enough. I gathered some change and called the bus company to get directions to my school. As I stepped into first period, I was shocked to find that people did care and had been looking for us. I was even more surprised when I ended up talking with social services later that day. I wouldn’t see my brothers again for several years.
I was 13 when I entered the system and I spent most of my teenage years in foster care. While it wasn’t ideal, foster care gave me the stability I desperately needed. It helped me nurture the confidence to dream big, to explore secondary education and degrees, things that I'd previously thought myself unworthy of attaining.
I didn’t take my second chance for granted. I graduated at the top of my class from Grant High School and went on to get my bachelor's from the University of California, Berkeley. A few years later, I got my master's in public policy and urban planning from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Pulling into the lot, I park my car to finish the rest of my commute on foot. As I join the busy downtown crowd, suited and ready for the day, I reflect on the first time I was a part of a crowd like this one. It was my first day as a California Senate Fellow.
My education, both in school and in the real world, eventually led me to where I never thought I would go, the White House. In 2015, I had the honor of being selected as a White House Fellow working with the National Economic Council for President Obama. This experience opened my eyes to the power of collaboration and the important role that the private sector has in driving change in communities.
Entering Chase Tower, I feel a wave of gratitude wash over me. I am now in a place and a role in which I can effect change for those who are facing challenges in my new home. I am helping to create an environment in Detroit where everyone can thrive and succeed. Just like I did.
Arriving at my desk, I am ready to start my day. Grateful for my role, my education, my experiences, and ready to have a positive impact.
Now's the time, let's get to work.
Learn more about JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways initiative, which was created to help black families benefit from economic growth through a focus on education and training, career opportunities, and building lasting wealth through homeownership and entrepreneurship.