Today is May 1st, and in 25 days, I will walk across the stage and collect my Harvard diploma. One of the most prestigious universities in the world. I have a story of modern day redlining to share.
Harvard is a place of egalitarian values. A place where I have never felt that my race made any difference in how people saw me because of my race. As I collect my diploma, I cannot forget that no matter what I do, in some places, I will be treated differently because of my race.
What happened is hard for me to believe happened Twelve years after America elected its first black president. While I am sad it happened, it has opened my eyes. I had surrounded myself with people and companies that did not judge me by my race. But before I was admitted to Harvard, before COVID-19, and before the government’s response, I was planning to move to a town in Northern Indiana. I knew the town well, and I spent a lot of time there.
I spend summers in the town. I remember going to Le Peep restaurant for brunch. They have awesome French toast, by the way. There is an Ice Cream store on Monroe street that is out of this world.
I opened a bank account in town planning to buy a house and settle down, and honestly, some of the nicest people worked in the branch when I was opening my account. Never had a problem, and people in the bank, just like the town, have that mid-western friendlessness that is lacking in other parts of America.
Soon afterward, I was accepted to Harvard for graduate study and my plans changed. I started working freelance part-time while I was in school, and things were fine banking in Indiana while at school.
.I lived in Allston for a while, went to school, and maintained my account with them hoping I would still move to the city after graduation.
When COVID happened, my income dropped, but luckily, the Biden administration started the PPP program just for small businesses like me so we could keep going. Everything went smoothly with the bank and the first PPP loan. The loan was approved. Awesome.
Then, the second round of PPP loans is when racism showed its ugly head. I believe this did not happen in my branch, but somewhere in this publicly traded bank. In the second round of PPP loans, the PPP application asked for my race. I had never been asked for my race on anything before at the bank.
I checked African American. Then everything changed.
While the first loan went smoothly, and this loan had “issues”, then my account was closed because after years with the bank, they suddenly “Did not feel comfortable with my account”. My account was closed and the amount remaining in my account was never returned.
The only difference, and I mean only, is that I had to put my race on the application. The people that I know at the branch are some of the nicest people. But I have to face the fact, that this bank, or someone in the bank, does not want to do business with black people.
Redlining and discrimination are alive and well, even in the nicest cities.
I said to myself, I should just forget about it and move on. Now, I have a job on K street in Washington DC, and I am starting to feel differently. I can see Kamala Harris, the first Black Vice President’s office is a block or two away from the front door of my office.
I talk to my colleagues and they don’t think I should let this pass. I do have access to make a complaint. To stop this from happening to the next Black person who wants to access a basic need such as banking. What if the next person can’t afford to have their money stolen when their account is closed?
The next 25 days are hard for me. How can I graduate from Harvard, knowing that I did not fight injustice in front of me? If a Harvard graduate cannot fight injustice, who can?