Elinam “Eli” Dellor | In Her Own Voice

Elinam “Eli” Dellor comes from a family of strong, Black women who pushed through social and geographic boundaries to accomplish the extraordinary. Her grandmother, Irene Akosua Dei, overcame significant adversity as a young orphan in Ghana, where she survived through subsistence work and taught herself how to read and write before going on to successfully raise eight children of her own, including Eli’s mother, Pat.

Pat continued Irene’s legacy by becoming one of the first in her family to attend college and practice sports medicine in Ghana – a field where women were scarce. Facing limits to what she could accomplish in Ghana, she made the difficult choice to move her family to the U.S. in search of greater opportunity and a better life for her children. “My parents are immigrants and they came here for a very specific reason – to ensure that we don’t struggle as much as they had to struggle,” Eli explains.

Today, Eli stands on the shoulders of her mother and grandmother as a bright and ambitious Black woman and first-generation immigrant who has a Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Without a doubt, Irene’s spirit and determination flows through her. “My grandma was my first teacher, my first mentor,” Eli says. “She did everything that was out of the ordinary for her time. Being a Black woman with a Ph.D., I am also out of the ordinary. I take a lot of pleasure in bucking trends, surprising people.”

The road to Eli’s accomplishment was not an easy one. Eli immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana at the tender age of 11 and has faced racism and bias throughout her life.

One of her first experiences with racial prejudice came in the 10th grade, when she sought guidance from her school counselor on taking the PSAT to prepare for college. “The counselor took one look at me and said, ‘Don’t bother. I think you should focus on looking at community colleges. No need to take the PSAT.’” Eli was an honor roll student enrolled in AP classes, so her counselor’s reaction left her feeling surprised, confused, and hurt. It was only after Eli found the courage to follow up with her counselor that he took the time to actually look at her records and see her high academic achievement. “It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Eli recalls. “He looked at me and just saw a Black girl, nothing more. I had to force him to see past that, to see me.”

This was her first introduction to racism at a systemic level, and, unfortunately, it would not be her last. Throughout her academic career, Eli saw how her race, gender, and immigration history positioned her to have to work harder, face bigger obstacles, and be at a disadvantage in comparison to her white peers.  

One of the major challenges Eli now faces as a recent post-doctoral graduate is grappling with the immense debt she has acquired in taking on student loans since the start of her undergraduate work. Eli enrolled in work study programs and got whatever scholarships she could, but her family’s means were limited and student loans were a must. “It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t go to college,” says Eli. “My parents made it very clear that even if we needed to take out loans, we would do whatever it took to ensure I was educated.”

Eli’s decision to continue to graduate school was not an easy one, as she worried about taking on more debt, but she felt that it was absolutely necessary to advance her career. “I was working at the Alliance for Children’s Rights on the behalf of foster youth and saw that without an advanced degree, I would be stuck in lower-level positions, and I wouldn’t be able to ever be in charge of my own work.” She wanted to continue her work with at-risk populations and also had a dream to pursue public health work in Ghana. A Master’s in Public Health (MPH) seemed like the perfect fit.  

While in the MPH program, Eli saw white male privilege play out to its fullest. In a field of mostly women, there were only two men in her cohort who were white, and they received a disproportionate amount of financial support and teaching opportunities despite having an undistinguished reputation among peers. “It was so frustrating to all of the women… As women, we can’t afford to be mediocre. We have to work harder to get noticed all the time.”

When Eli received her MPH in 2008, the recession was in full effect. Facing a devastated job market, she, like many of her peers, decided to work toward a Ph.D., which would enable her to follow her dream of becoming a principal researcher.

As a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, Eli learned that the National Institute of Health (NIH) offered a fellowship to those who would be willing to study the incorporation of psychology and biology into Public Health issues. Seeing an opportunity to earn financial support for her education, she came up with a proposal for the fellowship, applied, and was accepted. With this fellowship, Eli changed her career path from researching reproductive health in Ghana to focusing on the biological effect of childhood trauma on the adult body.

Eli has mixed emotions about the fellowship. She is thankful, of course, for the opportunity and support, and she is very proud of the work she accomplished. However, she also considers how the fellowship changed the trajectory of her career and forced her to make a hard choice in letting go of her original passion – something she has seen happen to many of her peers. “What happens is that everyone goes to where the money is, and your dreams, inspirations may not get funded,” she explains. “Specific communities may never get researched. Funding dictates what gets looked at.”

Now as a post-doc, Eli is faced with more difficult decisions. With over $112,000 in cumulative student debt, she has to look into options that will help alleviate her loans. Once again, the NIH can help. They offer to pay for up to 50% of her student loans in exchange for researching specific work.

While seeking guidance about the NIH program from her post-doc mentor, Eli had another eye-opening discovery: her mentor had no loans to pay for after she received her own Ph.D. How could someone not have any debt after so many years of education? Eli learned that her mentor’s parents both held Ph.D.s and had access to valuable information and networks that she did not. “They knew where to go to for money, how to ask for money, how to position yourself to be appealing to people to give you money,” she explains. “I had no idea about all that stuff. I’m a smart woman – but that only gets you so far. You need connections and that’s what my mentor had.”

Privilege and advantage are not always visible. Understanding how systems work, having connections and access to people with wealth – these are factors we may not always consider when we think about our own privilege and how we achieved our own success. Yet they play very real, important roles in our lives. “As an immigrant family, you’re not established here, you don’t know where the sources of funding are, you don’t know what the tricks are to get your kids a ‘free education,’” Eli explains. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Without these advantages, Eli finds herself far behind peers who graduated with little or no debt and simply have more options for working in their field. With student loan payments already eating into her limited finances, Eli needs to apply for programs like what the NIH is offering, despite the fact that it may yet again derail her from her desired career path.  “What starts to happen is that the debt starts to fight with your passion,” she says. “You might end up doing something because that was where the money is.” These are difficult choices to make.

In the end, Eli is proud of her accomplishments, and she treasures her education and the access and opportunities it will eventually give her. “In academia, there are very few people who look like me,” she says. “If there aren’t people who look like me and have my background and experience, then the things that we care about will not get researched and studied.”

A person’s interests come from their own experience and knowledge base. We need diversity in academia and research to ensure that populations on the periphery can receive equal attention and opportunity. There is a tremendous need for women and people of color to be doing this work. And for that reason, Eli holds her head high and basks in the knowing that she has made her grandmother very proud as she continues to strive for the extraordinary.

Issue III: Special Series on Retirement Security

Retirement Security: We must plan for tomorrow, so our families can live for today

The final issue brief, “Retirement Security: We must plan for tomorrow, so our families can live for today,” is available now alongside video content, online resources, and planning tools in a dedicated Retirement Security section of the Insight Center’s website.

Authored by Gabriela Sandoval, the Insight Center’s Director of Research and Chief Economic Security Officer, this final installment explores the current work of colleagues and partners in the field of retirement security. Each partner is listed, with information about their organization, key work they have conducted in the retirement security field, and links to relevant reports, articles, tools, and resources.

Read and download the final retirement piece here.

The Color of Wealth in Los Angeles

New study reveals nuanced story of race and wealth in LA

The new report examines wealth inequality across racial and ethnic groups in Los Angeles, shows substantial disparity with Japanese, Asian Indians, Chinese and whites ranking among the top, while blacks, Mexicans, other Latinos, Koreans and Vietnamese rank far behind.

The Color of Wealth in Los Angeles” is the first report to compile detailed data on assets and debts among people of different races, ethnicities and countries of origin residing in the Los Angeles area. Researchers from UCLA, Duke University and The New School, with support from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, analyzed data on assets such as savings and checking accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, houses and vehicles. Debts included credit card debt, student loans, medical debt, mortgages and vehicle debt.

To download the full report click here.

Issue II: Retirement Security

Retirement Security: We must plan for tomorrow, so our families can live for today.

This second of three issue briefs, “Retirement Security: We must plan for tomorrow, so our families can live for today“. Authored by Gabriela Sandoval, the Insight Center’s Director of Research and Chief Economic Security Officer, this second installment brings several opportunities together to examine the significance of identifying and promoting safe, accessible and portable retirement savings platforms, programs and products. Now is the time to make retirement security a reality for all Americans.

Retirement security—or, the ability to make ends meet as a retired older adult—is becoming less and less attainable. Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen our nation’s promise broken. America’s promise offers a world where something better awaits the next generation, yet far too many ordinary middle and working class families, committed to provide a good life for their children, are still handed dwindling paychecks and made to pay more each day for the basics. American families were just following the rules for success: go to school, work hard, save, and prosperity will be your reward. The most ordinary things—a layoff, injury, illness or divorce— suddenly mean an end to the life they created, the security they were promised for working so hard.

Read and download the full issue brief here.

2017 Annual Report + Newsletters

Newsletters

12/20/2017 – December Newsletter

11/30/2017 – November Newsletter

10/31/2017 – October Newsletter

09/29-17 – September Newsletter

09/05/17 – August Newsletter

07/31/17 – July Newsletter

06/30/17 – June Newsletter

05/31/17 – May Newsletter

05/08/17 – April Newsletter

03/31/17 – March Newsletter

03/02/17 – February Newsletter

02/02/17 – January Newsletter

Issue I: Retirement Security

Retirement Security: We must plan for tomorrow, so our families can live for today.

This first of three issue briefs, “Retirement Security: We must plan for tomorrow, so our families can live for today“. Authored by Gabriela Sandoval, the Insight Center’s Director of Research and Chief Economic Security Officer, this first installment looks at the changing nature of work and retirement, and the intergenerational struggle to make ends meet through parents’ and grandparents’ golden years.

Retirement security—or, the ability to make ends meet as a retired older adult—is becoming less and less attainable. Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen our nation’s promise broken. America’s promise offers a world where something better awaits the next generation, yet far too many ordinary middle and working class families, committed to provide a good life for their children, are still handed dwindling paychecks and made to pay more each day for the basics. American families were just following the rules for success: go to school, work hard, save, and prosperity will be your reward. The most ordinary things—a layoff, injury, illness or divorce— suddenly mean an end to the life they created, the security they were promised for working so hard.

Read and download the full issue brief here.

Richmond opens the door to economic opportunity and security

The report, entitled, “Richmond Opens the Door to Economic Opportunity and Security” was authored by Sharon Cornu, a leading East Bay public policy expert and senior consultant at the Center. According to the report, expanding prospects for economic opportunity and security in Richmond (and comparable communities) are largely a product of decisions by policy makers, improved employer practices, and voluntary agreements.

The report provides an in depth look at UC Berkeley’s plan to build its Berkeley Global Campus (BGC) at Richmond Bay. The Global Campus projects a bold vision to transform the city’s south shoreline into a mix of diverse high-intensity light industrial, commercial, and residential uses.

But, how does the city attract business on the right terms? The report dives into solutions that new businesses need to provide for Richmond’s underserved and unemployed population, mostly made up of boys and men of color.

The study also includes a landscape scan by Mahvish Jafri titled Anchor Institutions and Innovation: A Landscape Scan. The scan profiles six educational institutions from across the country that serve as community “anchors.” These institutions have a great economic impact on the communities surrounding their campuses; all examples serve as evidence of the potential impact of bringing the BGC to the city of Richmond.

Read and download the full report here.

REPORT: Contracting for Racial Equity

Contracting for Equity

Best Local Government Practices that Advance Racial Equity in Government Contracting and Procurement

The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) joined forces with the Insight Center for Community Economic Development and author Tim Lohrentz to produce a hands-on issue paper on a topic familiar across governmental jurisdictions, contracting and procurement. Local governments procure and contract for a variety of things – from complex construction or architectural services to supplies, all of which help to keep government running.

To read and download the full report, click here.

Susan Smith

Susan Smith is a Project Manager for the City of San Francisco Controller’s Office in its City Performance Unit, providing high level consulting services, technical assistance and analysis to various City departmental leaders and the Mayor’s Office in an effort to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public services.

Prior to her work with the City of San Francisco, Susan was Managing Director at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, where she oversaw the Insight Center’s national and statewide efforts to develop innovative policies and new initiatives to help vulnerable communities become and remain economically secure.  Susan represented the Insight Center on a range of economic security-related policies and programs, including: testifying at public hearing and writing public comments; identifying, building and sustaining new partnerships, speaking to the press; organizing networks, conducting trainings and presentations; and writing reports.  Over nearly a decade with the Insight Center, Susan identified new opportunities to deepen the organization’s impact, and strategically expanded its geographic reach by developing and managing the implementation of four new initiatives.

Susan has worked to achieve economic justice for nearly two decades. Prior to joining the Insight Center, Susan directed an asset development program for low-income refugees at Lao Family Community Development. She contested public assistance case closings and benefits allocations as an advocate at the Urban Justice Center in New York City. And, early in her career, Susan was competitively selected to participate in a management training program in municipal government, New York City Urban Fellows Program, where she analyzed the impacts of new policies on tax collection and housing rehabilitation for the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development.

Susan graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College, and received an MPA in Public Policy from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Roberto E. Barragan

As the Senior Managing Director of Manhattan West Asset Management, a $300 million private wealth management firm, Roberto Barragan is responsible for establishing a $50 million equity fund to originate, fund and manage small business loans made to women and minority owned small businesses in low and moderate income communities nationally.

Prior to that, from 199 to 2016, Mr. Barragan was the President of VEDC (Valley Economic Development Center), a Los Angeles based non-profit organization in Los Angeles, managing a $11 million budget with 80 employees in 8 offices throughout the country. VEDC served over 3,000 businesses yearly with financing, training and direct business assistance. Roberto led VEDC to build $60 million in assets with a small business loan portfolio of $35 million.

He led VEDC to national prominence as a highly regarded Community Development Financial Institution originating $25 million annually in small business loans. The VEDC lent almost $100 million to women and minority business owners in the last 10 years, and launched numerous loan programs including Business Opportunity Funds in Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas and New York, the National African American Small Business Loan Fund and the National Micro Finance Fund among others. His commitment to diverse communities is evidenced by the $13 million VEDC lent to the African American communities and $35 million lent to Latino business in the last 10 years. 

Mr. Barragan is the founder of the Golden State Certified Development Corporation, a local SBA 504 lender. In 2005, he founded the Pacoima Development Federal Credit Union by raising $2 million in deposits, $500,000 in capital and securing a federal charter from the National Credit Union Association. Over the last 6 years, Mr. Barragan has raised over $100 million in federal, state and local as well as private resources for small and medium sized business development.

Mr. Barragan is a nationally recognized expert on community loan funds and microlending, and is a regular lecturer and media expert on these subjects. He serves as the Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Community Advisory Council.