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From Passive to Active: Rodney Hood on Community Development for People with Disabilities

JP Morgan Chase's Rodney Hood with RespectAbility's Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Ben Spangenberg

JP Morgan Chase’s Rodney Hood with RespectAbility’s Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Ben Spangenberg

Rockville, Md. August 8 – Rodney E. Hood’s work to support the disability community began with the assignment to “figure out a way to go beyond passive mode at a gala.” Hood is the Corporate Responsibility Manager at JP Morgan Chase, which entails managing partnerships that promote sustainable community development in underserved communities, including those with disabilities. When Hood first came on as the manager, JP Morgan Chase had relationships with the National Deaf Association and the National Federal of the Blind and other organizations, but they did not extend much beyond the bank’s presence at their conferences.

Now, JP Morgan Chase sponsors people with disabilities to attend a variety of conferences, including accommodations, from the National Urban League to the events of other groups who are doing work that impact people with disabilities despite the fact that these voices may not always be present in the room. “We need to have everyone with a seat at the table,” said Hood. He said he is always thinking, “How do we make the playing field level?”

Finding Your North Star

Before Hood began his career in community development, he graduated The University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill with the ambitions of working as a missionary. But after some time in Kenya, Hood jokingly reflects, “I didn’t think God wanted me because I didn’t wake up in the middle of night in the jungle with a strike of lightning. So, I was like Lord what am I going to do now?”

After a couple of years in banking, he went on to represent the bank in low resource communities. In working in these communities, Hood realized that he did not have to work as a missionary to do work that “aligns with [his] north star.”

A Model of Impact

At JP Morgan Chase, Rodney and his colleagues follow a model of impact to ensure that they invest sustainably and prioritize the needs of the residents. This model of impact includes an environmental scan, a look at the infrastructure, a meeting with the city council or mayor. All these variables impact how JP Morgan Chase invests in these cities.

For that reason, community development in Detroit looks different from that in Chicago. To be more specific, Detroit has millions of vacant housing units that may need to be converted to public green space or grocery stores. In contrast, JP Morgan Chase’s work in Chicago may take more of the form of a fellowship initiative that supports young African American and Latino men pursue higher education.

Advice for Finding Your North Star

For students and young professionals who also are interested in working toward social change beyond the nonprofit world, Hood believes there are more opportunities today in the corporate world than in previous generations. So, when researching potential employers, he suggested looking into their corporate responsibility work, specifically where they stand on disability issues and other areas of concern, so that you work with a company that allows you to give back.

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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. This summer, 11 Fellows had the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Victoria Grace
Victoria Grace
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