Sanford alumnus Sekou Kaalund MPP’99 has landed his “dream-come-true job” as head of JP Morgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways initiative. The new program aims to help black Americans achieve greater economic success. It’s the first of its kind, Kaalund said.
The program focuses on three pathways to economic success -- education, wealth, and careers -- in order to address systemic challenges facing black people. Kaalund is particularly excited by the education pathway, an interest that he’s had since writing his Duke master’s thesis on charter schools in North Carolina.
His thesis research helped him recognize that “talent is created equally, but opportunity is not and, more and more, opportunity is shaped by factors you don’t have control over,” Kaalund said.
“I have always felt a responsibility to make an impact, and in this new position, I have the ability to create opportunity for more people,” he said. Heading the initiative allows him to bring together his quantitative skills, business and policy expertise, relationship-building skills, and, most importantly, the understanding of how to solve problems and affect outcomes, he said.
The ABP program’s strategies include expanding partnerships with historically black colleges and improving black students’ job readiness by hiring 4,000 black students over the next five years as interns, apprentices and in post-graduate positions. To help black families build wealth, strategies include providing homebuyer counseling and helping black-owned small businesses access capital. To start, the firm will expand the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund to the greater Washington, D.C., region.
Kaalund is excited to build on the momentum of launch day and continue engaging with the community. “Advancing Black Pathways is about empowerment," he said. "We have a unique opportunity to empower communities—with the resources and support—and build pathways for more promising horizons in education, careers and wealth.”
Kaalund is especially proud of what the initiative accomplished on its launch day in February. His team brought together influential black leaders including former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell, NFL Quarterback Cam Newton, and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) to engage community members, partners and college students in the Washington, D.C. area.
Kaalund came out of launch day believing it was “a historic moment.” Even so, he knows one initiative cannot solve the systemic economic inequality facing black Americans. He hopes other companies will follow JP Morgan’s lead and create enough momentum across the country to “actually get people to move the needle and do something that shifts generations.”
Kaalund speaks at program event launch day
JP Morgan kicked off the Advancing Black Pathways initiative by bringing together influential black leaders including former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell, NFL Quarterback Cam Newton, and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) to engage community members, partners and college students in the Washington, D.C. area.
When Kaalund started the MPP program his goal was to become a senator, thinking holding public office would be the most effective path for creating change.
“I’m a banker by accident,” he said.
When he won a national business case competition from the Executive Leadership Council, he had the opportunity to learn from African American leaders from top companies across the country. He realized, “They can have a significant impact because of their seat in the company.”
After Duke, his first job was as a bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the largest in the 12-bank system. He then moved to Citi, where he held strategic leadership roles in the consumer lending and securities and funds services groups.
Although his career has been mostly in the private sector, Kaalund says, “policy is still at the heart of it.” He said he has learned there is more than one way to make an impact.