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In Memoriam: Jeremy Nowak

 “I believe that a functioning democracy must be rooted in a strong public sphere—a place where despite our differences of geographical, ethnic, and class identity we can meet, associate, solve problems, identify our interest, define common values, and organize ourselves.”
– Jeremy’s acceptance speech for the Philadelphia Award in 1995

We at Reinvestment Fund are grieving the loss of our founder, Jeremy Nowak. Jeremy was a powerful, insightful and tireless voice for our nation’s underserved people and places. The world is diminished by his passing.

Jeremy established Reinvestment Fund to make investments in underserved communities to increase equity of access to resources and strengthen neighborhoods—that was 33 years and $2 billion ago. He organized people, then he organized money, community capacity rallied, and all along the way he organized how we think about problems and their solutions. In his tool box, he carried relentless rigor and clarity of purpose. Among our value statements at Reinvestment Fund is a commitment to “transcend the transactional”—a pure distillation of the legacy of Jeremy’s vision and leadership.

Long before the Community Reinvestment Act made bank investment in community development a trend, Jeremy went door to door gathering the seed capital for our first loans. He delivered a simple and radical message: whether of modest or ample means, you can safely invest in low-income people and places … and he showed them how. Today our core holds investments from 865 individual and institutional investors—from $1000 to many millions—and we have fulfilled the terms of every dollar we have ever received.

Jeremy understood that people and communities needed homes, schools, access to fresh food and places to express themselves artistically; all of these things became areas in which Reinvestment Fund invested. We are among a handful of CDFIs in the nation with such a breadth of activities, because of the seeds Jeremy sowed and his crusader’s belief that social justice was a pursuit in which all can participate and succeed.

As Reinvestment Fund grew, Jeremy asked Dr. Ira Goldstein to join him and create a team tasked with measuring the impact of our work. Jeremy insisted that data and objectivity guide our scarce resources to the best possible applications. It was imperative that we understood our impact, shared it with policy makers and investors and communities in full transparency, and hold ourselves accountable if there were unintended consequences. This belief shaped a phrase describing the essence of our work—Reinvestment Fund puts “Capital at the Point of Impact”. Jeremy pursued impact like a laser—straight, and the more penetrating for it. Later, Jeremy launched a real estate development company to work on rebuilding homes and community in one of the most distressed parts of Baltimore. He also started PolicyMap in an effort to democratize access to information critical to making informed community development decisions.

We at Reinvestment Fund live our professional lives within an institutional repository of many of Jeremy’s accomplishments. His presence will always be felt, and his absence hard to imagine. None of us were prepared for our founder to pass. We grieve with the many he touched with his all-encompassing reach, and we offer our deepest condolences to the Cohen-Nowak family.