Alumnus influences national policy concerning access to financial services and products
Kyle R. Williams ’07 starts almost every day the same way. Surfing the net he checks the business news along with his emails to get up to speed on the most recent changes and forecasts in the financial services industry.
He’s not looking to further his own investment portfolio or to monitor his retirement fund. As the legislative director for the National Urban League’s finance and housing division at the organization’s Washington Bureau, it’s his job to be up-to-date and ready to help change and influence national policy and regulation to give disadvantaged people living in urban areas better access to financial services and products.
It’s a job that Williams takes very seriously, and strives to help people with every single day.
“The first half of my job is analyzing legislation, regulation, and bank activities and drafting responses to try to help make them better. After we figure out the best approach to those issues, the other half of my job is trying to influence the decision-makers to implement those changes,” he said. “To do that, I have to be up-to-date with everything that’s going on in my issue area – all of the different developments that are taking place, both market-based developments and policy-based developments.”
Fighting to secure affordable financial services and products for underserved populations wasn’t something Williams originally saw himself doing after law school. When he applied to the Moritz College of Law he had two reasons for pursuing his juris doctorate. The first, he said, was to complete his dream of his immediate family being made up of attorneys.
“Both of my parents are attorneys, and I have a twin sister who is also an attorney, so I went to law school to kind of fulfill the dream of our immediate family being attorneys,” he said.
The other reason was to become a civil rights attorney.
“I was always drawn to the Vernon Jordan’s of the world — Reginald Lewis, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton — people of that nature who used the law to change policies and to assure people of color had access to the things the majority of society already had access to,” he explained. “I went to law school to become a civil rights attorney.”
Following graduation, Williams took a job as a clerk at a small boutique firm in Washington, D.C. In that position, Williams was able to practice a wide range of legal skills, from writing memos and drafting orders to writing up agreements, wills, and contracts.
After realizing general practice wasn’t quite the direction he wanted to take his career in, he volunteered and worked as a legal fellow in Congresswoman Marcia Fudge’s Capitol Hill office for free for 9 months. He later served as a federal police advocate in Governor Ted Strickland’s Washington, D.C., office, before he went back to work for Congresswoman Fudge as a legislative assistant and committee staffer.
That work gave him the opportunity, he said, to learn every aspect, inside and out, of the legislative process.
“All of that work helps me in my current role because I had the opportunity to learn what the legislative process is and how it works and how rules and laws are made in this country. And I got to learn that from step A to Z,” he explained.
When he discovered the National Urban League was looking for a new legislative director of financial and housing policy for the Washington Bureau in 2013, he leapt at the chance to come back to his law school dream of affecting change in the civil rights industry.
The National Urban League is a historic civil rights “institution” focused on economic empowerment. It has 93 affiliates in 36 states and the District of Columbia. It provides direct services to nearly 2 million people annually. “At the National Urban League we focus on four main areas; education, jobs, health, and housing. I handle one of those four major areas. And, it really makes sense because my first couple of jobs out of college were in the financial services industry,” he said. “I had consumer finance experience, but it was also a perfect fit for me because I originally went to law school to be a civil rights attorney and that is essentially what I do at the National Urban League.
“I’m in a great place not only because I work for an organization that makes a difference in the community and I’m doing the work that I love, but also because I have had the opportunity to work closely with the President and CEO of the National Urban League, President Marc Morial.”
Williams said he admires Morial for “not only being a hero and stalwart in the civil rights community, but for always being the one of the brightest, hardest-working, most personable people in the room. He’s driven and he motivates me to do more.”
Some of the biggest issues Williams has faced recently are ensuring small businesses of color have equal access to capital and working to give African-Americans and Latinos access to affordable and sustainable home mortgages.
“African-American businesses are one the fastest growing segments of the economy. In 2007, there were nearly 2 million African-American small businesses, but that ballooned from 2 million to 2.6 million in 2012. While that’s really great, there are some problems,” he explained.
“Nearly 95 percent of African-American small businesses do not have a paid employee. And, nearly 90 percent do not gross over $50,000 in revenue. We have all these small business being created, but they’re struggling. Many are struggling and are not able to hire employees. That’s important because if each African-American small business were able to hire one African-American employee, it would nearly wipe out the African-American unemployment rate.
“And the reason African-American small businesses are not thriving is they don’t have access to loans. So take for example someone who wants to run a plumbing business and has all the skills and certifications to do that, but can’t afford a van to go from here to there. They can’t get a loan to do it or can’t afford to buy the products to perform their duties. So if we can find ways to help African-American small businesses gain access to capital, we can help to decrease the unemployment rate.”
But those aren’t the only issues he handles in his office.
One of his proudest accomplishments at the National Urban League thus far, he said, was helping his boss, President Morial, who served as chair for the K-12 Subcommittee on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Counsel for Financial Capability for Young Americans, promote and build an infrastructure to ensure the nation’s primary and secondary students have every opportunity available to become financially literate.
“There are 55 million or so primary and secondary students nationwide and the subcommittee’s job was to find ways to raise awareness of the importance of financial literacy, and to try to integrate it into the core subject areas students are learning. So not just implementing it into math, but getting it into social studies, and English, and other subjects, because we know that financial literacy is important and that people who are financially literate are generally more successful in their careers and also in their personal lives,” he said.
Williams said a major part of what put him on the path to where he is today was not only his prior work on Capitol Hill and his tireless dedication to stay on top of the ever-changing policy and finical markets, but the education he received at the Moritz College of Law.
His time at Moritz did more than offer him a legal education — it helped prepare him for a career he’s truly passionate about.
One of the moments he remembers most fondly about his time in Drinko Hall was the moment he realized he had the skills, talent, and ambition to be a great attorney, thanks to the encouraging words of a thoughtful professor.
“My favorite professor was Vincene Verdun. I took a couple of courses with her and she just instilled so much confidence in me, and let me know that I had what it takes to be a great attorney,” he explained. “Sometimes you just need a professor to get in your corner and push you and make you realize you have what it takes to succeed.”
That confidence has also allowed Williams to pursue other professional ventures as well. He is a co-founder of a D.C.-based networking group for young professionals called Ten Friends.
The group organizes events that offer guests the opportunity to meet their peers and allow them to grow their professional and social networks.
“I have hosted events for more than 15 years where I bring people together for certain purposes — usually for networking or a social gathering. With Ten Friends, we bring together host committees of 10 individuals or 10 organizations for the purpose of networking. The whole goal is to build an infrastructure of like-minded people who can come together and help one another get to the next level,” Williams explained.
He formed the group with two other congressional staff members he met while working in Congresswoman Fudge’s office.
“It helped me be more successful in my role as a congressional staffer and in my current role because it has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of people who I otherwise may not have had the opportunity to meet,” he said. “It’s really allowed me to grow both my personal and professional networks here in D.C.”