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Mission-driven: A Conversation with Deborah Johnson, Community Reinvestment & Community Partnerships Manager, JP Morgan Chase and Board Chair, New York Mortgage Coalition

Deborah Johnson believes that a community thrives when everyone contributes to its success.

Through her more than 35 years of experience working in Community Development, Deborah has dedicated her career to initiating change in disadvantaged communities.  As NYMC board chair, she is excited to take on the stewardship of a strong and impactful organization that has been a major force for progress in supporting affordable housing for working families throughout New York City, Westchester and Long Island. She believes her role with the Coalition is to support and continue to grow what is already a preeminent organization with the reach, resources and the commitment to make a difference in the lives of her fellow New Yorkers.

A native New Yorker, Deborah (pronounced De-BOR-ah) grew up in Brooklyn and learned the value of giving at an early age.  Deborah attended parochial school although she was not Catholic. With her family, she attended Mass at Fourteen Holy Martyrs on Saturdays and Bethany Baptist Church on Sundays with her family.  She attended Fort Hamilton High School and Fordham University.  The third of seven siblings, Deborah is a proud mother to daughter Jamila, her grandson, Aaron and great-niece Tiffany, whom she cares for.

Deborah began her banking career in 1980 as a young mother joining the workforce. Her brother, then an auditor at Chase, encouraged her to apply for a position at the bank. Deborah is a firm believer in the importance of having both mentors and sponsors throughout your professional career and has served as a mentor to many young people.

One of her first managers, James Handal recognized her talents.  He was both her mentor and sponsor for the first eight years of her career at the bank. He encouraged her to move beyond her comfort zones.  Because of her extreme shyness (“No one can believe that today!” she laughs), he recommended that she enroll in a Dale Carnegie training, where she had to make presentations on random topics and to groups she did not know.

There she learned the value of owning your information and the mastery of her subject matter. Under James’ mentorship, she quickly realized that cross training would prepare her for additional opportunities, so she learned all of the roles she could. She also focused on developing management skills and cultivating the talents of others and soon moved from Chase’s flagship location to a brand new opportunity. 

After she had been in retail banking for eight years, she heard about a new “Community Development” group led by Mark Willis. 

Deborah’s recognized specialty was managing and building up talent. Her secondary talent was her understanding of credit.  Although mortgage was new to her, they wanted her to help develop the team/cultivate talent, which was very appealing. She focused her time on what she did know—working in local markets and identifying the needs of the communities she was charged with supporting. She did a lot of listening, asking questions and observing.  It was tough at first but she loved working in the community, and in communities of color, trying to navigate and understand the challenges of the time.

Since Chase was one of the founding members of the New York Mortgage Coalition, Deborah was involved with the NYMC very early on.

“When the Mortgage Coalition was formed 25 years ago, the NYMC made sure that all of the lender members checked their brands at the door and sat down as equal, interested parties to listen to what the challenges were in minority and low and moderate income communities.  Working as a collaborative meant that if one lender could not do a loan, it went to the committee so other lenders could review.  This was truly innovative.  This was a collaborative in the best sense of the word.  It was at that time the lenders recognized the importance and respect for the work being done on the ground by non-profit partners.”

Deborah is proud that the NYMC continues to have influence, evolving with the changing needs of the market. 

“Strategic relationships like the one with the NYMC and its members have allowed us to support all the communities throughout NYC. We recognize that being underserved is not simply a matter of economic status but a matter of access to information and having the tools and resources to effect change. Our partnership with the NYMC represents a significant step to increasing homeownership and providing financing options for all residents in NYC who have found homeownership unattainable.”

NYMC is fortunate to have Deborah helping to lead the organization, although she sees herself as the lucky one.

“I love that the leadership of the New York Mortgage Coalition is fearless and unafraid to rock the boat. They are not afraid to take on an issue that needs to be addressed. They are the right people, with the right focus—truly dedicated to improving the lives of New Yorkers.”

We asked Deborah--a proud mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend-- what her legacy might be after 25 years of work with the New York Mortgage Coalition.

“I would hope my legacy would somehow reflect that I brought passion and commitment to this work. That I was not afraid to speak up. That I was in service to others. Proverbs 21:13 ‘Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.’ I hope I inspired others and made some small difference in a person’s journey.”

Anyone who knows Deborah would agree that she has made a significant difference.