Student Blog: A Summer Well Spent

Football field at sunset.

Posted in Labor Capital Strategies News  |  Tagged

When Joe Burrow won the Heisman, I was glued to the TV. As a kid from a high school just 40 minutes away stood on an international stage, he brought together a community I didn’t know existed, a community all southeastern Ohioans are a part of. Billy Witz of the New York Times recapped Joe’s speech, highlighting the effect Joe had on “the cycle of poverty, the scourge of drug addiction and the fading light of hope that has long enveloped Appalachia.” 

2 years after watching Joe tear up on stage, I have observed the power of economics and finance through my time at Penn. Before my experience with the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and Heartland Capital Strategies, I understood finance to be the study of making money, for whom often being those who made it. The LCS fellowship introduced me to a different side of finance.

I enjoyed the weekly fellowship meetings and the experience with my host, Meketa Investment Group, a group of investors who not only advocate for those other than themselves but also invest with respect to them. I still remember the fellowship meeting with Jennifer O’Dell, who works at LiUNA, a labor union in North America. As she was describing the work she does for the union, the passion she had for her job was evident; advocating for the rights of workers through forming relationships with Wall Street firms is no walk in the park.

During my time at Meketa Investment Group, I was granted the opportunity to work for Sarah Bernstein. Working with Sarah, I was exposed to the thankless and strenuous work that Meketa puts into ensuring its clients’ money is invested responsibly. Through conducting ESG research, I helped gather data that would then aid in informing investment decisions for Meketa’s clients. I will also never forget the chance I had to speak with the firm’s founder, James Meketa. Not only was I taken back when I learned Bill Gates was a student of Meketa’s before dropping out but I was also inspired by Meketa’s vision: “We are caregivers.”

It is this notion of caregiving that drew me to apply to the Labor Capital Strategies Fellowship. According to an article published by the Annenberg School for Communication, “1.7 million people in the United States suffer from opioid-related substance abuse disorders and approximately 50,000 people die each year from an opioid-related overdose.” Growing up in Marietta, Ohio, I was no stranger to these facts. 

During a lecture given by the senior vice president of the Cleveland Federal Reserve, he explained that, “bad labor markets do appear to be more susceptible to opioid addiction.” Throughout the opportunities I have come across in life, the need to explore this correlation between economic markets and substance abuse has emerged. And now, thanks to Heartland Capital Strategies and the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, I feel I have taken a proper first step in this exploration. A first step in finding out how to brighten the fading light of hope.

Benjamin Lawson is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a Summer 2021 LCS Fellow.