After graduation, Madeline Lamour Holder, AET ’89, got a job at a New York City architecture firm, but her heart was elsewhere. “When I started volunteering in my local Haitian community, it made me think about what my real passion was,” says Holder, who emigrated from Haiti at 19. “And I found that my passion is service.” Since then, Holder has dedicated her career to community work, including leading a financial education program for low-income women in Brooklyn and founding Communities Homeowners and Neighbors Gaining Economic Rights (C.H.A.N.G.E.R.), an organization that protects minority homeowners from deceptive lending practices. We talked to Holder, who now sits on the board at C.H.A.N.G.E.R. and works as a director of community philanthropy at the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF), about what it takes to make change and where her passion comes from. —DAN MORRELL
My grandmother was a widow, my mother was a widow, my aunt was a widow, and there were 11 of us [children]—five brothers and sisters and six cousins. My passion for economic justice for women had a lot to do with my experience watching the women in my family have to really stretch their incomes and share with others. It was almost like a science for them.
When I was working in financial education in my community, I was finding that financial services companies were setting up in immigrant populations and handing mortgages out to people who weren’t qualified. They were signing people’s name on mortgages. They would set them up in such a way that, after three months, people wouldn’t be able to pay. Then they would just resell it for profit.
Defending the Dream
We demanded that the New York State banking department start a campaign to inform the community about the scams. We would go one by one, street by street taking down the ads—working in collaboration with the community. We also worked with an advocacy group that helped pass a piece of legislation that allowed homeowners more time to rescind a bad contract. When we went to Albany to advocate for the law, I brought a woman from Guyana who had six children. When she told her story (about losing her home), everyone in the statehouse stopped and listened. That was very powerful.
At one of the breakfasts that the NYWF organized, one of C.H.A.N.G.E.R.’s former homeowners who was able to keep her home made a presentation about her experience to 2,200 people. We had the mayor’s office and very important government officials in the room that day. I had tears in my eyes.
My family was raised with the belief that we were born to make the world more beautiful. It was my Grand-Madou’s mandate. And if people say that I am fulfilling my Grand-Madou’s mandate, that would be the highest honor I could think of.