Pursuing Equitable Employment Opportunities for Black San Diegans – A Conversation with Lisa Marie Harris

Lisa Marie Harris is the chairperson for the Employment pillar of the Black Community Investment Fund.
Lisa Marie Harris is the chairperson for the Employment pillar of the Black Community Investment Fund.

Established in September 2020, The San Diego Foundation Black Community Investment Fund prioritizes and invests in community-led, innovative efforts that increase racial equity and generational wealth for Black San Diegans. Co-founded with the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, the fund will focus grantmaking on four key pillars impacting economic prosperity among Black San Diegans: Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Housing.

This four-part blog series will examine each pillar with the fund’s advisory council experts.

Chairperson of the Employment pillar Lisa Marie Harris shares her insight below.


The Black Community Investment Fund’s key mission to create generational wealth for Black San Diegans has always been both a personal and professional goal for Lisa Marie Harris. She believes that “in order to begin the process of generating wealth, individuals must first be able to earn adequate income.”

The Employment pillar, which Harris chairs, seeks to provide San Diego’s Black community, from youth to the underemployed, access to a career path that provides sufficient income for short-term needs and long-term goals.

“As a community, we need to actively pursue careers that not only pay the bills but allow for savings and investments,” she emphasized. “From savings and investments, assets can be built for the individual and also for their future generations.”

Disparities in Employment Opportunities

Recent data from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) shows that 58 percent of Black San Diegans live in county ZIP codes hit hardest by unemployment due to the pandemic.

Local leaders have emphasized that the economic impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized communities, particularly the Black community, are the amplification of pre-existing inequities.

Harris has too often seen that African Americans are not reflected well enough in organizational leadership when it comes to employment opportunities. She believes that this lack of representation leads to a decrease in the incentive to consider hiring Black and other minority candidates, regardless of their qualifications.

“In order to increase job opportunities for African Americans, we must be represented in leadership, and in particular, the hiring role to reduce disparities in the region,” Harris emphasized.

Success for Black San Diegans in the Future

For Harris, success for the Black Community Investment Fund looks like active engagement among political, civic, financial and educational leadership, and collaborative ownership of each pillar leading to collective achievement of the goals set by the fund. Success looks like youth having a clear pathway to career opportunities that generate sufficient income to purchase a home and adequately invest for future retirement and other income, paving the way for generational wealth.

“I am often reminded that there were several vibrant and successful Black communities such as the one in Tulsa, Oklahoma that excelled in creating careers and generational wealth, so this concept is far from new,” Harris shared, referencing Tulsa’s once prosperous African American business district, the Greenwood District (known informally as “Black Wall Street”).

Refugee camps for people who had lost their homes in Tulsa following the attack (Photo Credit: Library of Congress, American National Red Cross Photograph Collection)

In an attack that lasted from May 31 to June 1, 1921, a mob of white citizens destroyed this hub of Black-owned restaurants, grocery stores and movie theatres, as well as the businesses of Black doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and dentists. More than 35 city blocks, 1,000 Black-owned homes and hundreds of Black-owned businesses were left in ruins after years of prosperity due to intense segregation and racial tension.

In the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, “Our history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But if faced with courage, it need not be lived again.”

Harris is optimistic that the Employment pillar of the Black Community Investment Fund can, and will, pave the way for future generations of Black San Diegans to achieve success.

“I am hopeful that the Employment pillar will create internships, career databases showcasing career paths, a pipeline of future candidates to fill sustainable jobs, mentors, and a professional network where the Black community can financially thrive today and for generations in the future.”

Support the Black Community Investment Fund today


About Lisa Marie Harris

Lisa Marie Harris is a 28-year veteran in the field of public finance, having served at all levels of government: federal, state and local. She has also served in the private sector as a banker on Wall Street. Over her career, Harris has garnered a national reputation in the field largely from the issuance of billions of tax-exempt bonds, management of billions of assets and from her active service in national civic organizations such as Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) and Women in Public Finance (WPF). In 2018, Harris was recognized by the National WPF as a Trailblazer for serving as a pathway for future women in the field.

Lisa Marie Harris is also the chairperson for the Employment pillar of the Black Community Investment Fund. Other community service endeavors include active engagement with the San Diego Chapter of Women in Public Finance, the San Diego Chapter of Jack & Jill, and membership at St. Paul United Methodist Church.