Justin Ikerionwu

Business development officer with AltCap and Co-Founder of By Design

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas.

What is your occupation?
Business development officer with AltCap and Co-Founder of By Design

What is your favorite childhood memory?
My favorite childhood memories would have to be the first time my parents took us to Nigeria. I was only about seven-years-old at the time but I can remember so many moments of the trip vividly. From the second we got off the plane my senses were running wild and the trip served as a history lesson but also one in identity. I was able to meet family I didn't know existed and see family I only heard about in stories in person. One being my grandfather who was an author. Being able to spend time with him and hear his stories has stuck with and inspired me ever since.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History is made 365 days out of the year. February is significant to me because it's a time where the contributions Black people have had in the country and across the Diaspora are at the front of mind throughout America. As Black people, you grow up in a country where your history is summarized in a week's worth of material in school each year. The pride the community takes in the month means a lot to me. Our history has helped shaped the country we live in and can't be overlooked. It's a month celebrating the triumphs of people who overcame impossible odds. The celebration of heroes.

What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the Black community?
The systematic inequality within economic opportunities. Like most other areas systematic racism and inequality show themselves, this plays out in many ways. Access to capital and largely to the opportunity to participate in what's rightfully owed to all Americas has been intentionally left out of the reach of the Black community throughout history and to this day. Redlining has worked to box in the Black community within certain areas and keep us from homeownership and access all in efforts to limit upward mobility. I believe that has been one of the ways people can build wealth and pass things down within their families.

When did you realize you were Black in America and what has that meant for your life?
I think this has been something that I've also realized. I'm a first-generation American and my parents would always share the things they went through and stories of England's control over Nigeria in their childhoods. Many of the schools I went to growing up were predominantly Black or there were enough people around with similar experiences that it's hard to ignore. It's given me a sense of self and compassion for the community and things people go through on a daily.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration to push for change?
Future generations are my biggest inspiration. I think about that a lot, what will the world look like when my children's, children are around. I think back to the stories and the history we hear from elders and learn about the 50s and 60s and realize that wasn't that long ago but the sacrifice of others has helped us get to where we are now. Undoing hundreds of years of well-thought-out racism and a system that's worked well will take time but the people haven't stopped pushing and that is inspiration enough.

How have you supported or contributed to the local Black community?
I'm thankful to be in the line of work that I'm in to be able to work with community organizations, traditional financial institutions, and our organization to try and intact changes that will help provide the community with access to the capital needed to build and support families and the community. I'm also thankful to be able to use By Design as a way to share the narratives of Black creatives. By Design was started out of necessity and not seeing a group that focuses on celebrating Black creatives and building a platform that could attract resources to the community while we work every day to be apart of building it. There are so many talented Black people in our city and across the country that deserve to be seen, heard, and paid for their contributions to society as a whole.

Your home for the Tokyo Olympics!