How I Spent My Summer: Liam Martin

Our conversation went something like this.

“So, where are you working this summer?”
“I’m going to be at ShoreBank Enterprise.”
“Oh…Yeah, you look like you’d work at a bank.”

It was this seemingly innocuous statement in the midst of an otherwise beneficial and exciting first day of work that began a train of thought inside my head that went as follows:

  1. Cool, I’m glad I wore this tie
  2. What does that actually mean?
  3. Why did that comment make me incredibly uncomfortable and mildly offended?

I’m one of 16 interns working with the Cleveland Foundation this summer. We are all working with different organizations funded and supported by the foundation, which is probably good because despite our shared desire to see Cleveland positively grow, we all have incredibly different gifts, weaknesses, interests and passions.

Over the past few weeks it’s been a personal joy to learn from differences we share, be challenged by our diversity of our perspectives, and be encouraged by the unique work we’re all doing throughout the city. But that conversation, the one about looking like a banker, got me thinking; are all our differences created equal?

Sometimes it’s quite frustrating to be the one studying business in a room full of social work, urban affairs and international justice majors. While my fellow interns are sharing stories about saving the world one city block at a time, I’m perceived as the one whose busy calculating how to make a profit off their work. It’s as if I walk through the door with one of those generic “Hello, my name is” nametags stuck on my shirt, only mine says “I’m the greedy crook that’s going to swindle nice people like you someday.”

It’s not that I blame people for sharing this sentiment; our society has done little to combat the stereotype of corporate culture rampant with greed, corruption, vanity and selfishness. And to clarify my earlier comments, my fellow interns have never once said anything like this to me, probably not even thought anything like this. I guess it’s just something I feel, something I think our culture has taught me to feel, even wants me to feel. But I think differently.

My work at ShoreBank Enterprise this summer has reinforced my core belief that the umbrella of business can do more than turn a profit; business can accomplish social good, and if we let it, can help change the world for the better.

ShoreBank Enterprise is a non-profit organization dedicated to business development in Northeast Ohio. Specifically, ShoreBank Enterprise provides term debt financing to small business in order to help make them more competitive and profitable. This often means working with struggling businesses previously denied traditional lines of credit, and working with them in order to become sustainable and ultimately profitable in order to create jobs, wealth, and become self-sufficient and an asset to the market.

As a result of my continual observations of the staff, who have all been incredibly generous to me with their time, energy and tutelage, I’ve realized something very important. This kind of work isn’t about financial statements or credit recommendations, quarterly results or annual profits.

This is about giving men and women the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families, an opportunity for the personal pride and community value that is work itself. It’s about more than a paycheck, more than a 9 to 5. This is about people’s lives, and helping them transition from the life they have to the life they want.  

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I do sort of look like a banker, and my internship this summer has taught me that someday I hope to look even more like one. Not the kind of banker that dresses in fancy three-piece suits or the kind of banker that looks like he’ll be brought before a congressional hearing anytime soon, but the kind of banker that uses his craft to share and create wealth, provide jobs, and help make his community a better, more vibrant, sustainable and beautiful place.

So if you’re reading this, and you’re the one with that sly smile and sarcastic wit who told me that I look like a banker, there’s have one thing I want to tell you: “Thank you.”

Each week we will use this space to give each of our interns a chance to reflect on their internship experiences. Liam Martin, a junior at Taylor University, has been placed at ShoreBank Enterprise.