Wanona Satcher knows how cities work. As a community and economic development specialist with a background in landscape architecture, she also understands how they often fail to work -- specifically in providing affordable housing. In 2017, Satcher founded Makhers Studio to convert shipping containers into affordable housing. Since then, she has raised a seed round from a crowdfunding campaign on IFundWomen, a grant from Visa, and an angel investment from investors Esther Dyson and Reed Marill. Satcher has also made a number of pivots: from a nonprofit to a for-profit, and from refurbishing shipping containers to building small factories so that the containers can be converted -- and jobs can be created -- in the cities where the containers will be used.
Not everybody needs to be on the frontlines. A lot of people are protesting to tear terrible systems down. But some of us have to be here to build new systems, new foundations that are more inclusive.
There was a prominent African American real estate developer named Herman Russell who built half of Atlanta's skyline. His biography was one of the best books I've ever read when it comes to civil rights and also entrepreneurship.
His close friends were all these civil rights activists of my grandmothers' generation. Russell would talk to Martin Luther King Jr. and say, "When can I protest? I'm back here building neighborhoods, working with the Chamber of Commerce. I want to be on the frontlines." And MLK Jr. and Andrew Young told him, "We need you to keep doing what you're doing, because one, you can bail us out when we get arrested. And two, you're building an opportunity, and we're going to need jobs for people."
Reading that, things clicked for me. It was a breath of fresh air. I'm where I want to be, honestly. I'm building affordable housing.
While there is more awareness about racism now, there won't be any change until people decide what role they want to play. People don't know what their purpose is, so they run out and start protesting and get frustrated when things don't work.
Nobody has taught young people to understand their roles. Imagine if we could refocus all the talent we have -- just how powerful that could be at so many levels. We have to go back to the fundamentals of talking to one another and teaching basic organization. When you look at my grandmothers' generation, it was a lifestyle of activism and organization. This is the level of organization that we have lost, and this was all before social media.
You want to be more proactively engaged before another person gets murdered or before another video comes out. Yes, more people are seeing what we [in the Black community] have already known. At some point, we have to be proactive about using our strength now, instead of having to march after someone dies, and then we call it resilience.
More people are positive right now than negative. When I go home and sit on my porch, people are always out talking. That's not what you see in the media. People are yearning to make a difference, and we don't have much time.
And I am feeling a little more positive, personally. As hard as all of this is, it's nothing new. A lot of us are focused on moving forward. That's what John Lewis did, that's what MLK did. At some point, you understand that you don't have a choice but to make a difference. Now we know. We are needed. We are validated. We are the change we need to see.
Clarification: This article has been updated to add mention of Makhers investor Reed Marill.