Extraordinary missions are achieved with the help of extraordinary people. We are grateful to have an amazing board that guides us in advancing our mission and we want to highlight these special individuals. Elyse Cherry, CEO of BlueHub Capital, is a particularly inspiring member who happens to be our board chair. Elyse was recently featured in the Portraits of Pride photo exhibition and we wanted to talk with her about the feature, her involvement with Forsyth, and her work at BlueHub Capital. Here’s how our conversation with Elyse went.
Interview with Elyse Cherry, Chair of the Forsyth Board of Directors
When did you join The Forsyth Institute’s Board of Directors?
I joined Forsyth’s Board in 2011 and became the Board Chair in 2019.
What brought you to Forsyth’s board?
Peter Nessen, a longtime colleague and friend, introduced me to the Forsyth board, and it might seem a bit odd up front because I’m not actually a science person. I’m not a microbiologist. But his reason for asking me to join and my reason for joining really was about the intersection between the successful operation of an institute and the work that it does.
I came in to focus on strategic planning, and as a result of that work, the Institute went through a whole series of changes with respect to governance and the ways in which its management thought about financing the activities of the institute. So, I really came on more on the entrepreneurial finance side. From my perspective, one of the great things about being associated with Forsyth is the wonderful education I’ve gotten in terms of the science. I love talking to the scientists there and learning about what they’re doing and understanding a whole lot more about the relationship of our oral microbiome to systemic health. And that’s been a really fascinating piece for me.
You were recently chosen to be photographed for the Portraits of Pride Exhibition. Can you tell us a little bit about your equity work and what this honor meant to you?
It’s a wonderfully diverse group of LGBTQ+ activists and advocates from every vantage point you can think of whether it’s age or race or gender or gender identity.
As part of the exhibit, we were each asked for a quote to go along with our photo and mine was: “As a lesbian who came out in the late 1970s, I was considered a criminal. Now, I’m a portrait of pride. Onward!” “It’s been an enormous shift from the late 1970s to the present, and it has been one of the honors of my life to be able to participate in that work.
I’ve tried to really lend a hand in assuring that the LGBTQ community is connected to the political world, so that people who lead our state or lead our country are familiar with us and understand what our issues are and are responsive to those issues. I want to be sure that my whole LGBTQ community has a seat at the table.
During the AIDS epidemic, and all of the issues around funding and research, we needed to be at the table. When we were fighting, first, here in Massachusetts and, then, nationwide to have our relationships recognized through a recognition of same sex marriage, same issue — we needed to be at the table. We need to be at the table now, too. I try to ensure that those tables look like the world I live in.
What perspectives do these experiences allow you to bring to your leadership role on Forsyth’s board?
I think of my life and my work as intertwined. The common thread is that I am working to build the world we want — a world in which equality is a given, not a goal. At Forsyth, for example, our research is focused on improving people’s oral health.. That work has an impact up and down the economic ladder. And, of course, Forsyth Kids is focused on alleviating dental issues for inner city kids in the here and now
You are currently the CEO of Blue Hub Capital. Can you tell us a little bit about this organization?
BlueHub Capital is a mission-driven, nonprofit community development finance organization focused on building healthy communities where low-income people live and work. BlueHub uses innovative financial tools to support projects that make communities more vibrant places to live through four distinct programs: BlueHub Loan Fund (community development financing), BlueHub SUN (foreclosure relief), BlueHub Energy (clean energy access) and One Percent for America (citizenship financing).
I helped found this organization back in 1985, when we had a grand total of $3500. Since then we’ve invested $2.4 billion in projects and people across the country and leveraged another $12 billion from the private and public sector.
I have been leading the organization as its CEO for a quarter century. We have a terrific staff and board all of whom are aimed at the same idea about having a world in which equality is a given not a goal.
What’s a project you are working on right now? Why is it meaningful to you?
There are a few of them but the one I’d like to highlight is One Percent for America, our newest nonprofit undertaking. We are working to drive down the cost of financing a path to US citizenship. There are 9 million legally documented immigrants here, 90% of whom don’t apply for citizenship. OPA conducted a national blind survey of more than 1,200 immigrants, the first of its kind, and found that application fees create a significant financial barrier to citizenship.
Citizenship fees need to be paid by the applicant. They don’t come out of our tax dollars. It’s hard for lower income people to save that money. Something always comes up—a trip to the dentist or car repairs — more immediate needs that take precedent over savings.
Now with One Percent for America, immigrants can borrow for citizenship fees upfront, and then pay it back as they go through the citizenship application process.
In less than a year, we’ve made 300 loans to immigrants seeking citizenship, and we’re just getting started. Eventually we want to become a place where anybody who is interested in a better immigration and citizenship system or interested in the issues facing immigrants can find what they need.
For example, if you’re an immigrant looking for a job, or a recruiter, One Percent for America will host job listings.
For more information on Elyse’s project, One Percent for America visit https://www.onepercentforamerica.org/