Leslie Thomas, Training Associate, "OppLoans prides itself as a company where people can be themselves; Oppt for Black Excellence is a natural extension of that."

Last fall, I co-founded our employee-led community Oppt for Black Excellence with my teammate Imani Walton. And while the goals of this community go far beyond just the two of us, I can’t help but reflect on how its values are rooted in the partnership — and friendship — the two of us have built together. 

Imani and I started at OppLoans on the exact same day, and we quickly bonded. If one of us had a question, we always knew we could go to the other one for help, even though we were on completely different teams. Holding the door for your teammates is one of OppLoans’ core values, and the two of us have been holding the door for each other since day one — literally.  

During my first year at the company, I also grew as a resource for my fellow loan advocates. When people had a question, I was one of the people they would turn to. So when a position opened up on the Training team, Imani — who had already joined the team as a customer advocate trainer — encouraged me to apply. 

That’s how the two of us went from being close friends to teammates. The reason we work so well together is because of how different we are. Imani takes an instinctive approach to decision-making, whereas I’m a processor, meaning I tend to consider all possibilities before making a decision. But Imani keeps me grounded; with her, I always know where I stand. We make each other better, which means that we make one heck of a team. 

When Imani approached me last fall about founding Oppt for Black Excellence, it felt like a natural extension of our partnership. The two of us started here together, we’ve worked on the training team together, and now we are creating this important space for black voices together, too. 

In founding this employee-led community, we want to approach the black experience from both a personal and a professional standpoint. That means programming events like the upcoming panel, “Increasing the Black Ecosystem in Tech,” that we are co-hosting with Oppt for Tech Diversity on February 19. It also means creating more casual spaces within the company where people can simply come and celebrate their blackness. 

This month, we’re making it a priority to celebrate black history. All our conference rooms are named after different Chicago streets and neighborhoods, and we’re holding a ceremony to officially change the name of our Congress Parkway conference room to Ida B. Wells Drive. We have even set up a mini Ida B. Wells museum that will live in that room through the end of the month, giving all our employees the opportunity to learn more about her amazing life and celebrate her legacy. 

Black representation in the tech industry is an ongoing issue — it’s getting better, but it still has a long way to go. The lack of representation means that it’s easy for black people in the tech industry to be tokenized and marginalized. That’s one of the issues this community intends to address. OppLoans has always prided itself as a company where people can feel comfortable being themselves at work; Oppt for Black Excellence is a natural extension of that. 

Throughout our OppLoans journey together, Imani and I have always held the door for one another. Now, as co-chairs of Oppt for Black Excellence, we’re excited to hold the door for our fellow black employees. I can’t wait to see what our fellow community members bring to the table as we find new ways to hold the door open for each other.