Mr. Wally Adeyemo has been nominated as the nation’s next Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury, and the nation would be well served to have Wally Adeyemo working every day on its behalf. His story is nothing short of inspirational, and extraordinarily impressive in the same breath.
Wally was born in Nigeria, Africa, and raised in my birth state of California, specifically Southern California. Both of his parents were involved in aspects of public service, as a teacher and nurse. Graduating with a Yale law degree he could have done most anything, but chose to lend his talents to the ‘public good,’ with his impressive roles in Secretary Lew’s US Treasury Department (senior advisor, deputy chief of staff, chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under now Senator Elizabeth Warren (chief of staff), and later in the White House of President Barack Obama (deputy national security advisor for international economics, deputy director of the National Economics Council). He represented President Obama to the G7 and G20 meetings, and later went on to become President Obama’s first president of the Obama Foundation. Wally also has experience in the private sector, where he has served as senior advisor and acting chief of staff to the CEO at BlackRock.
Accordingly, and as has been widely chronicled with regard to his impressive credentials, he is no doubt imminently qualified on the merits alone for this nomination as the nation’s next deputy treasury secretary. But this statement from me and on behalf of the Operation HOPE family does not focus primarily on his academic credentials nor his professional experience in the arena of public service and the private sector. Again, these areas of Wally’s life have been well documented, articulated and communicated by others expressing support or making the case for same.
I met Wally at a moment of need for the nation. In 2015, the country was busy trying to make its way back from the great economic recession of circa 2009, and many were feeling left out of the nation’s ‘economic recovery’ story (a trend that has been slowly growing over the past 30+ years and successive Administrations of government). I came to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew with a vision, on and around the then little-known story of the Freedman’s Bank, which had been enacted into law by President Abraham Lincoln as part of the broader Freedman’s Bureau legislation of 1865, following the American Civil War.
The Freedman’s Bank was created March 3, 1865, and signed into law by Lincoln with a mandate to domicile the savings of former black slaves (who were also at that time Union soldiers, fighting the Union cause for freedom and democracy for all, even though they did not at that point enjoy these rights and privileges themselves) and to ‘teach freed slaves about money,’ or the modern day equivalent of what we refer to as financial literacy. The bank was located across the street from the U.S. Treasury Department and the White House, in what was called the U.S. Treasury Annex Building. My vision was to have the U.S. Treasury Annex renamed The Freedman’s Bank Building. Many told me that ‘this simply could not be done,’ but Secretary Lew and other senior advisors around him suggested that there was one man who could help navigate such a bold vision forward: one Wally Adeyemo.
And so, while it is not reflected in any history book, or even noted within the halls and walls and lineage of Treasury itself, it was Wally who worked with me daily until this vision was made real for America, and in honor of the memory of the more than 4 million slaves who helped to build this country, as well as the more than 73,000 black depositors of the Freedman’s Bank. Today, Treasury Annex is the Freedman’s Bank Building, formally renamed by then Secretary Lew on January 16, 2016, in an official ceremony in the Cash Room at the U.S. Treasury Department, attended by not only government leadership, and banking and private sector CEOs, but civil rights royalty including Ambassador Andrew Young and Rev. C.T. Vivian, both recipients of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. And in the midst of it all, there was Wally, off to the side, modestly observing the ceremony with respect for his boss, and quietly working his phone with respect to his next assignment for ‘public service.’
Given his substantial commitment to public service and citizens of our great nation, we will all be well-served having Wally Adeyemo as the next Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury.