By Ariel Chrysann
Special to AFRO
People spend a lifetime searching for their purpose, but Watchen Bruce realized early on that her true calling was in finance. This selfless woman of faith and integrity is now in the heart of Baltimore to help others fulfil their ambitions. The newly appointed president and CEO of Baltimore Community Lending (BCL) made time to share her story with the AFRO.
Bruce is a service leader who has been active in the banking and finance industry for decades with the same mission: to improve the lives of those she encounters. Bruce shared that her previous experiences and her upbringing have all contributed to her current role.
She was born and raised in Liberia by Christian missionaries and farmers who not only wanted to make sure she had access to a quality education, but they instilled the importance of having good character. “We have values. We were raised with structure, principles and hard work,” Bruce said.
In her collegiate years, Bruce was an accounting major at the universities she attended in Liberia and in the U.S. In 1980, the college graduate was hired as an accountant at First City National Bank in Houston, Texas. Throughout her career, Bruce has worked across the country with both small and commercial banking corporations like PNC and Bank of America; but she prefers to work with smaller companies because she is able to personalize the relationship with her clients.
Bruce declared it’s a blessing to serve people, and as the president and CEO of BCL, it’s her favorite perk of the job. Certified by the U.S Department of Treasury through the Community Development of Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund, BCL is a non-profit community bank that has been around for 30 years. They provide services like small business loans, business startup or expansion mentorships and real estate management to the City of Baltimore.
Bruce revealed that about 95 percent of BCL’s clients are people who don’t have excellent credit or access to capital. Bruce also noticed that these same clients happen to be Black and Brown people who live in low income communities. Commercial banks do not necessarily lend to startups or companies that do not have equity. That’s where BCL comes in. Bruce and her team at BCL help their clients by giving them access to capital and financing that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
When she’s not advocating for her clients, Bruce sits as chairman of the board at the Charles B. Harris Village School in Careysburg, Liberia. Since 1998, Bruce has promoted the advancement of the country’s brightest students at the school named after her late father, who was slain in the Liberian Civil War. “We started the school as a Legacy to his work and we continue to do that.” Bruce said.
Bruce also co-founded the Bmore ClubHouse Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program for people with mental illnesses. Founded 10 years ago, this day program helps individuals focus on being self-sufficient and independent while managing their illness. “You have to want to serve and you have to be flexible, open minded, creative and patient. They have to be apart of your characteristics, of who you are as a person because if not you will not like this industry. Its a people business.”Bruce is dedicated to service, education and financial literacy. Since coming to Baltimore, she’s determined to help people with decent affordable housing and access to finances. “We are one people and we have to support each other. We have to share our story because Baltimore has a great story. We need to change the narrative. Not everything here is bad, there’s a lot of opportunity,” Bruce said. For more information about Baltimore Community Lending (BCL) visit them online at bclending.org.