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"Degrees & Programs"

Grad’s journey from the streets of inner-city LA to the halls of Congress

By University of Phoenix
February 24, 2021 • 4 minute read

IIvoree Reinaldo lost count around the one-hundredth rejection she received while trying to secure insurance coverage for a growing nonprofit.

It was 2016, and despite Reinaldo being a longtime insurance advisor and risk management consultant, companies weren’t willing to insure a nonprofit organization linked to the newly organized grass-roots social movement Black Lives Matter.

Reinaldo, however, was not easily deterred. As a Black woman who overcame a childhood environment defined by gangs and drugs, the University of Phoenix graduate has shown resolve her entire life. She escaped her childhood struggles, put herself through college and joined ABD Insurance and Financial Services, a Silicon Valley- based insurance and financial services brokerage company, where she today serves as vice president and principal. Reinaldo serves private and publicly traded clients but is also fiercely passionate about serving organizations who help the world.

Her fight to seek justice by helping nonprofits has become another chapter of her journey. It has also positioned her to make a difference with members of Congress.

“I feel inspired to be a warrior for what I really believe is right, to be a warrior for the industry that I love, and to be part of a solution instead of just sitting back and accepting something I know is wrong. This is not a political issue, but a people issue. I want to support organizations that are committed to making our world a better place,” Reinaldo said.

Leaving home

Reinaldo’s story of tragedy to triumph begins in South Central Los Angeles. During her most impressionable teen years she lived in an impoverished area of LA infamous for gang violence. She was one of six children raised by her single mother.

Looking back on her childhood, Reinaldo understands now that she got her drive and love of education from her mother, who managed to take classes toward an associate degree while working full time and single-handedly raising a family.

However, over time, Reinaldo’s environment became too chaotic and as a teen, she left home.

“My mother did her best, but it was not an environment conducive to raising children,” she said. “I had many friends my age who died. Stuff you think you’d only see in movies — that was my life.”

Beginning her educational journey

After deciding to leave home at 16 years old, she phoned an aunt in Sacramento and took a bus north. What was supposed to be a weeklong escape turned into a new life. In the quiet of her new surroundings she dedicated herself to education, taking high school night classes to catch up.

By her senior year at Cordova High, she was on track to graduate. At the same time, she took a part-time job at an insurance agency. Reinaldo continued to work in insurance as she enrolled herself in a junior college after high school. She spent the next three years balancing work and school as she chipped away at her degree.

Over time, juggling work and school became overwhelming. A cousin who also graduated from University of Phoenix recommended the University’s Sacramento Campus as an option to attend school online to have more time for her budding career. She enrolled in the University’s Bachelor of Business Management program, which allowed her to balance her priorities.

Throughout her program, Reinaldo learned essential skills ― critical thinking, presentation and project management ― that would help enhance her career and set her on a path toward helping make history as part of the BLM movement.

“Every skill I use today, I learned from University of Phoenix,” she said. “That’s the foundation that has opened up doors for everything else.”

Reaching her career pinnacle

Reinaldo’s passion for helping marginalized colleagues, clients, and communities has grown over her 17 years in the industry and going on four years at ABD Insurance & Financial Services. Being contacted by one of the most prominent nonprofit attorneys in the country to support Black Lives Matter with insurance needs in 2016 reinforced that passion and helped ignite that passion in others. Reinaldo also credits her ABD customer service team for helping her achieve success in her career.

Reinaldo’s supervisor, Linde Hotchkiss, ABD team executive vice president and Southwest market leader, has been in the insurance industry for 32 years. Hotchkiss has seen its shortcomings in equity and diversity during this time. As Hotchkiss has mentored Reinaldo, she has been impressed by Reinaldo’s passion and willingness to fight for change.

“It’s so inspiring to see someone who can relentlessly pursue a solution,” Hotchkiss said. “Ivoree knew if there was a will there was a way.”

Reinaldo’s work with BLM continued to make a larger impact. In January 2020, she testified before a congressional committee as a subject matter expert on the systemic issues facing the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors.

Reinaldo reflected on this pinnacle moment as she walked through the historic halls of Congress. She thought about the obstacles she’d overcome and the places and people who helped her get there.

“I’ve had to push beyond fear because I felt — and I still feel — like what I’m doing is bigger than just me as an individual,” Reinaldo said. “As a member of the Black community, I experience the same exact marginalization and systemic racism and discrimination that the reason for their mission was born.”

Taking action

Reinaldo spoke clearly and passionately before the members of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee. She expressed support for the Nonprofit Property Protection Act, which would allow insurance companies (like the one that insured BLM) to offer coverage commercial carriers do not. Reinaldo testified that only about 3% of the more than 150 insurance companies her organization works with provide the affordable specialty insurance coverage nonprofits need to thrive.

The Nonprofit Property Protection Act — introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives — was never voted on. The bill is expected to be reintroduced soon in the 117th Congress. However, Reinaldo has strengthened her resolve to see it pass this year.

In the end, she said, she knows it will be worth it. She has persevered through challenges before, and she has seen the outcomes persistence can yield.

“There was adversity in my life, but I rose,” she said. Reinaldo added, “There has been adversity in representing the largest social justice movement of our time, but we rose. There is adversity and division in our country right now, but we will rise. There is always adversity, but we rise.”