Blair M. Duncan, President and Chief Executive Officer
Mr. Duncan is the President and CEO of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation (UMEZ), a federal initiative to revitalize urban communities. Duncan began at UMEZ in 2003 as General Counsel. He subsequently increased his levels of responsibility managing the operations of the organization and structuring transformative commercial and mixed-used developments in Upper Manhattan. Duncan plays a key role in providing capital access to neighborhood small businesses and designing grants for cultural institutions in the area.
With extensive experience as a legal, finance, and nonprofit executive, Mr. Duncan draws upon his financial insights and community commitment, from previous roles as General Counsel to North General Hospital and on various not-for-profit boards, to develop financially healthy neighborhoods. Prior to joining UMEZ, he was Vice President and Senior Counsel at Merrill Lynch. Earlier in his career, he practiced as an attorney with two national law firms. Prior to practicing law, Mr. Duncan was a Vice President at a global bank.
Duncan serves on the board of directors of the Regional Plan Association and is a member of the Corporate Advisory Council of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. In prior years, he served on several boards of directors and committees including the Harlem YMCA, the Helene Fuld College of Nursing, and Lawyers Alliance for New York. He is an active member of the executive committee of the Wharton Club of New York. He received a BS in mathematics from the University of Michigan, an MBA in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Gaffar Mohamed, Chief Financial Officer
Mr. Gaffar Mohamed is Chief Financial Officer for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. He is a Certified Public Accountant and previously worked for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, a non-profit that shares a similar mission to UMEZ: to promote economic development in underdeveloped and underutilized areas. Mr. Mohamed worked with the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1991 to 2015 and retired from the Navy Yard as a Senior Vice President and Controller. During his time at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mr. Mohamed designed and implemented accounting systems and accounted for funds in excess of $100M.
Prior to joining the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mr. Mohamed worked as an Audit Supervisor at Mitchell Titus & Co., a Certified Public Accountants firm, from 1986 to 1991. At Mitchell Titus & Co., Mr. Mohamed gained experience in supervising and training accountants while auditing non-profit and commercial organizations. Mr. Mohamed attended Luton University in England and became qualified as a Chartered Accountant. He also attended the New York Institute of Technology, as well as the Baruch and York Colleges of the City University of New York, in preparation for his CPA certification. Mr. Mohamed is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and is a licensed Certified Public Accountant by the New Jersey Board of Accountancy.
Elizabeth M. Harris, General Counsel
Ms. Harris is General Counsel for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. She most recently held the position of Assistant United States Attorney for the United States Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, where she prosecuted violations of federal criminal law. Ms. Harris also practiced at the law firms of K&L Gates, LLP, and Duane Morris LLP, where she represented corporations and individuals in white collar investigations and commercial matters in both federal and state courts in New York and New Jersey. Ms. Harris clerked for the Honorable James L. Cott, U.S.M.J., Southern District of New York.
Prior to her career in law, Ms. Harris taught history and technology at the Beacon School, a New York City public high school.
She received a B.A. in Communications with a minor in Business Administration from Fordham University, an M.A. from Columbia University, Teacher’s College, and a J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law.
Blair C. Smith, Chief Investment Officer
Blair C. Smith is the Chief Investment Officer of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. His responsibilities include providing leadership in structuring, negotiating and closing of loans and investments, and oversight of credit policies. In addition, Mr. Smith identifies market opportunities and develops new finance strategies in furtherance of UMEZ’s mission.
Mr. Smith is also the Founder and former CEO of Promethean AB Strategies, LLC, a strategic consultancy focused on expanding business opportunities for successful asset managers, entrepreneurs and start-ups. Mr. Smith has more than 15 years of buy side experience in the capital markets arena, leading the creation of strategies, plans and budgets that span industries, marketplace, customers and competition.
Previously, Mr. Smith was responsible for co-managing a $5.2 billion investment portfolio, within the New York State Common Retirement Fund. Through this small/mid cap Emerging Manager program, Mr. Smith covered both traditional and alternative asset class strategies including: real estate, private equity, public equity, hedge funds and opportunistic. Promoted to Senior Investment Officer, he actively evaluated and conducted research for new investment vehicles/platforms capable of meeting the long-term goals of the portfolio. In that role, Mr. Smith collaborated with consultants, advisors, internal investment teams and legal counsel in interviewing and selecting general partners. As a result of his efforts, Mr. Smith re-established and maintained up-to-date policies and procedures for the portfolio to produce risk adjusted returns in alignment with the fund’s total performance.
Previously, Mr. Smith served as a client relationship manager with the Connecticut and New York City Wealth Management teams at Wells Fargo, The Private Bank. In this role, he delivered a comprehensive financial services platform to high net worth individuals, including: banking, affluent credit services, investment management, real estate and financial planning. Prior to this role, Mr. Smith ran Smith Barney’s Multicultural Marketing campaign as a First Vice President.
In addition, Mr. Smith has been a Financial Expert for News 12 Westchester (NY). He served as an adjunct lecturer in both “Global Marketing” and “Principles of Finance” courses with the School of Continuing Studies at CUNY Baruch College.
Mr. Smith received a B.A. from Morgan State University and an M.B.A. in Finance from Columbia University. He is on the board of the Baltimore Afro-American Newspapers and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health.
Verdery Roosevelt, Senior Vice President of Cultural Investments
Verdery Roosevelt was appointed Senior Vice President of Cultural Investments in 2010. Ms. Roosevelt had previously served as Executive Director of Ballet Hispanico for over three decades, where, in partnership with Founder and Artistic Director Tina Ramirez, she led its growth from a community-based organization to become the nation’s preeminent ambassador of Hispanic culture. During her tenure, she produced over 50 new works for the Company, which performed in leading concert halls throughout South America, Europe, and the United States; built annual scholarship support to over $125,000 for the School of Dance; and expanded Ballet Hispanico’s educational program, Primeros Pasos, to serve 20,000 students nationwide each year.
Additionally, Ms. Roosevelt directed the initial $1.8 million purchase and renovation of Ballet Hispanico's permanent headquarters on Manhattan's Upper West Side, as well as the subsequent $9.3 million expansion, which doubled the size of the facility’s capacity.
She has served as Chairman and Board Member of Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance. She has also been a guest speaker at numerous arts administration seminars and programs, including New York University, the University of Wisconsin, and the Yale School of Drama, and has served as a panelist for national, state, and local arts agencies.
Ms. Roosevelt received a Women of Achievement Pacesetter Award from the New York City Council in 2004; the Arts Management Career Service Award in 2000; and a 1981 Management Achievement Award from ACUCAA, now Association of Performing Arts Presenters.
Ms. Roosevelt, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and her master’s degree from the School of Business/Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Yahshaanyah Hill, Vice President of Workforce Opportunity Investments
Yahshaanyah Hill serves as the Vice President of Workforce Opportunity Investments at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (“UMEZ”). In this role, she leads the development and implementation of UMEZ’s workforce development plans and grantmaking strategy, in support of workforce development initiatives that generate economic benefits for Upper Manhattan residents and businesses.
With over 15 years of experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, combining her knowledge of workforce development and economic development with the ability to spearhead and manage large-scale initiatives that are linked to long-term community investments with successful outcomes and growth potential.
Before joining UMEZ, Yahshaanyah served as the Assistant Director of the Job Generation Unit, in the Office of Resident Economic Empowerment & Sustainability at the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”). In this capacity, Yahshaanyah oversaw the creation and execution of standardized procedures that maximized job opportunities for NYCHA residents through NYCHA’s operations and contracts administered for capital projects and real estate development transactions. She also negotiated training and employment terms for NYCHA residents with contractors and developers of multi-million dollar contracts. Yahshaanyah was also integral in the establishment of a centralized enforcement model for NYCHA’s Administering Departments that leveraged the federal employment-related provisions of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968/Section 3 to generate economic opportunities for NYCHA residents.
Prior to NYCHA, Yahshaanyah served as the Director of New York City’s Workforce1 Manufacturing Career Center and NYC Business Solutions Manufacturing, as a key member of the leadership team responsible for conceptualizing, planning and executing the launch of the City’s first manufacturing sector-based career center aimed at addressing the workforce development needs of the manufacturing sector. She also held management positions in workforce development, research & policy and economic development with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the New York City Department of Small Business Services, where she managed a portfolio of business incentive programs, business/workforce partnerships and sector-based workforce development initiatives.
Yahshaanyah currently sits on the Advisory Board of the Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center. She is a 2009 graduate of the Sectors Strategies Practicum and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Fisk University.