Martin Daniel Eakes '76
In conversations about the path he has chosen in life, Martin Eakes has often quoted from the gospel according to his mother: "Anyone who has a vision to see a problem has a duty to solve it." Mary Eakes' simple admonition took root in her son's fertile and intelligent humanity, bearing fruit in an uncommon resolve to empower those who labor under the harsh heel of poverty.
Martin Eakes armed himself with some serious credentials before taking on the beast of economic inequality. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Davidson with a double major in philosophy and physics-and followed that combination with a Yale law degree and a public-policy degree from Princeton. As he was earning his diploma from Davidson, he also won the heart of Bonnie Wright, a like-minded member of the Class of 1979 who had grown up in Atlanta.
After graduate study, Martin and Bonnie took their degrees and their determination to Durham, North Carolina, to help the working poor. Martin could see the problem-in fact, he saw it as a boy in his rural community on the edge of Greensboro, where the middle-class redhead rode the school bus and played pick-up basketball with children from poor black families. He never could reconcile the differences between his circumstances and theirs, and together with Bonnie, converted his impatience with inequality into innovative problem solving. In 1980, they founded the Center for Community Self-Help, with an office in a Volkswagen Beetle and a now legendary $77 from a raffled chocolate cake The notion to provide technical assistance and advice to businesses and support worker-owned mill cooperatives soon expanded into Self-Help Credit Union, which to date has provided nearly $6 billion in financing to nearly 70,000 homebuyers, small businesses, and nonprofits in rural and minority communities across the United States.
For this innovative leadership, Martin has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades, including a MacArthur "genius" grant and a $50-million Ford Foundation grant. He has leveraged his funds and visibility into expanded services under the Self-Help umbrella, and pioneered North Carolina's anti-predatory lending law, now a model for other states. He has consulted with Congress and famously took on one of the world's largest international financial conglomerates for its predatory lending practices. Today, he is considered a national resource in developing responsible lending practices in both the public and private sectors.
Martin Daniel Eakes, because you have persistently lifted lives and spirits from the cycle of poverty with the pride and potential of ownership, pioneering change with courage and embodying the Davidson ideal of leadership through service, the Davidson College Alumni Association is proud to honor you with the John W. Kuykendall Award for Community Service.