Raiford: Big League Builder

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[Business: Movers & Shakers]

For generations African Americans who are socially conscious have faced a common dilemma:  when choosing a profession, do you work for money or for the betterment of the world?  According to Dwight Raiford, Senior Financial Planner with MetLife, you don’t have to choose one over the other.  It is possible to do both.   
Raiford has nearly 30 years experience in the financial services industry.  He has served as banker and financial advisor to some the world’s largest corporations.  At MetLife, he focuses his practice on affluent professionals and business owners.  His clientele includes a number of highly respected, successful individuals and entrepreneurs. 
Before all of this, however, Raiford who has lived in Harlem since the 1970s, was a teacher. And before that an activist on the campus of Yale.  “I went to college in the late sixties,” he explained in an interview with Black Star News.  “I was far more focused on changing the world than making money.”
Raiford’s mind began to change one day after he’d been teaching for about three years.  He was at a party having a friendly argument with a banker who jokingly called Raiford a “flaming liberal.”  Then the banker said “why don’t you come work for me.” 
While Raiford wasn’t interested in a financial career when the banker offered him a job, he’d learned about business from his father who had been a successful insurance salesman in Burlington, NC where Raiford grew up.  Another person who was influential in Raiford’s development was his uncle who worked as a janitor.  One day Raiford’s uncle took him aside and asked him what he wanted to do with his life.  The young Raiford rattled off about four professions.  His uncle responded saying that it didn’t really matter what career path he chose as long as he was always of service to his community. 
This advice stayed with Raiford.  So when offered the position in the financial industry, he was able to leave the teaching job and take advantage of this new opportunity.  To his surprise, he liked working with money and found that he had a knack for it.  So he went back to school again earning an MBA from Harvard focusing on Finance and Marketing. Still after all of the business schooling and experience his interest in helping people remained.
In the late 1980s Raiford’s oldest son, Josh, announced that he wanted to join a baseball league.  This pleased Raiford since he’d come from a family that loved the sport.  Growing up Raiford and his siblings used to play sandlot baseball with three other families all summer long.  And he remembers vividly one day in 1955 upon coming home from school, his mother greeted him by saying “Jackie Robinson stole home today!”
The problem with Josh playing baseball was that there wasn’t a league in Harlem and they’d have to travel long distances for practice and games.  So Raiford’s enterprising wife, Iris, came up with an idea.  They would start a league of their own. 
In 1989 drawing on that ever present desire to serve the community, the couple founded the Harlem Little League with 129 children on 8 teams.  Today the Harlem Little League has 40 teams with over 600 children.  The venture has been so successful that the Little League Urban Initiative, which was founded in 1999 is modeled after the programs in Harlem and Los Angeles. 
In 2001 Raiford became the first African-American to be elected chairman of the Little League Baseball International Board of Directors.
With the motto of “Building Big League Citizens,” Raiford said the focus of Harlem Little League is on having fun and building character as opposed to simply winning games. “It’s about learning to play on a team, how to get better and how to beat your personal best.” 


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