Growing up in the Park Heights in the community of Northwest Baltimore in the 1960s and 1970s, Harry Black never thought he would work in public administration, much less become director of finance for Baltimore. For Black, maneuvering the drug-infested neighborhood, which eventually became overrun with crack cocaine, poverty and blight, was, literally, an uphill fight, he said.
Like so many Baltimoreans, after high school graduation, Black said he longed to escape the city, embarking on his freshman year at Virginia State University. Neither of Black’s parents went to college. His mother, Frances Black was a nurse’s aide and his father Fred Black was a corrections officer.
Initially, Black said he majored in pre-med at the college, which was in line with the health curriculum he was exposed to at Dunbar High School, but one of his post-high school graduation experiences took him down a different career path.
“During my senior year of high school I worked as a student page in Annapolis,” said Black. “It exposed me to another world–the world of public service.”
Black changed his major to public administration, earning his bachelors of science. He went on to attend the University of Virginia on a full fellowship securing a master’s degree in public administration.
Armed with two degrees in 1987, Black took a position with a management trainee position with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As a management trainee, his assignments rotated from posts in the ports, terminals, bridges, tunnels and aviation departments.
“I had never been to New York before,” said Black. “I had no family there. I didn’t know anyone. It was like boot camp. New York is a tough town for anyone fresh out of college, but it was a great experience.”
While there, Black said he prided himself in confronting challenges and taking the assignments no one else in the program wanted. He recalled managing the overnight shift the bus terminal on 42nd Street at Times Square, which he called one of the roughest terminals in the city.
While working in New York, Black said he gravitated into finance when he was offered the opportunity to leave his position as assistant director for special projects for the mayor’s office in New York and became the assistant director of fiscal management and investments for the New York State Insurance Fund.
“It worked out for me because it once I got into finance it’s always felt natural to me,” said Black. “I had no idea I would go into finance. I thought my career was going to be administrative oriented.”
In the mid-1990s, Black moved back into the area, setting his sights on the nation’s capital for career advancement. He held several positions in the District of Columbia government in the offices of contracting and procurement and child and family services before working his way up the administrative ladder to become director of the top of the city’s municipal finance apparatus.
Black was sworn into his current position as director of finance for the city of Baltimore by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake a little more than a year ago in March 2012. His role prior to the appointment was serving as the executive vice president and chief operating officer for Global Commerce Solutions, a government services firm in the district.
Black said he has adjusted to his role quickly. He said his workday includes between five and seven meetings and streamlining and troubleshooting a myriad of issues dealing with the funds of the city.
During his career Black said he has worked in different administrations on the east coast under several different mayors with their own governing style and vision. He served under mayors Anthony Williams and Marion Barry in Washington, D.C., David Dinkins in New York City, Doug Wilder in Richmond, Va. and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, stating, “I learned something from each one.”
While Black didn’t initially see himself pursuing a career in public administration, he said he urges more young professionals to consider the profession.
“Come into public administration with a sense of preparedness and have an openness and willingness to learn,” said Black.