Jamel DaCosta: Purpose Driven
By Kamille D. Whittaker
St. Francis of Assisi once asked to be “blessed with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships … anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace … and just enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world.” It is against this pillar of reference that Jamel M. DaCosta says he finds himself — navigating between the junctures of contentment and ambition; audacity in the midst of purpose. “I speak to my mentors, sometimes daily, to discuss my future plans, to share my goals and to get asked the difficult questions. Through those conversations I know if my desires are genuine or if they are for self. So, I know when my ambition isn’t a desire to be exalted but to be informed, to support a cause that I’m passionate about, and to offer any assistance that I can.”
As such, he keeps Howard Thurman’s charge close: “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. And if you cannot hear it, you will, all of your life, spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
Distilled in his favorite credo: “Live full; die empty.”
Or, in the vernacular of his profession: Input determines output.
DaCosta, after all, is a finance man.
Howard University-groomed and University of Georgia Terry College of Business-molded, he has spent the last decade working as an analyst with one of the nation’s largest energy companies, the fourth largest retailer, and currently MARTA, the ninth largest transit system in the United States. Here, he is involved in the research and financial analysis of transit-oriented development projects as well as developing MARTA’s 10-year, $2 billion capital plan.
He assists in executing the strategy for the Authority’s $300 million annual capital budget, cash, debt, and grants program; and performing cash flow, variance, and trend analyses, budgeting, modeling, and capital project financial analysis therein; and he took lead on providing financial analysis for proponents responding to RFPs through the Authority’s Contract and Procurement team, a touchstone for the city’s transit-oriented MBEs.
His position at the turnstile of Atlanta’s operational, development and infrastructure sectors has ushered him into civic conversations and roles that require his leadership and acumen: In 2011, Atlanta City Councilwoman Felicia Moore, tapped him to serve on the City of Atlanta’s Elected Officials Compensation Committee as co-chair where he was tasked with making a recommendation on salary changes for the mayor, city council, and school board.
As a licensed real estate broker, he also serves on the board of City Council District 9’s Neighborhood Planning Unit D, and on the executive board of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Black MBA Association as director of Community Affairs.
DaCosta is a community man; an Alpha man.
It all started when former NFL player Danny Buggs formed The Winning Circle at his elementary school in DeKalb County. “This organization taught us discipline, history, and brotherhood, and it illustrated the importance of community. Later, I knew I was heading in the right direction when I didn’t feel a sense of fulfillment from just my career, but, rather, from being a part of volunteer efforts that impacted others’ well-being.”
Service to the community is the cornerstone of generational connection, he asserts. “Whether we are spending time with elders with Meals on Wheels Atlanta, building a home with Habitat for Humanity, mentoring with Big Brothers Big Sisters, or planning events with the National Black MBA Association, when you are in the community there is a transfer of knowledge that takes place and you are able to have a better perspective of older/younger generations alike. When we continue to commit to our communities, our perspective of humanity evolves and our appreciation for one another deepens.”
And finally, DaCosta is a family man — father, driver, chef, bedtime story reader, yoga partner, hairdresser, stylist to daughter, Gabrielle — and CFO of the DeKalb Kids Project, an educational and leadership organization started by his brothers.
The overarching mission: To provide each child with the necessary tools and skills to fulfill their passions, make their visions a reality and obtain physical, emotional and mental wellness with the assistance of parents, educators and community leaders.
“I was brought up in a single parent home with five siblings and we experienced what it was like not to have. And like many people who go through this, you develop a sink or swim mentality. I’m forever grateful for it because during the times I thought I was sinking God was only developing a stronger swimmer. He surrounded me with community servants — teachers, neighbors, crossing guards — who took a vested interest in my success and I am indebted to them. They were selfless and givers of their time. They didn’t hold any punches when it came to making sure I didn’t end up as a statistic. I am a direct benefactor of their investment in my community, and they were acutely aware that their future and mine were tied together.”
When combined with the constant of a praying grandmother, if value is a function of time and investment over time, it all computes.
“Somebody told me once that ‘God remembers the prayers of 1,000 generations.’ I sometimes think about my ancestors’ plight and what they were praying for and I think to myself, if my life represents the culmination of their prayers answered, then I better make good use of it.” AT