Life has been pretty good lately for the British-born Nigerian actor Chiké Okonkwo, after snagging a role in “Birth of a Nation” and then most recently joining the popular TV show “Being Mary Jane,” as the star’s new love interest.
But there’s more to this Shakespearean-trained thespian including a keen interest in collective economics and finding ways that it can be used to benefit both Blacks in the U.S. and those who live on the African continent. Perhaps that’s why he has signed on as an ambassador for America’s largest Black-owned financial institution, OneUnited Bank. And when he has a few free moments, he travels the country to promote their creative #BankBlack Movement.
According to the bank’s president and owner, Teri Williams, the movement seeks to teach Blacks how to better harness the power of their estimated $1.2 trillion in spending power by investing in their own community in ways that include opening savings accounts and purchasing homes and real estate in the inner cities in which many of them reside.
Okonkwo says he stumbled upon the #BankBlack Movement while looking for ways to invest his earnings. And it didn’t’ take long, he adds, before he became sold on OneUnited and its financial strategies and commitment to communities of color.
“After a visit to North Dakota and seeing how their banks were investing in the oil pipeline, I began to look for banks that were investing in more ethical projects,” he said. “When I heard about OneUnited Bank and how they invest in local communities, I took all my money, all my savings and put them in their hands.”
“I had the opportunity to spend some time with their president and she [Teri Williams] was right on the money in terms of what I wanted – a Black-owned business taking control of its own investments and then sharing their profits with other Blacks. In Nigeria, oil is one of the major exported goods but the companies making the real dollars aren’t Black-owned. We need to learn from other communities, like the Chinese who bank with their own people.”
“I hope that by serving as an ambassador for this well-conceived movement, that I can encourage more African Americans to invest in the bank. In fact, I want to see more black, brown and white people, if they really care about economic justice and equality, to put their dollars and trust in OneUnited Bank.”
Okonkwo says given his celebrity status, he’s been able to have simple, friendly conversations with people across America. That, he said, is where he finds common ground.
“We usually don’t think much about how our money is used when we invest in mainstream institutions,” he said. “So, whenever I’m having dinner or even a cup of coffee, I pull out my OneUnited Bank debit card which has a Black face on the front and depicts our culture. It’s a great way to begin a chat. I quickly share information about the bank and its goals and find that many people are unaware of the bank’s outstanding services and efficient leadership.”
As a sidebar conversation, he spoke a little about his career and how it has been moving forward lately at a rapid pace.
“I still find it hard to believe that so many people are devoted fans of ‘Being Mary Jane,’” he said. “I live in Los Angeles but I travel to New York City quite often and I can’t tell you how many folks stop me on the streets because they recognize me from the show. All I can say is I’m grateful for the opportunity and appreciate being able to support the show in my newly created role,” said Okonkwo, who has now added television to his film and Broadway accomplishments.
“I believe that Blacks from America and from Africa can collectively travel the road of greater prosperity together,” he said. “I just want to do all I can to reach more people of color who deserve so much more in their lives than the world has tended to share with them.”