Teri Williams
Teri Williams, OneUnited Bank President (Courtesy photo)

As the National #BankBlack Challenge marks its first anniversary, one thing has become crystal clear: this ongoing demonstration of Black economic power should not be viewed as a single moment in time but rather as an ongoing movement.

One African-American bank executive from South Florida says that as the country undergoes significant upheaval following the election of Donald Trump, that it’s even more essential for the Black community to figure out how to help ourselves and how to use our dollars more purposefully.

“The world is very different now and Blacks across the country realize that we must employ different strategies for our own financial welfare,” said Teri Williams, a 20-year veteran in the banking industry and the president, owner and COO of OneUnited Bank in Miami.

“The BankBlack Movement is much more than just a flash,” she said. “And while our Black-owned and Black-managed banks are seeing a sharp influx of deposits and new accounts, our community can still do more. This movement is also about learning to trust each other and becoming more intentional about supporting our own businesses. The message we should be sending across America is ‘our ice is colder.’”

The BankBlack Movement, using social media, the Black media and word of mouth, continues to gain greater force with the Black community responding to the call for a demonstration of economic power by moving their money from traditional banks to Black-owned banks, like OneUnited Bank, headquartered in Boston, Citizen’s Trust (Atlanta), City National Bank (Newark) and Industrial Bank (Washington, D.C.).

Williams credits the hip-hop community with providing the steam that has propelled the movement’s engine.

“During a radio interview last July, rapper Killer Mike implored Blacks to deploy a ‘portion’ of their financial resources therefore making a tangible difference,” she said. “He got things going and many other celebrities have followed suit. We’ve seen a sharp uptick in our web traffic and new accounts with over $3 million deposited since the call to action.”

“It only takes opening a $100 savings account online to participate. Then we ask our new depositors to challenge 20 of their friends to do the same,” she said.

Michael A. Grant serves as the president of the National Bankers Association, a consortium of Black-, Hispanic-, Asian-, Native American- and women-owned banks headquartered in the District. He says those who participate in the BankBlack Movement are those who want action now.

“This is a movement that began over 100 years ago but had become dormant because of racial integration. Thousands have been now mobilized to protest with their spending power,” he said.

Since July, thousands of checking and savings accounts have been opened at Black-owned banks. Williams says every member bank of the association is feeling the impact of the movement.

“Banks like Citizen’s [Atlanta], Liberty [New Orleans], OneUnited [Miami, L.A., online] and Industrial [D.C.] are seeing the biggest impact,” she said. “And with the ‘second chance checking account’ that our bank offers, we’ve opened the door to many Blacks whose Chex Systems records reflected negative data which resulted in traditional banks denying them service. We’ve seen those customers to be some of our best. They’re good at managing their accounts and while they may have made some mistakes in the past, they’ve learned how to better manage their finances.”

Black banks have experienced a decline since the late 19th century. Between 1888 and 1934, there were more than 130 Black banks. Some financial experts believe that wealth significantly contributed to the rapid growth of Black-owned businesses from 4,000 in 1867 to 50,000 by 1917.

Today, there are 21 Black-owned banks in the U.S., down from 54 in 1994. Meanwhile, Blacks still have not learned to fully utilize their economic power. Black banks report assets totaling between $4.5 to $4.7 billion, but that’s only 0.43 percent of Black America’s $1.1 to $1.4 trillion in spending power.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has long cautioned Blacks about the banking industry.

“We must make the business world more accountable to us also,” he said. “They [banks] take our money and invest it but the Black community reaps nothing because the banks do not invest within the Black community. They take our money and build houses that we cannot live in. The banks we do business with must become more responsive to our needs.”

B. Doyle Mitchell Jr., Industrial Bank’s president and CEO, says it’s vital that African-Americans support Black-owned businesses, including those like the District’s family-owned Industrial Bank.

“We should be recycling our dollars in our community as a whole and because there aren’t many Black banks is even more of a reason to support Black banks,” Mitchell said. “We lend in our own community at a higher proportion than mainstream banks so if we were larger and with more resources, we could lend more and therefore have a greater impact.”

“The movement is off to a good start but we need relationships to make it profitable, not just a transactional deposit,” he said. “We have many of the services that traditional banks have and encourage our depositors to make use of all of them.”

To find out more about OneUnited Bank, go to oneunited.com or call 877-ONEUNITED.

To find out more about Industrial Bank, go to www.Industrial-bank.com or call 202-722-2000.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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