By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Nearly a dozen Black faith leaders from around the Chicagoland area held a press conference at Seaway Bank in the Chatham community August 9 to announce a new campaign that hopes to raise capital for Chicago’s Black-owned banks. It is part of a nationwide community effort, but many of the city’s most popular Black pastors with the biggest congregations were not in attendance.
The efforts came after Black-owned banks in Atlanta and Houston experienced a massive surge in new customer accounts following police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. Bank executives say local campaigns by Black rappers are leading an effort to support Black-owned banks as frustrations grow over the economic conditions of minorities. Since July, Black customers have flooded Citizens Trust Bank in Atlanta, opening up 8,000 new bank accounts. This month, singer Solange Knowles, sister of Beyonce, announced that she was moving her dollars to a Black-owned bank.
The Black Lives Matter movement has also helped in the effort. That movement started two years ago and has grown to include economic boycotts, voter registration drives and acts of civil disobedience. At the press conference at Seaway Bank, the ministers who did attend the event say they aim to raise $100,000 by the end of this month in new accounts and pledge to grow the campaign from there.
“It’s important to move from conversation to action. So today we are taking this pledge to be raised from our churches and the constituencies we are able to influence,” said Dr. Leon Finney of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, who deposited $50,000 from his church in the Woodlawn community. “Faith without action doesn’t mean much.”
Cooperative Economics (Ujamma) is one of the seven principles of the African American holiday Kwanzaa that is celebrated every year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. But community leaders say getting the community as a whole to practice the principle being taught has been a struggle. As Chicago struggles with under-funded schools, crime and a lack of job opportunities, Finney and others Tuesday said financial autonomy is vital to changing things for the better in the Black community.
“It is very important to learn how to own our own,” said Dr. Phalese Binion, CEO of the West Side Ministers Coalition. “If we’re talking about economic empowerment. We have to start to sow into ourselves so we have a voice. We have all sorts of statistics and data that show how our dollars are going all over the country. But we are not investing into ourselves. When we begin to do this, we can strengthen each other and make a change in Washington D.C., down in Springfield and at City Hall.”
Those in attendance said small personal accounts in large numbers will make a big difference for banks like Seaway, Urban Partnership and Illinois Service Federal Savings and Loan. They also believe it is important for large institutions like Black churches to do business with Black financial institutions. To that point there were several noticeable absences of well-known pastors who have the largest Black congregations in the city. Absent were James Meeks (Salem), Corey Brooks (New Beginnings), Byron Brazier (Apostolic), Father Michael Pfleger (St. Sabina), Otis Moss (Trinity) Stephen Thurston (New Covenant) and John Hannah (New Life Covenant). With the exception of St. Sabina, those churches have spent tens of millions building new edifices in the past two decades. While none of the ministers publicly addressed the notable absences, Finney did say during his speech that in order to get the church members to follow their lead, the Black church must set the pace by example.
“It’s important that we ourselves deposit. You can’t lead others where you are not willing to go yourself, so I want to thank everyone who is here,” Dr. Finney said.
Officials at Seaway said last month they saw the most new accounts opened in the bank’s history (574) totaling some $7.2 million. The call to action is being heard by many in the community and Seaway is attempting to capitalize. They will have a special account opening day on Aug. 27 where potential customers can come in and inquire about the services Seaway offers.
“We truly appreciate all that the pastoral community is doing for our bank,” said Seaway Vice President/Senior Commercial Loan Officer Adrienne Baker. “The support is significant at this time. We are actively lending and we are looking to enhance our opportunities and services with this deposit drive. We’re a sound financial institution.”