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Black History Month: How Values-Based Banks Advocate for Social Justice


27 February 2023

February marks Black History Month, a moment to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to American civilisation. It is a way to pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity in society. This tradition began in the United States and was officially recognised in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations. The tradition is also being recognised in other parts of the world such as Canada and the United Kingdom. 

The African American community is celebrated through stories, films, music, museums and much more. People and organisations are encouraged to learn more about the black communities’ struggles, accomplishments and contributions. Many organisations and industries are also taking part in amplifying the cause and amending their own policies, such as their diversity and inclusion. 

The role of the financial industry 

The financial industry is one of many that have a large role to play in celebrating Black History Month. Banks and other financial institutions have contributed to systemic racism, while wealth and income disparities that are major causes of inequality. This has led to African American communities mistrusting financial institutions.  

The Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV) members are actively working towards rebuilding this trust in their own communities by fighting for a more inclusive society. Here are a few examples of how they use their voices and resources: 

Civil rights march on Washington, D.C., August 28th, 1963, Original black and white negative by Warren K. Leffler

Advocating by example 

Priscilla Sims Brown, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, headquartered in New York, is the first Black woman to lead Amalgamated Bank and is one of a few Black women CEOs in the banking industry. She actively advocates for racial equity. “We’re aligned with those in the system who seek to celebrate the good work that good people do. But we also recognize that system needs a major overhaul in order to protect the lives of Black people in this country,” she stated in an interview with Ebony Magazine. 

Tonita Web, CEO of Verity Credit Union, headquartered in Seattle, is the first woman and the first member of the BIPOC community to lead the credit union. She frequently participates in credit union advocacy to work with legislators at the state and national levels and ensure that credit unions continue to have the opportunity to serve the underserved and work cooperatively to build strong communities. She was recognised in 2021 as a winner of the Puget Sound Business Journal’s prestigious Women of Influence award. “For me, this win is for the other women leading positive change, for the black woman or man who’s the only person of colour in their company, and for all of the little black girls to see what’s possible,” she said in response to her win. 

Serving Underserved Communities 

City First Bank and Broadway Financial Corp., in Washington DC, merged and created City First Bank, the largest Black-owned Bank in America, with more than USD 1 billion combined. “We have all seen the compounding impacts from centuries of racial inequities in this country — social unrest, higher unemployment, poverty. Economic injustice is at the root of racial injustice. That’s why the work of MDIs and community deposit financial institutions are more important than ever; they are squarely focused on these inequities like getting capital to those who truly need it,” explains Brian E. Argrett, CEO of City First Bank. 

Tackling Systemic Racism 

Southern Bancorp, headquartered in Arkansas, is creating awareness of traditional banking among the untrusting and the unbanked under the leadership of its CEO, Darrin Williams. He is one of the dozens of leaders of Black-owned banks working with top financial institutions to decrease the racial wealth gap. “Fighting against backlash against diversity, equity, and inclusion for us simply means moving forward and doing what we were founded to do; if we were moving backwards or maintaining a status quo, these same people would have little to be upset about,” Williams said in an interview with Insider. 

George Floyd Memorial in Minneapolis, MN, USA, on 2 April 2021

Addressing Racial Equity in a time of crisis 

Minneapolis was the epicentre of violent uprisings after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Sunrise Banks, headquartered in Minneapolis, supported communities and organisations affected by this tragedy. An example of one such organisation is Pimento Kitchen, a restaurant, based in Minneapolis. After the tragic event’s aftermath Pimento became a centre of relief and healing for the community. Pimento Relief Services was born, whose mission is to provide operational resources to those who are on the front lines of economic, political and social liberation. Learn more about how local organisations are helping elevate their communities. 

How to promote social justice with our wallets 

Beneficial State Bank is headquartered in Oakland, where 70% of the homeless population is Black in a city where Black people comprise only 24% of the overall population, and the median income for white households is almost three times that of Black households. “Banks have historically been a part of this harm through racist redlining and other discriminatory practices,” they state on their blog, where they give some tips on how to fight systemic racism and injustice with our wallets:  

These are only a few examples of how some values-based banks in North America advocate and support African American Communities in particular, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in general. Learn more about these impactful stories and find others in the Resources section. 

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