The Black church, among the most prosperous institutions in America, has long led movements for the spiritual, social and civic uplift of Black people. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, he had just launched the Poor People’s Movement, which quickly fizzled after his death. With this historic backdrop, the African Methodist Episcopal Church – with a legacy of leadership in its own right – has announced an innovative economic partnership with Black-owned banks across the country. The partnership aims to be a catalyst to spur business development, homeownership and wealth in the Black community.
“We are now pleased to announce a partnership with the presidents of the nineteen (19) Black banks in the United States, with the goal of increasing Black wealth,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, president of the Council of AME Bishops. “This initiative will strengthen Black banks across the United States and increase their capacity to lend to small businesses, to secure mortgages, to provide personal lines of credit, and to offer other forms of credit to AME churches and our members. This, of course, includes enabling members and their families to become homeowners.”
Bishop Jackson made the announcement during a press conference held during the 2018 Council of Bishops and General Board Meeting in Atlanta June 26. The specific details of a memorandum of understanding are being formulated and will be announced this summer. But the goals are as follows: increase deposits and loans with Black banks; and increase Black homeownership to over 50 percent nationwide. This means 2,000,000 more Black homeowners than now exist; and grow the number of Black businesses from 2.6 million to 4 million and total gross receipts from an average of $72,500.00 to $150,000.00.
“This partnership grows out of an initiative formed in Washington, DC in 2015, called Black Wealth 2020 which is providing an economic blueprint for Black America,” Jackson said.
“The great civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others has now morphed into a full-fledged movement for economic empowerment,” Michael Grant, one of the founders of Black Wealth 2020 said. “The offspring of African slaves and their unrewarded labor have catapulted a small Colonial outpost into the greatest industrial giant the world has ever known. Now, as a people, we are turning our efforts toward our own enrichment. We must now create those economic opportunities for ourselves.”
The announcement of the new partnership was met with applause from national civil rights leaders.
“Thank you and your fellow bishops for making economic development a priority of your denomination,” wrote civil rights icon Georgia Congressman John Lewis in a letter to Bishop Jackson.
National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial also weighed in with a letter: “I want to express the support of the National Urban League for your leadership and initiative in addressing the challenges of Black homeownership and the need to increase the support, viability and profitability of our African-American businesses,” he wrote.
Morial is among economic leaders who have determined that among the reasons homeownership among African-Americans is disparately low is, in part, because of discriminatory lending practices.
Preston Pinkett, CEO of City National Bank of New Jersey and President of the National Bankers Association, the trade organization that represents the minority-owned banks of America, thanked the AME Bishops and said that this could become a model for alliances between many of our national organizations.
Mortgage Banker Lois Johnson, president/ CEO of Salt Lake City-based United Security Financial, said “We provide loans to all who meet the minimum criteria, especially people of color who have been denied the opportunity to have their own homes.”
Johnson, who is licensed to operate in 49 states, says she intends to travel to each of the AME church’s episcopal districts to “create hope and opportunities.”
The principals agreed that the key to the success of the partnership must be mutual respect for Black spending power and mutual support of Black businesses.
Ron Busby, president/ CEO of the U. S. Black Chamber, Inc. and co-founder of Black Wealth 2020, pointed to the USBC’s new AP called the USBC Mobile Directory with 109,000 Black-owned businesses in order to help consumers make targeted purchases inside the Black business community.
Robert James, CEO of the Carver State Bank in Savannah and the black banker with the longest tenure of service as CEO of a bank in America, was applauded as he reflected on his life of AME Church membership and service. “There was a time that no black churches got bank financing in Savannah Georgia unless we financed them at Carver State Bank,” James said. James says he knows the relationship can be sustained because the Bishops have authority to oversee and encourage AME church leaders to do business with Black-owned banks. “We can talk to AME Bishops about local churches and they can talk to their elders and preachers,” he said.
Bishop Jackson underscored the fact that the U. S. partnership is only the beginning. He indicated that the movement will also expand abroad. “The possibilities extend throughout the Diaspora. The African Methodist Episcopal Church has over 4,000 churches in Africa, the Caribbean, West Indies and Europe. These churches and members can also benefit from this partnership,” he said.
To augment this expansion, Her Excellency Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao, ambassador for the African Union, spoke to the Bishops the day before the press conference, promising to encourage Africans in America to also put their deposits in Black banks. She stressed the need for Black-owned institutions to unify, cooperate and not turn on one another.
“I hope we will all come together and support the idea of putting all of our money in Black banks. I have already taken the initiative and listed all of the Black banks in the country on our website. We drive past Black banks to give our money to people who don’t give a hoot about us. We’ve got to change this.”