AME churches, black banks team up on black wealth

The African Methodist Episcopal Church and black-owned banks across the country are joining forces to spur business development, homeownership and wealth in the black community.

The groups – bankers, bishops and economic empowerment  supporters – announced the innovative economic partnership on June 26 during the 2018 Council of AME Bishops and General Board Meeting in Atlanta.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, the council's president, said the goal of partnering with the presidents of the 19 black-owned U.S. banks is to increase black wealth.

"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,” Jackson said. “This, of course, includes enabling members and their families to become homeowners."

The specific details of a memorandum of understanding are being formulated and will be announced later this summer, but the goals are to:

n Increase deposits and loans with Black banks.

n Increase black homeownership to more than 50 percent or 2 million homeowners.

n Grow the number of black businesses to 4 million from 2.6 million and total gross receipts to $150,000 from an average of $72,500.

Preston Pinkett III, chairman of the National Bankers Association, called the spirit of partnership “outstanding.” 

"Thank you for your willingness to step outside of the norm to do something that I would say is extraordinary here in America and extraordinary in the world," said Pinkett, who is also the chairman and CEO of the City National Bank of New Jersey. "It is safe to say that this kind of commitment; this kind of demonstration will go a long way in supporting our banks and the banks to be able to support the community. With God's blessings, we will accomplish great things."

Jackson, who was surrounded by all 20 bishops of the 231-year-old AME denomination, said the historic partnership grew out of a Black Wealth 2020 initiative launched in Washington, D.C., in 2015 to provide an economic blueprint for black America.

Michael Grant, a founder of Black Wealth 2020, said the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others has now morphed into a full-fledged movement for economic empowerment.

"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,” Grant said. “Now, as a people, we are turning our efforts toward our own enrichment. We must now create those economic opportunities for ourselves."

Grant said students of history would not be surprised that the church of Richard Allen would be leading an effort to close the wealth gap across the United States.

"We do this with malice towards none," Grant said.

Allen, one of America's most influential back leaders, founded the AME church in 1794. It was the first independent black denomination in the United States.

James L. Davis, bishop of the Second Episcopal District, likened the partnership to a union between a church and its community.

"It is a marriage that says a church that is concerned about its people, concerned about the good and the bad, all of the things our people have had to go through," he said.

Vashti Murphy McKenzie, chair bishop of the AME’s General Board, said black church leaders not only articulate ideas, but strategies, and that in the next decade, the AME church and black banking will see both evolution and revolution as they deal with increasing governmental intrusion, growing membership and higher customer demands.

“Banks must reinvent themselves, not just to respond to the pressures of the day, but to be flexible enough to adapt to the world of tomorrow,” McKenzie said. “The ecclesia, the church, must also evolve its business knowledge, educational platform, and its missional thrust without losing its stance in the Word of God."  

News of the economic partnership was applauded by national civil rights leaders like U.S. Rep. John Lewis and National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial.

Lewis thanked the bishops for making economic development a priority.

"Hopefully, your visionary leadership will inspire other denominations to replicate your efforts nationwide," said Lewis, who represents Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.

Morial said it's time to  address the challenges of black homeownership and increase the viability and profitability of African-American businesses.

Mortgage Banker Lois Johnson, president and CEO of Salt Lake City-based United Security Financial, which is licensed to operate in 49 states, said she intends to travel to each of the AME church's episcopal districts to "create hope and opportunities."

“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," said Johnson, whose firm is a HUD fair practice lender.

Ron Busby, a co-founder of Black Wealth 2020, said that with the economic partnership, African Americans are uniting in their own interest.

"We hear about black folks having a trillion dollars in spending power," said Busby, who is president and CEO of the U. S. Black Chamber. "But that's usually white folk talking about our dollars and how can they get their share of it. We came together to say how can we deal with the black wealth, the gap of it, and really to move our agenda forward inside our own community."

Robert James, CEO of the Carver State Bank in Savannah, recalled the times when his bank was the only funding source for churches in Savannah and underscored the need to sustain relationships in the black community.

"This program will get us back on the path," he said, adding that the bishops have authority to oversee and encourage AME church leaders to do business with black-owned banks.

"We can talk to the bishops about those local churches,” he said. “And you can talk to your elders and your preachers." 

Jackson said the U.S. partnership is only the beginning and that the economic movement will also expand abroad.

"The possibilities extend throughout the diaspora,” he said. “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."  

African Union Ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao promised the bishops that she will encourage Africans in America to also put their deposits in black-owned banks and stressed the need for the institutions to unify, cooperate, and not turn on each other.

She said the Africa Union has already listed all U.S. black banks on its website.

"I'm already encouraging all black people when I do presentations to say we've been stupid for too long,” Chihombori-Quao said. “We drive past black banks to give our money to people who don't give a hoot about us. And they take our money so they can get rich; not only here, but in Africa. We've got to change this."