When Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf sent a memo to the entire company outlining the diversity initiatives they’d be taking in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, he included a note along with general promises to do better, writing: “The unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from.”
Since Reuters broke the story on September 22, Scharf has been taken to task by everyone from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Karen Attiah, who argued in The Washington Post that Scharf’s statement showed the bank was “unwilling to move on from some of the worst, racist parts of America’s past.”
Scharf has since issued an apology, saying the comments reflected his “own unconscious bias.” But his statements are indicative of yet another industry where Black people still face discrimination.
That’s why Zweli’s Kitchen co-founder Leonardo Williams and social media manager Craig Carter created Bank Black Durham, a movement to encourage folks to bank with local, Black-owned banks. In doing so, their goal is to increase Black homeownership by 10 percent in the next decade and grow the ranks of Black-owned small businesses by 25 percent in the next five years.
“The law is not innocent, and neither are some of these infrastructures that we deal with, including and most definitely money,” Williams says.
Around 30 people met at CCB Plaza on the warm October 3 afternoon to hear Williams, Carter, and other guest speakers get the word out on the importance of Black-owned and -operated banks and “creating tables” for Black North Carolinians, instead of waiting to be invited to the metaphorical tables set up for and by white people. The group is pushing Durhamites to move their money to M&F Bank, whose Parrish Street location has been operating since 1908. It’s the second-oldest minority-owned bank in the nation, according to the M&F website.
Carter thought of the idea as he walked past the bank and considered how he learned at a young age that banking was the best way to keep your savings.
For Williams, the movement is personal: He says he and his wife, Zweli, kept getting denied loans as they tried to turn their catering company into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. While Zweli’s eventually opened without the help of a bank or loan company, Williams had to take on more risk. Meanwhile, he says white friends with the same circumstances, credit scores, and incomes were able to get loans on the first try.
Williams now banks with M&F; Carter says he’s in the process of moving his money over from Wells Fargo. Part of what they hope to do with Bank Black is to walk people through the transition, which is more involved than withdrawing your life savings at an ATM.
“People have so many services: Netflix, Venmo, all that stuff that’s tied up with their bank,” Carter says. “They have to work to shift all that over.”
Banking Black is about more than supporting a Black-owned bank: It shapes the amounts they are able to lend within the community. And while corporate banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America lend nationally, local banks keep money flowing through the community. Yvonne Lewis Holley, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, says she and her family have always banked with M&F. Holley’s personal and campaign accounts are both with the company.
“It is important to support the institutions that support the community,” she said in a statement to the INDY.
As the rally wound down, Williams made it personal. He asked his 14-year-old son, Isaiah, to join him in front of the small crowd, saying that this was about investing in the future, too.
“We’re not going to a corporate bank that only looks at us as a number,” Williams said. “We’re going right up that street, right over there, where they were started for us.”
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