Last week, the trailer for The Banker was released, which is a film that tells the story of one of the first Black banks in America in the 1950-60s. Over fifty years later, OneUnited Bank is the largest Black-owned bank in America and recently they announced BankBlack X, a nationwide plan to close the racial wealth gap. The goal of BankBlack X is to galvanize the community to share the truth about Black people and money and make financial literacy a core value of the Black community. One of the partners of this campaign is BMe Community. We had the opportunity to speak with their CEO/Co-founder Trabian Shorters to learn more about the non-profit, their partnership with OneUnited Bank and how they make black men aware of their excellence!
What is BMe Community and why was it created?
We’re a network of black leaders who have committed ourselves to making society better for black people. We work in non-profit land, finance and government. We created BMe Community when I was vice president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is a National Foundation headquartered in Miami.
How did the partnership with OneUnited Bank come about?
OneUnited is the largest Black-owned bank in the country. The nonprofit came about independent of OneUnited Bank and within a couple of years, we overlapped and realized that our work around building stronger black communities and their work around building black wealth and also strong black communities totally overlapped. It was very simple for us to make the decision to deposit with OneUnited. Unlike Wells Fargo or Bank of America or any of these other banks, the majority of OneUnited’s lending is to us and for us, whereas those other banks you might get 1% of their loan portfolio having anything to do with us and they often look upon us as fee generators, not as people whose prosperity they’re trying to grow. But OneUnited in contrast, of course, looks at growing black wealth and closing the loan gap so it made perfect sense for us to deposit with them.
What does that partnership look like?
We partnered with them about three years ago because OneUnited’s commitment to investing in and developing the black community matched our interest in building a more caring and prosperous black community, which is our nonprofit’s goal. We run fellowships and executive retreats for black leaders. We fund black men who are committed to making a difference in their various walks of life and we make grants. As part of our partnership with OneUnited we put a million dollars on deposit and we observed within a year they had turned our million-dollar deposits into two and a half million dollars’ worth of low to moderate worth of property loans and low to moderate-income black communities.
From our perspective OneUnited is a social impact bank, they’re an excellent bank because merely depositing with them gives us the ability to fight asset poverty for free. We retain full access to all of our funds but because we had our funds on deposit, they were able to leverage them and lend to our community so we just think that’s the best of all possible worlds.
How is BMe involved with the BankBlack X campaign?
What OneUnited calls the X Factor is this new generation of leaders who are activating to grow black wealth and black prosperity. I think it’s brilliant and beautiful that we have a national institution that is committed to this new type of black consciousness where we own and control our finances and we literally have a card as a symbol and a bank as a resource that believes in us and helps us to believe in ourselves.
You work with a lot of men of color with funding projects and their businesses. What are some of the issues and hardships that men of color are facing?
What’s fascinating about our people is that we are characterized and defined entirely by hardships, by challenges, setbacks and failures. What BMe focuses on is how we have been assets to this country. And by the way, black people have always been assets since before this country had a name. We’re literally on America’s books as assets, that’s how we arrived here. We are literally the only population that has always been an asset to the nation and built the wealth of this nation. We continue to build wealth in this nation. We are the most likely to serve in the military. We’re the most likely to be actively engaged with our children.
Black women are the most likely to actually start businesses in this country. And by the way, we use and get these statistics from the US Army on black enlistment from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on black men and their engagement with their children being number one in the country. Black women starting businesses comes from the Department of Commerce. We don’t have to go to some radical source to find this data. Our case is black folks are literally always an asset to this country and we continue to be assets for this country. We rather be defined by our assets. We’d rather be defined by our aspirations. We’d rather be defined by our contributions and OneUnited understands that.
A lot of times, we as Black businessmen don’t know how to efficiently use our money. Outside of funding, how else do you help men of color specifically grow personally and professionally?
One of the main things we do is help black men and women be aware of all the different ways that their contributing and making a difference and also aware of how so many other things that we do and we take as normal are actually extraordinary. According to Maryland’s Small Business Administration, black men who start businesses are far more likely to have some sort of give back or social impact built into their business plan. The idea of hiring from the community. The idea of giving support to local programs, sports or youth programs. We do that very commonly and we don’t necessarily even recognize that is actually uncommon. Most businesses do not do that. We do that as a sense of being part of the community. We help black folks to become more aware of what they’re already doing.
The second thing we do is network with these outstanding black men and women who have committed their lives to making things better for themselves and for others. We pull them into a network. We literally give them an index of each other. We give them an online platform that they can use to meet, connect and work with each other on projects. We have a training curriculum that teaches them the philosophical roots of cultural difference. It teaches them how to write op-eds and be influential in the media space. It teaches them how to influence, how to organize campaigns and how to do fundraising. We give them personal to social financial literacy.
What can we look forward to from the nonprofit or what else can we look forward in the future?
OneUnited recognizes that BMe Community totally believes in its mission of black uplifting. We have a very complementary relationship that’s all about building not only the integrity and respect for our people but the wealth and opportunity for our people as well. So, heading into 2020 we’re going to partner with them on this BankBlack X campaign and we’re also doing a campaign we call “Black L.O.V.E”. The letters in Black Love stand for; L is for love us, O own ours, V is vote black and E is to Excel. So, we believe that if we do these four things, Love, Own, Vote and Excel then our communities will prosper.