Calls for â€˜Buy Blackâ€™ campaign
By Chinta Strausberg
Asking churches to practice what they preach and to lead the way for financial freedom for their members, Gregg H. Brown, President/CEO of the South Side Community Federal Credit Union (SSCFCU), urged black churches to be the beacon of light in launching a â€˜Buy Blackâ€™ and â€˜Save Blackâ€™ campaign in memory of the late Dr. Webb Evans.
Brown, whose union is located at 5401 So. Wentworth, Suite 25 in the Grand Boulevard shopping plaza, is passionate about Africa Americans supporting their own financial institutions. He is a supporter of the late Dr. Evansâ€™ â€œBuy Blackâ€ program. Evans died on February 23, 2015 at the age of 101. He spent his life asking African Americans to support their own businesses by â€œbuying black.â€
Mr. Brown is equally passionate about the mission of the SSCFCU, which is to â€œequalize economic power and fight poverty through holistic financial education and by providing access to credit and savings services for its members.â€
Quoting Dr. Claud Andersonâ€™s the author of, â€œPowernomics,â€ Brown said, â€œHe states that $500 million is taken in by the black church each Sunday, and a lion share of those funds are placed in majority-owned financial institutions,â€ said Brown during WVONâ€™s Bob Shaw show produced and hosted by Chinta Strausberg.
â€œAfter being in the banking and financing business for more than 30-years, I would like to see a greater relationship established between black-owned faith-based institutions and black-owned and operated financial institutions.â€
According to Brown, in the early 1900 there appeared to be a greater relationship between the two especially during the post Great Depression era when blacks were forced to do business with one another.
â€œThe Defender newspaper would promote the North, particularly Chicago, as being the promised land of opportunity. More and more people from the South migrated North during the Great Migration and populated in the Bronzeville community as we know it today.â€
Back then; Brown said it was called the Black Metropolis. â€œIt was a time that signified a black economy established as a result of blacks doing business with one another.â€ â€œWe had black insurance companies that put their money in black banks. We had small black businesses, tailors, shoe smiths who put their money in black financial institutions.
â€œAt that time, white banks did not want our money. The churches were included in that group that put funds in black banks,â€ he said. Brown, who began his career at the Illinois Federal Service, which is the oldest black-owned and operated financial institution in Chicago, said, â€œOn Sundayâ€™s I would regularly see people like Rev. Clay Evans and Bishop Louis Ford who had accounts where I worked.â€
While initially white banks did not want to do business with blacks, Brown said, â€œIt was discovered (by white banks) that these black churches represented a lot of wealth and opportunity for majority-owned institutions and they began courting the black preachers. They would have faith based departments that would roll out the red carpet for them and treat the pastors as if they were kings,â€œ Brown said.
â€œCoupled by our leadership not necessarily putting banks at the forefront of our economic plight, we got written out of the equation to liberate African Americans to a greater degree. We can achieve some degrees of success dealing with any financial institution, but if we want to be liberated, we have to understand the value of saving in our own communities,â€ said Brown.
Referring to many activists who talk about the value of buy black campaign, Brown added, â€œVery rarely do we make the strong point about saving black.â€
According to Brown, at one time in Chicago there were seven black-owned banks. â€œWe had a pretty rich history off of 35th and State Streetâ€¦the old Overton Building and in that building we had the first national bank named after Frederick Douglas. On State Street at the other end of the corner was Binga State Bank.â€ Brown said those were the first state and national banks that were owned by African Americans.
â€œThey are no longer here today, but the Illinois Service Federal is still here.â€ Nationally, Brown said in 2009 there were 45 black banks. â€œNow, weâ€™re down to a mere 21. We only have two black banks left in Chicago out of the seven.â€ And they are Seaway National Bank and Illinois Service Federal Bank.
Representing his credit union, Brown said, â€œWeâ€™re a community development financial institution, and we are the first and only community development credit union owned and operated by African Americans serving the South Side of Chicago.â€
Brown said â€œboth Seaway and Illinois Service Federal are great financial institutions worthy of our support to remain solvent since many of our black-owned financial institutions have taken a hit because most of our clientele are African Americans who have been hit the hardest by the economy,â€ said Brown.
â€œMany African Americans have our wealth in our homes, but during the housing fallout they lost their homes to foreclosure and that hurt the banks that made the loans to them,â€ he explained.
â€œOften times black banks are criticized for not being competitive as our counterparts, but many of our counterparts, like a lot of the larger banks, got government bailout money enabling them to expand their technology platform which increased the competition amongst black financial institutions. They were able to capture a greater percentage of our market share because of convenience.
â€œWeâ€˜ve got to see the value of saving black, saving in the community. When you get loans from black banks or black credit unions, if you donâ€™t pay anybody else back, pay these institutions back because they represent an investment in our future. They represent our ability to invest in more start-up and existing business growth and expansion enabling our communities to create jobs.
â€œIn the absence of that as long as we continue without question putting our money into white banks, though we have that freedom of choice, it is not a scenario that will elevate our cause as a group. It is like planting seeds on barren soil,â€ Brown pointed out.
â€œEvery other nationality of people that I know have their money in their own financial institutions but us. â€œIf the white banks have 98 percent of the black saving dollars, we should not be holding our black institutions accountable for what they cannot do,â€ said Brown. â€œWe have to hold ourselves as individuals accountable for what we can do to invest in these institutions so they can better invest in us.â€
â€œI think that a more practical approach on the subject ought to be from the standpoint of how powerful we can become as a people by uniting our dollars. The truth isâ€¦we are only as strong as our dollars united.
Faith and finance represents the key ingredient to our economic empowerment. â€œWhen the churches see the value of saving in the community as part of stewardship, then what is preached on Sunday becomes what we practice on Monday, Tuesdayâ€¦. where we are using our money as good stewards to administer more services to the poor and disenfranchised.
â€œIt makes no sense to preach one thing and invest in the very opposite of that as soon as we walk out of those doors,â€ said Brown. Saying he is not criticizing churches that do that because they have the freedom of choice, Brown explained, â€œI would like to see members in every church hold the pastors and trustee boards more accountable to place their hard earned tithing dollars in depositories that have a track record of investing in people who look like them.â€
On faith and finance, Brown said, â€œThat is the whole key to revitalizing our communities becauseâ€¦doing the right thing, holding ourselves to a higher moral standard of behavior and trusting that weâ€™re doing what weâ€™re called to do as Christians to make life better for our fellow man. We canâ€™t have two separate conversations about faith and finances because they go hand-in-hand.
â€œIt is practicing what we preach. If we preach salvation, we also have to be about economic salvation,â€ said Brown. â€œIn the absence of that some people may go to heaven, but we want to give everybody an opportunity to not only go to heaven but to survive and thrive while we are here on earth. When we do that, then we are planting seeds in fertile soil and there is no stopping us. Itâ€™s better to be in a position to be pro-active rather than reactiveâ€¦.
â€œI believe we must hold the political and judicial system accountable for the justices that we are entitled to as American citizens but at the same time hold ourselves to a higher degree of economic accountability by how and where we save. To save black, saves blacks. If you want to save black, then save black.
â€œIf you donâ€™t want to put all of your money in a black financial institution, you donâ€™t have to,â€ said Brown. â€œYou can just plant some seeds into it. Put some funds there and see if we can service your loan needs first,â€ he said. â€œThat is how financial institutions stay in business. We take funds in for deposits as financial intermediaries and we lend those funds to people to buy homes, cars, start businessesâ€¦save money for a rainy dayâ€¦for retirementâ€¦.â€
When asked what can he offer the ministers, Brown said, â€œI can offer them a vehicle for change. I would like the pastors to consider another alterative to how they are currently dealing with their banking needs in an effort to transform our communities into areas of safety and stability rather than ones of poverty and crime. If we want different results, we have to do something differently.â€
Brown said the credit union is mission based. â€œOur mission is to economically empower our members; so if churches are our members, it is our mission to empower them and the people they serve. We offer traditional and non-traditional products, services, and programs that have been strategically designed to create pathways to prosperity.
â€œWe offer financial education classes, one-on-one credit and housing counseling, low interest rate loans for home, business, auto, debt consolidation and more. We have so much to offer. I understand that we currently cannot be equally competitive as our banking counterparts in the area of technology and convenience because they make it so easy to bank with them.
â€œHowever, we have to go through growing pains to get to where the larger banks are, and we cannot do that by ourselves. We were established to serve the same people the churches serve. Churches save souls, we save money. Weâ€™re both in the saving business and must work more closely together to save more people. We have innovative product lines that help people get out of debt and build wealth.
â€œFor example, we have these wonderful faith based development accounts. We are the only financial institution on the planet that has them,â€ Brown said explaining he designed them. â€œIt is an account where churches can put money into the credit union and they will serve as a securitized loan fund for members of their congregation who may need some financial assistance rather than give them money out of the benevolent fund to assist these families.
â€œThey can refer them to the credit union to see if they qualify for a loan on their own. If they donâ€™t, the church can back that loan from their account.
â€œThe beauty of this account is that the family gets what they need to remedy their problemâ€¦. As they pay the loan back, the payments are reported to the credit bureau under the name of the church member and it helps their credit score to go up. It also helps the church grow its account balance for development purposes.â€
Brown said they also provide the borrowers with counseling on managing their finances and can also act as a resource to the church itself in securing financing. â€œItâ€™s all about leveraging resources before they make it to the mainstream economy,â€ said Brown.
â€œRight now, we (many of our churches, unknowingly) take our money directly to the mainstream economy before those resources can be leveraged to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods where we live, work and worshipâ€ said Brown.
â€œItâ€™s really commonsenseâ€¦.â€ Brown said his credit union also offers a â€œWealth and Wellnessâ€ program, which is a community health incentive program that helps people increase their wealth while improving their health. â€œWe have combined financial education with healthcare education. To enroll in the program, a person opens up a Healthcare Investment account which pays a person monetary incentives for engaging in activities that improve their health.â€
â€œAn ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; so early detection means that a person should at least go to the doctor every year.â€ The credit union will pay them for getting an annual physical examination. Bring back proof that you have seen the doctor and we will credit your account $10.00.â€
On obesity, Brown said, â€œThere is this correlation between poor health and poverty. We want to combat that by improving wealth and health. There are over 77 million people in this country who are obese and there is a higher concentration of obesity in the African American communities. If a person loses weight, we will pay them $1 per pound up to 50 pounds over a six-month period.â€
Brown said if their blood pressure is high and it is lowered within three months their account will be credited $5.00. If they go on a health-related walk or run, they will be given a monetary incentive of $5 per event. â€œIf we can increase our funding for these incentives, then we can pay people more.
â€œ With health care reform in this country having a greater focus on prevention, we ought to be able to tap into more resources to keep people healthy,â€ he said. â€œWe want to reduce the number of chronic illnesses that are literally killing our community. Many people who did not have health care insurance before and who may not be enrolled in an employee incentive program on their job can now reap the health and wealth building benefits from this program.â€
According to Brown, employers who have fewer than 50 employees are not required to offer health benefits. Many small businesses have even discontinued health insurance coverage encouraging employees to enroll in outside programs.
â€œKeeping a person healthy on the job improves productivity. It reduces the insurance expense on that company if the person gets sickâ€¦..â€ â€œThis program is for everybody in the community who doesnâ€™t have the luxury of having an employee incentive program on your job.
â€œThrough health awareness and money management, we teach people how to save money by adopting a healthier lifestyle while rewarding them to stay healthy,â€ said Brown. â€œWeâ€™re the only ones in the country who offers this. I know because I designed it. â€œWe want to raise more money so we can increase those incentives.
â€œWe actually care about the people we serve because we are the same people; whereas banks are profit-driven. They donâ€™t necessarily care about saving lives as much as making a profit, but we are mission-driven truly in the saving business. We want to save lives, save money, and save communitiesâ€¦.
â€œUntil we alleviate poverty, weâ€™re going to continue to have a whole lot of ill-nourished people in low income crime infested areasâ€¦.So let us work together to build a better future for our children through faith and financeâ€¦buying black, saving black and with the help of God, building black,â€ Brown told this reporter.
â€œIâ€™d like to compliment the black churches for being a strong anchor in the community by instilling a sense of strong morality and good Christian values,â€ said Brown.
Mr. Brown can be reached at: 773.548.5500 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The credit unions website is: www.SouthSideCommunityFCU.org. Hours of Operation are: Monday and Wednesday 9:00 a.m. â€“ 5:00 p.m. Friday 10:00 a.m. â€“ 6:00 p.m. Saturday 10:00 a.m. â€“ 2:00 p.m. Closed: Tuesday and Thursday.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.