“It’s something that could ultimately change the landscape in America because black people could get loans in their own community without paying too much money or just getting turned down,” Reverend Ira Acree said.
Michelle Collins, a former community development banker who was involved in the effort, said Great Lakes Credit Union is a “great partner” that aligns with the Leaders Network’s mission and vision. Earlier this year, Collins said the group of religious leaders was in talks with larger credit unions interested in working with the group.
The two groups have signed a memorandum of understanding – the first step – to enter into a partnership that will allow the Leaders Network to open a credit union branch on the West Side after raising funds for about a year.
“The real big advantage is that without a partner like Great Lakes, we would have to start from scratch,” Collins said. “With this partnership, we could immediately start operating when we consummate the partnership.”
Acree said a possible location for a branch is in the Soul City Corridor, potentially at the Sankofa Cultural and Commercial Center which is operated by businessman Malcolm Crawford.
“It’s not a done deal, but that’s what I would like,” he said, adding that the Leaders Network met with Crawford, who heads the Austin African American Business Networking Association, who, with his team, made a “great presentation” on the potential location.
“Hopefully we’ll get a nice Christmas present…to have a branch in the Sankofa community,” Acree said.
Collins agreed that the Leaders Network’s goal was to reach a definitive agreement by the end of this year, allowing the credit union to start virtual operations, providing West Side residents and business owners financial services and financial knowledge. The brick-and-mortar branch could take longer to open, she said.
“If we have the staff, we could start opening accounts and online banking,” Collins said.
Acree said the Leaders Network is always looking for donations, which will help fund the costs associated with opening the credit union, such as licensing, fees, marketing and outreach. So far, $300,000 has been raised.
“I can’t wait for this to show up, it’s definitely one of the biggest things I’ve ever been a part of,” Acree said. “We’re so close, and I’m so hopeful because I think this could eventually be a national model. If it’s happening in Chicago, why can’t it happen in Detroit, St. Louis and in other cities?
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