A few weekends ago, I finally did something I told myself I was going to do for the longest: I put my entire savings in a Black-owned bank, and it felt awesome. On a personal level, it felt great to have moved my savings away from my day-to-day cash; it means those funds are no longer easily accessible to me. Let’s face it… saving money can be hard, and being able to transfer supplemental “savings” in a matter of two clicks is counter-productive. If living in New York City these past five years has taught me anything, it’s that. Along the way, I’ve found myself all the way in AND out of credit card debt, so finally building an adult-sized “rainy months” fund has given me a liberating sense of financial security. But all of that is for another post.
On a more macro level, banking Black feels even better given my understanding of how banks actually work within communities. It’s important to support black businesses in general, but it’s paramount when it comes to banking, given that the role of a bank in any community is to be a recycler. Black banks have had a hard time attracting Black dollars over the years, partly because too many of us do not understand the basic function of banks. To put it simply, banks take deposits from customers and turn around and use that money to make loans to other customers. In the case of black-owned banks, these loans can potentially provide economic opportunity to people in our community who may not have otherwise been given a chance by large majority-owned institutions; opportunities such as having their business ventures funded or being able to purchase a home. When the banker at Carver Federal Savings Bank explained their mission to me, and how my deposit will help advance that cause, I really felt like I was doing my part. It’s crucial that we consciously make deposits to these institutions, because if we don’t, who else will? And if the major financial institutions won’t take risk on our people/ ideas, who else can we look to? It is solely up to us to use these resources to our benefit, or we risk seeing more of these crucial institutions tragically disappear.
Individually, the gesture is symbolic - but collectively, it’s powerful.
We need to make banking Black the “cool” thing to do. I remember last summer after the successive police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, rappers Killer Mike & T.I., among other influential hip-hop figures, created a campaign imploring folks to “take our warfare to financial institutions” rather than to the streets. Their #BankBlack campaign was seeing some success and I remember thinking how incredible it was to see people rally around such a practical cause. Sadly, as much as my heart was warmed by this, I did not actually take any action myself. Admittedly, my savings at the time were not where I wanted them to be, and I used that as an excuse to procrastinate. I implore you not to make that same mistake, because no matter the dollar amount, the feeling of consciously dictating where your dollars go is truly empowering. As with anything, getting started is the hardest part. Go ahead and open that account and plant the seed, no matter where you are in your personal savings plan. Individually, the gesture is symbolic — but collectively, it’s powerful.
Even outside of banking, Black folks should make an effort to support our own more often. Collectively, we have ~$1.2 trillion in annual buying power. Let that sink in: one point two TRILLION. For context, that figure rivals the gross domestic product of countries such as Australia and Spain. With ALL of this economic power we generate every year, how long do you think a dollar stays in our community on average? A couple weeks? Days? Apparently, this figure is only six hours, according to some studies. Whether this claim can be substantiated or not, it is tremendously sad, but it’s also totally within our control. All of this is probably also for another post, so for now, please check out this list of 21 black-owned banks in the U.S. to choose from, and hopefully you find a convenient-enough institution worthy of your hard-earned coin. Together, we can unlock our full economic potential. That’s when the real change will start.
This post was originally published on Grits & Gospel.