Thursday, June 9, 2016

Where did the black banks go?

(Part 1 of a two-part series)
By Patrice Gaines, Urban News Service
(750 words)

America has half as many black-owned banks as existed 15 years ago.
“People assume [black bankers] don’t know what they are doing,” said Alden McDonald, CEO of New Orleans-based Liberty Bank and Trust. “Put yourself in these shoes: We are located in communities in which all of the large banks have moved out of because it’s not profitable for them to do business there.”

The number of black-owned banks fell 54 percent between 2001 and 2016, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. 

iberty Bank and Trust CEO Alden McDonald cuts the ribbon at Liberty Bank Sci Academy Senior Science Lab in New Orleans.

Photo: Liberty Bank Facebook page 

Historically, these banks have stimulated and revitalized their communities while also financing customers whom major banks have shunned. 

“From 1888 to 1934, African-Americans owned more than 130 banks in the U.S., and the number of black-owned businesses rose from 4,000 to 50,000,” McDonald said at a January ceremony in which the U.S. Treasury Department named an annex the ”Freedman’s Bank building” after the bank Congress incorporated to help “freed” blacks transition from slavery.

Integration ended that economic boom. Black business districts disappeared as black consumers spent their dollars elsewhere. Many black banks, the institutions that extended loans for start-ups and renovations, disappeared as well.

Today, black banks are struggling to overcome the ripple effects of the Great Recession, in which they suffered more than larger banks. And only a few black banks qualified for the federal bailouts that major financial institutions gleaned.

“Even though we are now hearing some good news,” FDIC chairman Martin J. Gruenberg said to black bankers in 2014, “we know that in many of the communities you serve, the pace of recovery is lagging.” 

Exactly why these banks have disappeared is complex, but black bankers say the cost of doing business, the financial instability of their communities and counterproductive federal policies have created overwhelming challenges.

While the number of black-owned banks plunged from 48 to 22 over the last 15 years, Hispanic banks grew from 31 to 39, such Asian institutions from 69 to 78, and Native American ones from 14 to 18, the FDIC reports. Overall, the number of non-minority banks dropped 37 percent, from 2001 to 2016 — 9,549 to 6,020. 

“It was very unfortunate that major financial institutions — big banks — received a large portion of the TARP money when institutions like Capitol Bank received none or very little,” said George Andrews, former CEO of Capitol Bank & Trust in Atlanta, which closed in February 2015. “To add insult to injury, big banks received TARP money after they played a large part in creating the downturn in the economy with the unscrupulous lending practices they engaged in.”

The Troubled Asset Relief Program, nicknamed TARP, empowered Washington to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen that sector. Few black banks qualified for these funds.

A Harvard Kennedy School study found last year that smaller banks also lost substantial market share after 2010’s Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, designed to prevent the collapse of major financial institutions. Meanwhile, larger banks dramatically increased their market share.

Dodd-Frank adds compliance costs to black bankers’ day-to-day operations, they say.

“But I would say it’s the overall impact of the economy that has hurt black banks most,” said Michael A. Grant of the National Bankers Association.

Black bankers also say some federal policies have created an environment in which black banks are losing business to larger, more stable institutions.

Grant cites the Treasury Department’s New Markets Tax Credits program. It has given tax credits as incentives to invest in underserved neighborhoods since 2000. But larger banks swoop in, make investments, then receive tax credits, black bankers say. Meanwhile, their own applications get rejected, never mind their service to poor communities.

Some $3.5 billion in New Markets Tax Credits were allocated to 76 entities across America, Black Enterprise reported last July, but “no funds were awarded to the nation’s minority banks.”

If these tax credits were issued “in a more fair and equitable way, it would cause millions of dollars to flow to these [black] banks,” Grant said.

“Meanwhile, my expenses are twice as much because I have to do more counseling to my borrower,” said a frustrated McDonald of Liberty Bank. “I may have to have guard service because I am in a high crime area. My deposits are much smaller.

“We have tried speaking to everybody we could, but no policy changes have been made. I don’t want lip service and talk about I’m doing a good job. Help me do a better job and I can help twice as many people.”


Monday, May 2, 2016

Communicating during Crises

Over the past few years, we’ve seen several crises capture international headlines, which tugged on the heartstrings of ordinary people like you and me. Here are a few you might instantly recall: The Central American drought, West Africa Ebola outbreak, Nepal earthquake, Syrian refugee crisis, countless airplane crashes and disappearances, violent mass shootings, terrorists attacks, and the list goes on. I find it tiring and emotionally draining to watch it all.  As we recover from one world crisis, it seems as if another hits, and sometimes greater than the last. As a guardian over your company’s brand and also your own professional and personal brand, knowing which issues to respond to and how can be draining as well. Being the first to break a news story may not be in your company’s best interest regarding crises. However, responding with the appropriate words and actions is.  In this column, I provide you with a few quick tips that will help mobilize you to swift and effective action. 

The most important thing to remember is that you must operate from a process during any crises scenario. Process is a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular goal.  Your goal during any crisis management scenario is to minimize risk for your company and brand.

  1. Stay ready - Keep a real TV and a social channel tuned to the national and international news. In the days of regular old TV, the public affairs office of any company was normally the meeting place to hear news updates. Today’s meeting place is social media, various websites of news agencies, and even cell-phone alerts through news apps.  Therefore, your customers may hear news even before you do. By keeping your dials set to information sources, you gain the extra time needed activate your communication process for crises.
  2. Check your supply chain for products & services map:  Crises may not hit you, but what about your partners, vendors and suppliers? Mapping out the industries of your vendors and suppliers will uncover any risks you might experience in the event of crises. Risks might include product delays due to logistics; price increases due to lack of supply or the introduction of international trade barriers; or even new industry regulations. Unfortunately staff, executive leadership including board members, advisors or even contractors can also put your company and brand at risk. These ‘what-if’ analyses may never happen, but if they do then you’ll have a process in place to minimize risk.
  3. Launch internal communications - As soon as you know, let your staff know. Brief your entire staff as to what crisis has taken place, and reinforce process in your communication. Your process should always include when to notify direct points of contact for customer questions or press inquiries. Making sure staff knows what to say and do during any crisis is crucial.  It is better to have a primary point of contact for all press and public relations matters. Ensure that your plan includes opportunities for staff status updates. Doing so allows staff at all levels of the organizational structure to report any intelligence they may gain. Include in your process how staff should report their updates and to whom.
  4. Clear plan for external communication with executive leadership, including board members, advisors, and even legal council: What you authorize to be published for public consumption by your company is key to how the public will perceive your response. A widely accepted rule is to communicate early and often. Swift, risk appropriate action is only possible when you have a vetted process in place, and one that has been tested in a few scenarios.  Some crises may require you to communicate “something” within an hour of learning what’s happening, and other crises may provide for at least 24 hours. The longer you take to respond, the worse crises grow. 
  5. Respond. If a crisis is central to your mission, whether or not your brand is directly involved, respond. Your response shows your community that you are tuned in to current events that may affect them, and that you’re watching the scenario to determine how and when to support those directly impacted. If you do make a promise to respond, know your operations and true capabilities first. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of any major response campaign but your own assets will be on the line for delivering on any promises.  Consider including the following in your crisis response a brief synopsis of what happened, the impact of the scenario, your company’s sincere concern about the scenario, an admission of wrong-doing if your company is at fault, a promise on how your company will attempt to restore normalcy, and a second promise to ensure transparency during the entire communication process.   
  6. Do what you promised:  Your customers and entire business community will be watching to see that you keep your promise, and they may even make business decisions based on the promises your company says it will make. This is your opportunity to under promise and over deliver. 
  7. Monitor, monitor, monitor: Keep an ear and eye out for all things press and customer relations regarding your brand. Whatever you promise may go viral. Set up media alerts to track local national and international press outlets. Make sure your staff and contractors are listening also. Stay connected to online forums, and any online and printed news and content generating agencies. 
  8. Communicate internally and externally how you kept your promise: Once the promise has been made, and is fully in action, communicate it. Once the promise has been fully delivered, communicate that. Once the promise has been out and is circulating throughout any communities impacted, communicate that. If the promise was not effective, communicate that more is needed to restore normalcy to any situations, and that your company will do more until the situation is cured. 
  9. Document the experience: Make sure the entire scenario and flow of how solutions were put in place gets documented. If there were any hiccups, allow your documentation to inform the communication process.  
  10. Track all crises: Once a crisis has ended, keep tracking the impact of it, and your promises made, and how the community feels about what your company did to restore normalcy. Maintain intelligence on all past, present and potential threats to your company and brand. A statement you should always be prepared to make is that “We will continue to monitor the situation.”


Akia (Garnett) Ashmond Brew

Monday, April 18, 2016

Top Flight Foundation: Building Community Wealth From Within

An Interview with James Staton, Jr., co-founder

Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how did you end up at the Top Flight Foundation?

A. I was born, raised, and educated in the city of Duquesne which is about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am one of nine children, the son of sharecroppers. My parents were from North Carolina. My father moved to Pittsburgh where he found work as a steelworker. They provided a lovely, loving environment that fostered a belief in us that we could accomplish our goals and dreams in life.

My parents are the most successful people that I've ever met in life and they accomplish all of their goals and dreams despite the harsh economic environment that prevented them are creating wealth for their families. In this hostile environment that maintained a constant assault upon their dignity as human beings, they carried themselves in a dignified manner that elevated their existence and set an example for their children. Be the best in anything that you choose to do. Always expect excellence from yourself. Never accept anything less than excellence from yourself. They taught us how to succeed despite the obstacles.

I worked for 23 years for other people, in industries like automotive, steel, construction, printing manufacturing, telecommunications and material handling. In 1990 I purchase controlling interest in a small typewriter repair business name Debriants Office Services Inc. and built it into an award winning organization.

We covered eight states providing Tier One service to some of our nation's largest banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America and a number of regional banks such as BB&T, First Citizens, in addition to city, county and other government agencies, plus hospitals, colleges, universities. Additionally, we served our clients for over 25 years.

In 1992, I join the Carolinas Minority Supplier Development Council and became a regional Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee (MBEIC) chairperson, then rose to national chairman. I met Lionel Spearman in 1995. He would become my vice chair on the Carolinas MBEIC, and then Rules Committee chair while I was national chair. While attending the Tuck School of Business minority executive program, I met Steve Bailey. He would become my first vice chair on the national MBEIC.

It was through our shared experiences on these committees that we observe the blind spots in the diversity industry. This gave birth to the Top Flight Foundation, where we felt we could provide a holistic approach to connecting the silos of good work being done and through a collaboration of effort provide the overall needs to multicultural communities that were not being addressed.

Q. Explain what the Top Flight Foundation is and if the current economic situation helps or hurts your organization.

A. Top Flight Foundation develops, educates, empowers, nurtures and vets business who in turn empower other businesses and their communities facilitating excellence and community prosperity.

Top Flight Foundation will be regarded as the preeminent authority and resource for the development of world class socially-responsible and culturally-relevant communities.

The current economic situation helps our business as the diverse community has not been able to speak to the return on investment to the corporate world. We validate established multicultural businesses that are able to define their value proposition, then execute the plan to increase productivity, reduce costs and improve efficiencies for their corporate clients.

Reaching the $2 million milestone provides the foundation for which we can build companies to tens, hundreds of millions of dollars, if not beyond. This juggernaut in turn provides a sustainable pipeline of vendors that the corporations can rely on. It also provides jobs that stabilize communities, creating wealth for the owners of the business which will create more jobs, which in turn provides more customers for the corporations, who provide shareholder dividends, while everyone pays taxes, which provides the services for healthy communities. Everybody wins! 

Q. Let’s talk about the idea of building a community. Where do we start and how do we utilize and grow our resources to improve our current situations?

A. Once again we take a page from history. There have been successful self-contained black communities in the past. For instance, Central Park was once a thriving black community made up of doctors, lawyers, hospital, libraries, and schools. This was an oasis in the middle of an economic desert for black people.

Having tier one multicultural suppliers look to the suppliers from their communities first. Sourcing goods services and supplies from tier two , tier three, tier four.  Tier dollars would stay in the multicultural communities. This would build a pipeline of jobs which create (home ownership) wealth which create sustainable communities, creating a middle-class, which is the future of America. By 2040s, according to the census bureau the multicultural population will be the majority. We can't afford to have a broke middle-class, this is a national imperative.

Q. Creating half a million new jobs in 5 years is ambitious. Why is half a million an obtainable goal?

A. It's been estimated that $1.2 trillion passes through the hands of the black community alone. If we redirected just $1 billion we could create 50,000, 2 million dollar a year businesses. Each would have an average of 10 employees per business thereby creating 500,000 jobs in the community. When you include the Hispanic community, Asian community, white women community, Native American communities, and all other multicultural communities, our goals are really quite modest.

I say five years because most of the sand is out of my hourglass :-) Our objective is to build something, a legacy if you will, that lives beyond us. Our foundation will continue to give to the communities from which we come from. The Top Flight Foundation founding partners have create partnerships with people younger than us, smarter than us, with more energy than us, that will ensure sustainability of this foundation and that we will meet its mission long after we're gone.

Q. One of your key goals is to grow 50,000 minority owned small businesses to million dollar corporations with little to no debt. How is this possible?

A. We can do this by taking a page from history. There has always been a black middle class in this country. There were even millionaires in the deep South at the height of slavery. They were entrepreneurs. They self-financed; they did business with each other; they passed along knowledge to each other; they shared successes with the each other. They mentored the next generation beginning with their family and then others of like mind to ensure they had a pipeline of talent to carry on the family business. They created wealth, generational wealth, which gave them freedom. They taught their children the rules of capitalism so that they got to the point that money worked for them instead of them working for the money. Economic power made them truly independent as they were shut out of the mainstream. In A capitalistic system you must have capital in order to have a seat at the table. Those who sit at the table make the rules that the rest of us have to live by.

Q. Top Flight’s upcoming Cradle to Wealth Solutions Summit is set to begin later this month in San Diego, CA. What is your overall goal with the summit?

A. The San Diego Summit, which is being done in cooperation with the Council for Supplier Diversity, is the foundation cornerstone on which we erect our national foundation. These events are not one and done, they are annual events. We are establishing business development roundtables, which are composed of key local stakeholders. Leaders from the community will be our boots on the ground. We will implement our program in each community as we connect the silos that are doing good work there.

Q. After San Diego, your summit is set to expand to other areas in the country. What are the key states and demographics you’re hoping to positively influence along the way.

A. We embrace all multicultural communities. We are have partnerships in Columbia, SC; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Atlanta, GA; Louisville, KY; Indianapolis, IN; Henderson, NV; Pittsburgh, PA; Akron, OH; Columbus, OH; Los Angeles, CA; Seattle, WA; and Toronto, Canada. 

Q. Where do you see the status of minority owned businesses in 5 to 10 years with the help of organizations like the Top Flight Foundation?

A. We can keep 10% of the 1.2 Trillion dollars in our communities for six days instead of the current six hours. Having supplier base participation equal the incoming retail dollars derived from our communities.

Learn more about the Top Flight Foundation and the Cradle to Wealth Solutions Summits at

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Was it Civil Rights or a Movement?

By Avis Thomas-Lester, Urban News Service

They fought for integration, equal education and voter registration.

There were Freedom Rides, a march on Washington and mayhem on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

There were sit-ins, brutal attacks and stands against violence. 

In the end, freedom was achieved – at least in part.

“There is no question that the Civil Rights Movement was a defining time in American history …” said Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League. “It significantly changed the landscape of the country.”

It has been chronicled in countless news stories and books. Most people who participated, watched it unfold, or learned about it later agree that it was the seminal protest crusade in U.S. history. 
But they disagree on when it started, when it ended and how it should be identified: Was it the civil rights movement or the Civil Rights Movement?

Sixty years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the story of the Civil Rights Movement still is being written, historians and activists say. Some consider it a historic era. They believe that referring to the movement informally or generally – in the lowercase – minimizes its importance. One-hundred years from now, “Civil Rights Movement” will indicate that something monumental happened.

But others say the movement was a series of events that started when enslaved people began to run away — soon after the first ships delivered their human cargo  — and the abolitionists demanded their freedom, said Library of Congress historian Adrienne Cannon.

“The thinking is that it’s a civil rights struggle, and that it extends over a period of centuries and has different phases to it,” Cannon said. “That’s much different from the more standard chronological paradigm.”

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, agreed. “One of the challenges with capitalizing it is determining when it began and ended,” Muhammad said. “Historians don’t agree on that. The question then becomes: When was the Civil Rights Movement?”

Dorie Ladner, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member who was with Medgar Evers just hours before his assassination in Mississippi in 1963, said invoking the movement informally trivializes the struggle.

“It doesn’t matter when you think it started – with the Dred Scott decision in 1857, when the Supreme Court decided that a black person wasn’t a whole person, or with the court’s decision in the Brown school desegregation case in 1954 — it should be referred to with capital letters,” said Ladner, of Washington, D.C.

University of California, Riverside history professor V.P. Franklin, editor of the “Journal of African American History,” said he and the Journal use the formal reference. The Journal was founded by black historian Carter G. Woodson in 1915.

Franklin said the movement spanned from the Brown case to the founding of the Black Panther Party in 1966, and was characterized by related “social, political and cultural activities.”

“There’s an evolution that goes from events to campaigns to a movement,” Franklin said. “A movement, such as the Civil Rights Movement, is an historic era, the same as the Progressive Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement.”

Many publications and websites geared to black audiences, such as Black Enterprise and Ebony, follow the Journal’s example. Not so, for many mainstream publications. 

The Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford said via email that the news agency, the style guide for many news organizations, follows Webster’s example.

Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski said the company “make(s) every attempt to reflect actual current usage.”

“A quick check on the phrase ‘civil rights movement’ shows that lower-case styling is overwhelmingly preferred by newspapers and magazines including the AP, The New York Times … the Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Guardian,” he said.

Professor Franklin said historians ultimately will decide how to record the Civil Rights Movement. He said the mainstream media often are slow to update references to blacks.

“A lot of publications have changed it … It’s a matter of pointing out to them that using the lowercase is outdated and … denigrating,” he said. “It’s a matter of putting pressure on them to adopt it …”

Capital Press Club President Barbara Arnwine, the former head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said the magnitude of the Civil Rights Movement has yet to be measured.

“Show me another era that had the same impact that this one had,” she said. “They were responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. None of those accomplishments would have occurred had it not been for that movement.” 


Wednesday, February 24, 2016


By Ronda Racha Penrice, Urban News Service

There’s nothing new about #OscarsSoWhite. Once upon a time, Hollywood’s diversity battle stretched as far as The White House.

For the second year in a row, there are no people of color nominated for Oscars in any acting category. In protest, a social-media storm erupted, as did a black-celebrity-endorsed boycott.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — led by Cheryl Boone Isaacs, its first African-American president — responded with plans to diversify the Oscar-bestowing organization’s membership by 2020. 

This self-correction is a departure from March 1969 when Clifford Alexander, President Lyndon Johnson’s head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), led hearings on Hollywood’s hiring practices. 

Back then, Sidney Poitier was a rare bright spot. With the 1963 film Lilies of the Field, he became the first black performer to win the Best Actor Oscar. And, in 1967, he starred in three major films: To Sir, with Love and multiple-Oscar nominees In the Heat of the Night and the interracial love story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

TV anomalies at the time included Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek (1966–1969) and Diahann Carroll starring as a widowed nurse raising her son in Julia (1968-1971). 

Behind the scenes, people of color were scarce and the film industry, Alexander recalls, barely noticed.

“People who testified on behalf of the industry really didn’t quite seem to get the point that it was important in the production of a product or in the depiction of people that it be reflective of some sense of what the real world was like” he says.

“The kinds of artificial and direct barriers that they put up were extraordinary,” says Alexander, who later became the first black Secretary of the Army. “At least, I think, what our hearings did was to point those out. We didn’t have any enforcement power, but we recommended that the Justice Department bring ‘pattern and practice of employment discrimination’ suits against the industry.
“Unfortunately, at that point, you had Richard Nixon coming in as president and he did nothing about it. But our hearings did cause the embarrassment, which is a good factor sometimes, of the industry and therefore many of the positions were at least opened up for the first time.”

Under a federal mandate, studios like Disney, Paramount and Universal — and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union — established job-training programs that were advertised through minority-oriented newspapers and radio stations between 1970 and 1977. However, these programs evaporated after Alexander’s departure.

Pioneering film publicist Rosalind “Roz” Stevenson, whose career spanned from 1982 to 2008, didn’t benefit directly from the EEOC’s actions, but recalls their positive impact.

“The Writers Guild had a program called The Open Door. There was a program for accountants,” Stevenson says, plus training for make-up artists, camera operators, costumers, assistant directors and more. 

Hollywood even scoured historically black colleges and universities for talent, says Stevenson, who is starting a documentary on behind-the-camera players, such as her hairstylist husband, Robert, a 16-year Academy member and Emmy winner; sound mixer Willie D. Burton, a two-time Oscar winner; and Cheryal Kearney, an Emmy winner and Hollywood’s first black set decorator.

Those possibilities encouraged the Compton, California, native who began as an actress. “Once I landed in the publicity department, I felt that was something I could do well and be really happy doing,” says Stevenson, “I learned that the studio had a program that would support me in becoming a publicist.”

As a senior publicist at Universal, Stevenson, one of Hollywood’s few high-ranking publicists of color, led national and local TV, radio publicity and African-American campaigns, including Jurassic Park, The Best Man, Erin Brockovich and The Hurricane, for which Denzel Washington received a Best Actor Oscar nomination. 

Through RSPR — her own PR firm targeting black audiences — Stevenson boosted Ray (which scored Jamie Foxx his Best Actor Oscar), American Gangster and The Pursuit of Happyness. In all, she publicized nearly 800 films, including the Rocky and James Bond franchises at MGM.

Despite these successes, critics warn there is no happy ending yet. 

“Hollywood is still run by white men,” says Dr. Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, home of industry scorecard The Hollywood Diversity Report. “So, basically, you have white men making decisions about what’s viable, what’s bankable, what we should spend our money on, and they surround themselves with other white men. So, you get this echo chamber and very little consideration of different perspectives when decisions are made.”

Until this reality changes, critics insist Hollywood will remain #OscarsSoWhite.


Photo: Clifford Alexander with Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson. Courtesy LBJ Library