This month, honor the contributions of African Americans to our nation, our communities, and the cooperative financial institutions that support them.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) sponsored the earliest predecessor of Black History Month in 1926, says History.com. But it wasn’t until 1976 that President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized February as a time to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
In the past 100 years, soldiers, activists and public figures, businessmen and women, entrepreneurs and inventors, celebrities, artists, and athletes of color have all shaped and bettered the world in countless ways.
African Americans have also been a critical pillar of the credit union model, pioneering, guiding, and teaching us what it means to be there financially for those who need it most.
In the 1930s, segregation, prejudice and Great Depression issues kept many blacks from getting a fair deal at established financial institutions. Instead, they looked to their communities and to each other for support, economic independence, and solidarity, establishing tenets of a community development movement and driving cooperative principles across boarders and boundaries.
Today, more than 400 talented individuals lead a larger network that spans 150 credit unions, five leagues and three countries in the African-American Credit Union Coalition. Through internships and mentoring, scholarships, committees, and conferences, the institution is fostering the next generation of cooperative talent.
In the last few years, the organization raised $1.4 million from credit unions across the country to help fund the inspiring monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C.
The statue itself stands as a testament to the unity demonstrated by financial cooperatives as they exist today, where all people are neighbors, universally capable and resourceful, and where services and opportunities are not offered according to skin color or race, but by need.
In the past, the movement was fractured and imperfect, forcing some vulnerable segments of society to fend for themselves. This month, credit unions leaders of all backgrounds and races should take a moment to acknowledge the progress that has been made, and the work that must continue to avoid the mistakes of the past.
In 2011, almost one in six Americans lived under the poverty line, according to Census Bureau data. While the underserved have many faces and backgrounds, their need is universal, and credit unions have the solution.