The Westside Leaders Network has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Great Lakes Credit Union to open a branch in Austin.
“This is something that could ultimately change the landscape in America because black people will be able to get loans in their own community without paying as much money or just getting rejected,” said Rev. Ira Akri, pastor of Greater St. John Bible. Church in Austin.
Michelle Collins, a former community development banker with roots in Austin and Oak Park, helped with this. She said the Great Lakes Credit Union is a “great partner” that aligns with the mission and vision of the Leadership Network. Earlier this year, Collins said a 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 West Side branch of the credit union after fundraising within 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 start working immediately when we complete the partnership.”
Akri said one possible location for the branch is in the Soul City corridor, potentially at the Sankofa cultural and business center, which is run by businessman Malcolm Crawford.
“It’s not a deal yet, but it’s what I would like,” he said, adding that leaders’ network representatives met with Crawford, who chairs the African American Business Networks Association in Austin, who, along with his team, gave an “amazing presentation” about the potential location.
“Hopefully we will have a nice Christmas present… the opening of a branch in Sankofa,” Akri said.
David Cherry, president of the Leaders Network, notes that approximately 80% of West Siders “are unbanked or underbanked. He adds: “There is a lot of distrust in financial institutions.”
As a result, many West Siders rely on currency exchange for day-to-day financial needs, but this comes at a cost with high interest rates and fees. The Leaders Network suggests that the West Side-focused credit union will allow residents to get auto loans and home loans at more reasonable rates. Local residents will be more willing to start or expand their business.
Cherry notes this initiative: “It fits in with the overall work that we are doing to support the community.
Collins said Leaders Network’s goal is to reach a definitive agreement by the end of this year, allowing the credit union to begin virtual operations offering West Side residents and business owners financial services and financial literacy. According to her, it may take longer to open a regular branch.
“If we have the staff, we can start opening accounts and online banking,” Collins said.
Akri said the leader network is still looking for donations to help cover the costs associated with opening a credit union, such as licenses, fees, marketing and outreach. So far, $300,000 has been raised.
“I can’t wait for it to show, it’s definitely one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of,” Akri said. “We are so close and I really hope so because I think it could become a national model. If it’s happening in Chicago, why can’t it be in Detroit, St. Louis, and other cities?”
To support Leaders Network public credit union, visit: https://givebutter.com/leaders-network-credit-union
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