A church helps members transfer money from big banks to a minority-owned credit union
on February 15, 2012
On Tuesday afternoon, a group of people crowded the side entrance of First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) in North Oakland. Some were there for the church’s feeding ministry, which offers hot meals to people within the community, and others were there for a panel discussion. But the real action was taking place just past the kitchen, inside the church’s crowded bookstore. There, on a large table filled with laptop computers, pamphlets and large boxes, a small wireless router kept flashing.
“Are we ready yet?” asked Reverend Harold Mayberry, the senior pastor at FAME as he paced the floor, anxious to get started. “Yes, we’re just hooking up the wireless Internet,” yelled a man who was setting up the computers. A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman carrying a black purse walked into the small room, sat down in a chair, looked straight ahead at the credit union representative who was on the other side of the computer, made eye contact, and said, “I want to open an account.”
This was the first of many account openings that would happen at FAME on Tuesday as the church participated in a bank “transfer day.” In conjunction with Occupy the Dream, a campaign for economic justice inspired by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., FAME asked people throughout the Oakland community to move at least $30 from a conventional banking institution to a minority-owned credit union, that did not want to be identified, in honor of what they called “Love Your Community Day.” Expecting from 50 to 100 people to participate, FAME brought a representative from a local credit union to the church, who sat in the bookstore and guided people through the process of opening an account.
“How are you doing?” asked Mayberry as he stood in front of the door to the bookstore as a people filed in. “I’m blessed,” said one lady as she sat down to open up her an account. “I’m glad that ya’ll came here and made it so convenient for us,” she said as she began to speak to a credit union representative.
Mayberry said the church went through a process to find the minority-owned bank or credit union that would be best for the community. The church asked people to recommend financial institutions to participate in the transfer day, and once the church had a list, they sent the small banks a questionnaire about their involvement in the local community, looking for an institution that was already making a difference in Oakland.
“We didn’t want to move money from one bad institution to another bad institution,” Mayberry said. “We were looking for an institution that is responsible and responsive to our community. We sent out a questionnaire, and one credit union responded.”
As the line to open accounts with the credit union grew, the members at FAME formed an impromptu waiting room outside the door, eager to show their support for the transfer day.
“This is very important, not just for the African American Church, but that we come together as people to do what’s fair for the people who fund this country,” said church member Deirdra Ward, 46, an Oakland resident. “That’s why I made it a point to stop at the bank to get some money to open this account.”
While many came out to support the minority-owned credit union, they also came because they want big banks to take notice of their dissatisfaction.
“I want to send to the big banks that, ‘They gotta do the right thing because we’re going to move our money somewhere else,’” said Ronald Dougherty, 67, of Antioch, also a member of the church. “Credit unions are more community based, and big banks are corporations.”
Although this attitude may sound familiar to those who have been following news of the Occupy Oakland protesters, many of the people who came out on Tuesday said they were not participating in Occupy Oakland. They’re just a part of the 99 percent, they said.
“To me, the idea is good, but the way they’re doing it isn’t working because it’s effecting the 99 percent,” said Dougherty. “If you want to protest, to go where the rich folks are. Every time they do something where the 99 percent community is, it comes out of our pockets.”
“I’m not a part of Occupy, but I’m an avid believer in the credit union system,” said Ward. According to Ward, transferring her money to a local credit union was nothing new to her. “I don’t have accounts in large banks, and I haven’t in the last year,” Ward said. “When the pastor mentioned it in church, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
As for the church, the pastor says the members are just trying to make a difference. “They’re not going to transfer money because the pastor asked them to; they’re doing it because they’re tired of being ignored,” Mayberry said.
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