Friday, July 7, 2017


It’s Economic Empowerment Day --“We’re here to cash a check!”

Students at Chicago's Ariel Community Academy are breaking an historic cycle by learning to earn.

By Eric Stradford, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired

AMWS, July 8, 2017, Atlanta – It’s Black Economic Empowerment Day in Georgia, a moment to reflect on past efforts and chart an inclusive course toward the future for historically disadvantaged Americans.  Here and across the United States, new models for economic inclusion are emerging to make business as usual a practice of the past.

Cynthia Day, President and CEO, is the first woman to hold the post and the chief steward for the publicly traded Citizens Bancshares Corp (CZBS).  Day follows a lineage dating back to its founder Heman Perry and it’s first president Henry C. Dugas.   Perry and four other partners (collectively known as the"Fervent Five") formed Citizens Trust Bank after Perry attempted to be fitted for a pair of socks at a white-owned store and was refused.

The birth of Citizens Trust Bank on August 16, 1921 signaled an audacity of hope after some 300 African Americans lost life and livelihood in Tulsa, OK on Black Wall Street just months earlier. 

Youth Achievers USA Institute, a 501c3 public charity is banking on the shared history of financial institutions such as Atlanta’s Citizens Trust and Chicago’s Ariel Investments to join forces in building on the future by restoring generations of trust.

In Atlanta, students learn to make wise financial decisions with Financial Independence Training.  The program includes practical lessons on the importance of saving, even small amounts, regularly by budgeting as a means of achieving financial goals; basic investments; and how to navigate electronic banking, including ATMs, debit/check cards, chip-enabled cards, online banking, online bill paying, mobile banking, and mobile text banking correctly and safely.

Ariel Community Academy (ACA), a public school located on the south side of Chicago, offers classes from kindergarten through eighth grade serving 518 students and their families. Ninety-eight percent of the student body is African-American and over 85 percent of the students receive subsidized lunches. ACA promotes a model community school — where the doors are always open; where teachers, parents and members of the community work in partnership to provide world-class educational opportunities and where financial literacy is not just taught but practiced.

Youth Achievers USA Institute hopes to engage youth in Atlanta, Chicago and other markets as economic beneficiaries to a financial trust maintained at Ariel Investments and accessed through partnering financial institutions. Free on-line FDIC Money Smart Financial Literacy promotes LEARN-2-EARN opportunities where emerging entrepreneurs engage caring adults as equity stakeholders in the “whole village.”

Enterprises such as Citizens Trust have served African-American communities for the past 125 years. The crucial role these banks play in the economy is evidenced by their sustained presence. Community development banks have 67 percent of all their branches in economically disadvantaged communities, compared to 17 percent for the overall banking sector. More than that, nearly $46 of every $100 that community development banks lend goes to borrowers in economically distressed communities, compared to about 16 percent for the overall banking industry, according to information collected under the Federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

Opening a savings and checking account may very well require perseverance as well as purse.  A confident and seemingly competent Aina Ince met an optimistic Stephanie A. Stradford at the Cascade Avenue Branch of Citizens Trust Bank.  Mrs. Stradford, CEO of YouthUSA, was there in support of a “Bank-In” launched by members of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, Inc. in partnership with other community leaders and organizations.

Stradford first landed in Atlanta back in 1998 as Generation Xers and Millennials called for a “God-Centered” Million Youth Movement.   Twenty years after she first presented Money-n-the-Bank in Georgia, the Chief Executive Officer for Youth Achievers USA Institute, found herself at destiny’s doorstep, challenged by remnant factions of a “Beloved Community” to “cash a check.”  Stradford meets with clergy and community leaders throughout the six state Atlanta Federal Reserve Region, sharing insights on helping American youth from low income families be less poor.

Community leaders connecting through Greenlight Think Tank and similar initiatives are constantly reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s thought-provoking title, “Where do we go from here?  The National Urban League, for the last 41 years has published one of the most highly-anticipated benchmarks and sources for thought leadership around racial equality in America across economics, employment, education, health, housing, criminal justice and civic participation.

The State of Black America® includes the National Equality Index™, a quantitative tool for tracking racial equality in America.  Now in its 13th edition of the Black-White Index, the report is in its eighth edition of the Hispanic-White Index.  However, one truth remains about economic equality.  It begins with intentional community engagement that results in increased Money-n-the-Bank.