Tuesday, April 26 saw the opening of the first Black-owned bank branch in Minnesota. First Independence Bank, which is headquartered in Detroit, held a grand opening ceremony at its new Minneapolis branch on University Avenue in Prospect Park.
About 150 community members, business leaders, and politicians, including Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning.
In an unusual move, five competitors helped bring First Independence to Minneapolis. US Bank, Wells Fargo, Bremer Bank, Bank of America, and Huntington Bank joined together and pooled resources to help First Independence set up business in Minneapolis.
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Danielle Squires, head of Diverse Segments for Corporate & Investment Banking at Wells Fargo explained that Wells Fargo was fulfilling a pledge it made to invest in Black-owned banks after the murder of George Floyd.
“The murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 gave everyone a lot to think about, including the recognition that we all need to do things differently,” Squires said. “And differently is the key—we need to do things better to reduce racial wealth gaps.”
Executives from the five banks got together following Floyd’s killing to talk about what could be done to reduce economic racial disparities. The banks decided one solution was to bring in a Black-owned and controlled bank. Squires noted that First Independence was chosen for its “successful track record, excellent leadership, and unwavering commitment to make a difference to the community.”
Damon Jenkins, the senior vice president and Twin Cities Regional Market President of First Independence, said he hopes to address the racial wealth gap through financial literacy education that would put people of color on the path to homeownership. He also wants to connect with the “unbanked”— people who do not have a bank account.
Several customers opened new accounts at First Independence on the opening day, such as Todd Western.
“It’ll be a positive experience from the standpoint that you feel a bit more comfort going to a bank owned by a people that you’re a part of,” Western said. “They’re no better, no worse than any other bank; it’s just the personal experience, that’s personal to you, that makes you feel comfortable depositing your money.”
“It also guarantees a better experience from the standpoint that you don’t have to worry about any type of bias or prejudice,” Western added.
Stephen Anderson and Mahad Alim, relators from Coldwell Banker, came out to show their support and explore networking and business opportunities. Anderson, who is a director on Coldwell’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, said he hopes to have someone from First Independence speak at one of their council meetings, and is excited to develop further relationships at the bank.
“I hope to be able to branch out to other networks and get in touch with our community,” Anderson said.
Alim was excited to have a Black-owned bank in the area, saying he believed he would be better able to serve his clients who were people of color.
“I’m going to open a bank account here just for the hell of it because I’m going to support [the bank],” Alim said. “I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.”
Alim also said he was hopeful that First Independence would offer services that fit within the lending rules of Islam for his Muslim clients.
Jenkins said exploring options for Islamic lending services was a “priority.” “We’re hoping to be a leader amongst the banks in figuring out ‘how do we get [lending services] into the hands of the Islamic community?’” Jenkins said.
The Minneapolis location is the first branch First Independence has opened outside of Detroit. A second Minneapolis location is set to open on Lake and Hiawatha in late June.
First Independence Bank is located at 3430 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414
Cole Miska is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.