Last month Forward Cities Cleveland joined partners Operation Hope Cleveland and JumpStart Inc. in hosting a panel discussion, 50 Years and Counting: Renewing our commitment to inclusive prosperity as a legacy of Freedman’s Bank. The panel’s purpose was to share a sense of urgency for the work of inclusive prosperity, approaching current activities and future directions for wealth building and entrepreneurship efforts in low income urban neighborhoods through the lens of the Freedman’s Bank story.
Established in 1865 to create the opportunity for wealth building among formerly enslaved African-Americans, in 10 years Freedman’s Bank amassed $57 million in deposits from 72,000 African American individuals and institutions, which in today’s dollars would be $112 billion – larger than 87 of the top 100 banks in 2015. Although it can be argued that Freedman’s Bank should have been too big and too important to fail, tragically lack of institutional support and poor oversight led the bank to close its doors after just 10 years.
Moderator Brian Hall and panelists Ryan Mack, Evelyn Burnett, Kasey Morgan and Michael Jeans spoke to a capacity crowd, tackling tough questions including the current headwinds faced in wealth building by the African American community. Discussion included the distrust of financial institutions which sprang from the staggering losses experienced when Freedman’s Bank failed. Another highlight was the growing attention to the barriers and the tools for business development in Cleveland’s low income neighborhoods. A suggested call to action–If recently freed slaves, who had so little, were able to amass the equivalent of $112 billion in Freedman’s Bank, imagine the level of financial impact possible in the African American community today.
The 150th Anniversary of the establishment of Freedman’s Bank is a milestone for renewed commitment to inclusive prosperity and was marked by a number of activities, including a touring exhibit sponsored by Operation Hope that is opening this month at the Cleveland Federal Reserve’s Money Museum. The exhibit’s nationwide tour purpose is to encourage completion of the Bank’s unfinished mission of helping everyone prosper in the free enterprise system, which like Freedman’s Bank, is an aspiration that should be too important and ‘too big to fail’.
Read More about the event, panelists and sponsors here.