WASHINGTON–Thirty-five years ago, a young, African-American woman with no credit walked into a credit union and sat down with an older, white manager.
On the surface, the two had nothing in common. That woman would walk out of that credit union with her first-ever car loan. And three decades later she is a member of the U.S. Congress and an ardent supporter of credit unions.
“Let me start by telling you a personal story,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), and chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion. “I can tell you the value of credit unions first-hand. I can remember when I was so excited to get my very own car, that I didn’t have to get my brother’s pass-me-down car. I decided I had a professional job and I was going to go and get a loan. I had never done this before by myself. Thank goodness someone told me to go to the credit union. I walked into the credit union with all my net worth and assets—of nothing. I still remember today when Bob Rhodes was the manager, and I went into his office and decided to give my compelling story.
“I said, ‘I don’t have an appointment,’ but by then I was already in the chair,” recalled Beatty. “He said, ‘Who are you?’ I just kept talking and put my portfolio on his desk and I said that tells you why I am a good risk. It tells you why I need this car to get to work. He kind of smiled at me, and the more we talked, the more of an investment he made in me. Not only did I leave there with a loan for the car, he asked me to come back and sit in on some financial literacy classes. I became an advocate.”
‘Another Version of Me’
Beatty said she remained with the credit union as her career grew, and 20 years later a young woman walked into her office in Dayton, Ohio, where she was a county administrator. The young woman was crying, saying she had gone to three banks and had been turned down by all of them for loans
“So I called Bob Rhodes, who was still there, and I said ‘I have another version of me.’ And that lady walked in two weeks later and said to me, ‘I was not too small for the credit union,’” said Beatty. “That story has stuck with me for about 35 years. It’s about how credit unions value and appreciate the least of us as well as the largest of us.”
It’s small conversations like those that can have big ROI, said Beatty.
“You made an investment in me and now I am a U.S. congressperson,” she said. “And that young woman now has a whole association of hair salons across central Ohio.”
Nothing in Common, But…
To make a “difference in this wonderful country,” it’s going to take more people reaching out and helping those who aren’t like them—at least on the surface, according to Beatty.
“Bob Rhodes and I had nothing in common. He was a white man and a professional. He had gotten loans for a car and more. I had none of that. But he understood because he listened,” said Beatty. “He shifted from his world to understanding mine. Together, we grew.”
For others and the country itself to grow, Beatty said it’s going to take a belief in the power of not just diversity, but inclusion.
“It’s not just those of race and ethnicity and gender, but it’s about that veteran who might just want to talk to someone for 60 seconds about their life on why they need that investment,” Beatty told the meeting.
Not About Checking a Box
Beatty said efforts on diversity being led by her committee aren’t just about “checking a box on race and gender,” as the inclusion piece plans to probe for what institutions do to serve their entire communities. The committee has sent letters to the largest banks asking about diversity plans and how many people in their communities are participating.
While credit unions aren’t included in those efforts, Beatty expressed some disappointment that just 81 CUs have participated in NCUA’s voluntary self-assessment on diversity efforts.
“We know all you do in your communities, with job fairs and financial education and programs in rural areas. I want you to talk about it more,” said Beatty. “I want you to let the U.S. Congress know about the great work you are doing.”