By Sara Watkins
About 20 years ago, a small group calling itself the African-American Credit Union Coalition held its first official annual meeting in St. Louis.
The AACUC wasn’t entirely new. The group began informally meeting at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference throughout the 1990s, discussing ways to spread diversity in the credit union industry.
This past year, that group held its 20th annual conference. From the outside, the AACUC appears different from that small group that met in St. Louis. It now has a membership of 253 individuals, 63 credit unions, five leagues, five trade organizations and 10 vendors. But much has also remained the same. As the AACUC launches into its third decade it has retained its focus on spreading diversity, inclusion and opportunity throughout credit unions nationwide.
This past year was a major one for AACUC. With a nod to its Georgia roots, AACUC celebrated its 20th Annual Conference in Atlanta in August 2018. It was the most attended meeting to date and included the 2nd Annual Young Professionals Summit and an all-new women’s session, which became one of the more talked about panels of the weekend. The conference also included a Financial Reality Fair at Central Gwinnett High School, which houses a branch of Peach State Federal Credit Union.
“We have done a Reality Fair in every city we go to as part of the Annual Meeting for the past four or five conferences,” said Ed Presnell, business development executive at Peach State FCU and acting AACUC board treasurer. “It’s fascinating. People just absolutely adore it. And it helps the kids, too. The look on their faces is remarkable.”
'Aligned With Purpose'
Although a national organization, Georgia-based credit union leaders are credited with AACUC’s inception during those first informal meetings in the 1990s. The relationship has continued over the years and is grounded in support and a mutual goal to uphold the “people helping people” motto, which serves as the backbone of the credit union industry.
“We are interested in the professional development, the leadership development, the networking, the transfer of knowledge,” said Mike Mercer, president and CEO of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates. “AACUC is dedicated to similar principles and that being the case –and because AACUC resides here in Georgia — we have a special affinity to provide them support however we can. We’re sort of aligned with purpose. We have a common mission to help people grow and succeed in their credit union careers.”
In 2018, AACUC became further rooted to Georgia credit unions with a move of headquarters to the GCUA building; a change in venue for which Executive Director Renee Sattiewhite could not be more delighted.
“What’s exciting is that having our office inside the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates will help us to better identify what we need to do for our Georgia credit unions,” she said. “And we’re so pleased with this collaboration.”
A Historical Record
Sattiewhite has been working closely with Mercer, GCUA and other leagues across the country to compile a list of African-American leaders in the industry. With more than 150 African-American presidents and CEOs identified nationwide so far, this growing catalog serves not only as a historical record and preservation of heritage, but also lays the foundation for the future.
“One of the reasons AACUC is important is so that we can gather that information and help the credit union movement become stronger because our membership landscape is changing,” Sattiewhite said.
While the AACUC focused on its Georgia roots, it also spread its branches abroad in 2018. In October, Sattiewhite traveled with others from the AACUC to Ghana to present at the African Confederation of Cooperative Savings and Credit Association conference. The organization sponsored the president of the trade association in Africa and was credited with helping start the Credit Union Development Educator program.
“One of the goals in our mission is to make sure we connect globally,” Sattiewhite said. “So that was a good opportunity to do so.”
With two decades under its belt, the AACUC has plans to grow into the next two while supporting their mission of spreading diversity throughout the credit union community.
“AACUC has found its place in the credit union movement and is often called upon to provide diverse executive talent for C-level positions,” said Adrian Johnson, executive board chairman of AACUC and senior vice president and CFO of Municipal Employees Credit Union of Baltimore. “We are asked to participate in discussions and initiatives regarding the minority and under-served communities. Over the last two decades our AACUC board members and AACUC members have been a part of boards and committees throughout the industry that have impacted credit union members. We believe this would not have been the case if AACUC wasn’t a part of the movement.”
In the new year, AACUC is kicking off Black History Month by once again joining forces with Inclusive, formerly the Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, on a social media project designed to increase the visibility of African-American credit unions within the industry as well as to illustrate the impact of credit unions on members and communities. Last year’s campaign was so successful that this year’s will feature more credit unions.
The group is also looking forward to continuing to make sure every voice in the credit union industry is heard in 2019 through continued focus on collaboration, diversity and inclusion. Sattiewhite discussed plans for the AACUC to design a program meant to certify and train C-level executives as well as additional educational opportunities for members through chapter meetings and webinars.
'Champion for Diversity'
From those casual meetings between Georgia credit union leaders all those years ago to a national organization which supplies unparalleled value to the entire credit union movement, the African-American Credit Union Coalition is relentless in its mission of spreading diversity.
“We are the champion for diversity and inclusion for the credit union movement and it’s so important that every voice be heard,” Sattiewhite said. “And that’s one of the major goals for me; to continue to have partnerships with other credit union organizations so that we can all move forward, move the ball down the field together by helping our credit union members.”
Isn’t that, after all, the credit union way?