MINNEAPOLIS — When First Independence Bank opened its second location, and first Minnesota headquarters on East Lake Street on Tuesday, Senior Vice President Damon Jenkins was celebrating a big step forward for the Black-owned bank.
"I'm just elated," Jenkins said. "Selfishly, it's also in the community I grew up in."
For years, Jenkins says the community near East Lake St. and Minnehaha has needed the kind of banking and financial literacy that the Michigan-based bank will now offer. He says it turned into a critical need after the murder of George Floyd and the destruction that followed.
"When I sat on my mom's porch and watched the city burn, and watched people loot and watched people show up in the neighborhood to do damage and cause harm, that really hit me hard," Jenkins said. "So bringing equity and access and tackling some of the socio-economic challenges of the folks in this community is a priority of mine."
He's not alone.
His former employer, Wells Fargo, along with Bank of America, Bremer Bank, Huntington Bank and U.S. Bank joined forces to bring First Independence Bank to Minnesota to show their commitment to greater equity in banking.
Jenkins: "We wanted to be part of that hope, but we also wanted to be part of the healing process."
Erdahl: "How does a bank help with healing?"
Jenkins: "You know, a bank fuels the economy; a bank fuels the neighborhood and provides resources. As we look around the community, not just on Lake Street, there are a lot of communities that are unbanked. We want to partner with the community; we want to meet them where they're at; we want to build the trust. We understand that banking hasn't been as inclusive as it should've been, and so we're just excited to be part of that process, especially being a Black-owned bank. As we watch the younger children walk around, now they can come in and stop in and see folks that look like them."
Jenkins said they're also working to support minority-owned businesses in the area in multiple ways. Evidence of that support is all around the new space.
"We wanted to lead by example, so even with the design of this place, LSC is the Black-owned architect firm that created this vision, this space," Jenkins said. "We went a step further and we hired J. Benson Construction, which is a Black-owned construction company that really took the lead to start the build-out. As you look around, and you see the furniture in here, [it] came from a Black-owned firm. The movers that even brought everything in here was a Black-owned firm so we wanted to really use the time to uplift their talent, but also to bring business to them."
And at a time when Lake Street itself is also trying to bring business back, Jenkins said it's also important to understand that equity does not mean exclusion.
"I've been very clear that we're a Black-owned firm but not a Black-only firm," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to continue to foster collaboration and communities working together. This is just about Minnesotans getting together, using our resources to make sure that everyone has access. We're proud to be part of the process."
Visit First Independence Bank's website to learn more information about locations and services.
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