Communities of color, especially Black ones, are painfully underrepresented in the mainstream. The lack of representation hits differently when you and those who look like you represent less than 14 percent of the American population, according to the United States Census Bureau. On top of that, we are disconnected from generations of history and tradition. It is imperative that we advocate for representation everywhere we can be positively represented; especially when our K-12 public school systems provide only surface-level knowledge of Black history in short paragraphs of a larger narrative being presented during our most formative years. There are little references in our history books to the Kings, Queens, and leaders of Africa that shaped and led great nations.  

In the entertainment sector, the fight has continued for equality through movements like “Oscars so white”, which was birthed out of a 2015 tweet by April Reign when she “watched that year’s Oscar nominations annoyed without a single person of color in any of the lead- or supporting-actors categories”  It's why we felt it so deeply when Issa Rae said “I’m rooting for everybody Black” on the red carpet of the 2017 Emmy's or when Drake reminded Black musicians not to seek validation from these award shows. It is why initiatives like Netflix’s “Strong Black Lead” matter. We need more companies with the focus “to talk authentically with and about Black audiences.” 

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We don’t, however, focus enough on the impact that our money has on representation. There isn’t any currency that bears the likeness of any community of color — all of our popularly used American money have the faces of white men. When we live in a country where the spending power of Black consumers is more than a trillion dollars annually, there is a good reason to be having this discussion. 

In 2016, President Obama’s Treasury Department led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that a portrait of Harriet Tubman would be on the front of the new $20. They understood that our currency should better reflect the diversity of our Nation and that Tubman who dedicated her life to fighting for liberty should be celebrated and be honored in this way. Under the current Administration, this initiative has been pushed to the back burner citing that their “primary focus is on developing new security features to prevent counterfeiting”, leaving a vacuum to be filled. Thankfully, OneUnited Bank has taken creative steps to fill that void with the launch of their King and Queen Card from their royalty campaign that features portraits inspired by important leaders in our community 

How OneUnited  is taking action

Using a debit card is one of the most convenient ways of spending money and it has become more commonly used than cash and comes with certain levels of protection from fraud. So being able to pull out your card and see a face that represents you better than the current currency in circulation can be very validating. Yes, the face of a Black person on a debit card is symbolic but we have a history of supporting symbolic gestures you can pick from a number of inspirational speeches given by high profile public figures in times of sorrow and joy that brought us comfort and pride. 

Takeaways from a conversation with OneUnited's President

Recently I had an opportunity to speak with Teri Williams, President & COO at OneUnited Bank, to learn more about the Royalty Campaign and OneUnited's role in showing how black money matters. The President feels that "it is important for OneUnited to do what we can do to elevate the black community's voice".

What I heard from her in our conversation is that the decision to create the King and Queen cards comes from a deeper understanding of how representation matters and if we don't have money that represents the diversity of America, and that if nobody else is going to do it, our institutions of colors need to lead the charge. She recognizes that there are levels to this, to banking black, and it is important that they offer the products and services that people are looking for in a bank. 

OneUnited's leader recognizes the lessons you can learn from case analyses of companies like Blockbuster who did not keep up with the changing times and became obsolete by technology. She astutely pointed out how the same thing is happening in music, in retail and happening in banking. To meet the demands of an evolving society, they started investing in technology — they recognize the need for mobile banking so they can cover the country and one day the world. OneUnited sees that future generations are not going to be walking into a branch, if it is not on their phone, if it's not in their wallet, then it is not going to be relevant.

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I find their decision to go digital very timely and important, in a world where corporate social responsibility is becoming increasingly important, it is imperative that companies make moves to provide access to as many people as possible. One of the most refreshing parts of our conversation was when Teri Williams shared how they appreciate the feedback they receive on social media. She said, "that social media is not only a way to get information out, it is also a way to get feedback". They don't delete negative comments because they know it only makes them stronger — they want all the comments, all the feedback. Mrs. Williams personally reads all the comments because she wants to know and learn what their customers need and has made changes based on the feedback they received. 

Her parting words to me about the royalty campaign and the work that they are doing at OneUnited are that this is really about self-love, it is about us being a community that needs to support each other and that we deserve the respect for that we have accomplished. "We have accomplished amazing things against incredible odds. We need to focus on the assets that we have more than liabilities."

If you have a love for Black history, if you know that you have royalty in your DNA, If you believe that is important for the black to be represented across all industries, then banking black is for you.