A Black-owned bank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is still going strong after 100 years in business. Columbia Savings and Loan Association, founded by Ardie and Wilbur Halyard in 1924, has persevered through the decades despite the tremendous challenges it faced due to discrimination.

“You can imagine that a Black-owned business, in the U.S., was not a welcomed thing, not alone a Black-owned bank,” Wesley McKenzie, who is the new vice president of the bank, said in an interview with WBAL-TV. “The reason the Halyards started it was because they understood we didn’t have access to funds at regular banks and financial institutions at the time.”

McKenzie’s grandfather received a loan from Columbia Savings and Loan Association decades ago when the bank was still in its early days.

“For me, personally, to be able to work at a financial institution where my great-grandfather got a loan — at a time when he couldn’t walk into most banks and get a loan — that to me is the priceless part,” McKenzie said.

Due to the discrimination they faced at that time, Black people found it difficult to trust banks.

“We always hear about grandma has this ‘mattress money’ or just keeping money in a coffee can somewhere; it’s because one day they went to the bank and they were told ‘no you can’t have your money,” McKenzie said. “These things actually happened. So when your grandmother and your grandfather and your uncles and your aunts are telling you ‘don’t put money in the bank because one day it won’t be there for you,’ because that was their experience, it leads down through generational mistrust.”

McKenzie is now striving to lead a trustworthy institution.

“It’s day by day, one by one,” he said. “We understand we have to get the customers in here and show them the importance of financial literacy.”

The Columbia Savings and Loan Association vice president looks at the historic Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma as the standard he wants to meet.

“The way we study Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I hope that one day people will study Columbia Savings and Loan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and what it did to not only change the city, but change the nation and the way finances are handled and looked at in our community,” McKenzie said.

Columbia Savings and Loan Association is now one of 41 Black-owned banks in the U.S. McKenzie hopes that the Halyards would be proud if they could see where the bank stands after 100 years.

“The thing that I hope he would say most is just keep going — that motivation to say ‘good job and keep going, you’re doing the right thing,'” McKenzie said.