Added by on 2014-06-30

As we go into the week of Independence Day celebrations, it is important to be aware that freedom is not only political and religious, it is also financial.

Financial literacy is an important concept that can drive economic independence in the black community.

TheGrio has launched a project to encourage and support a culture of financial freedom and success through education. Our method is to bring lessons of success from black executives, financial leaders and mentors willing to share their thoughts, stories and ideas.

Compared to the rest of America, black people are broke, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In May, theGrio published an Op Ed written by Maya Rockeymoore, Ph.D., that urged expediency in closing the racial wealth gap as a matter of national economic security. Rockeymoore cited a report that she co-authored with the Center for Global Policy Solutions and the Network on Race and Ethnic Inequality at Duke University. The report Beyond Broke: Why Closing The Racial Wealth Gap Is A Priority For National Economic Security says African-American households own only six cents for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical white household and possess an average liquid wealth of just $200. Sadly enough, that figure includes the pool of money held in African-American retirement savings and even lumps in wealth of the handful of super-affluent black millionaires whose numbers pale by comparison to other ethnic groups.

Remedies for this dilemma are widely discussed in political, social and financial circles, but action is needed based on educated priorities. A recent study by Prudential Research outlined steps needed to deal with the black financial gap:

  • Paying down debt, especially student loans
  • Owning insurance and investment products
  • Maximizing retirement plans
  • Financial support of family members
  • A stronger connection to the financial industry

Connection to the financial industry is easy to cite as remedial step but difficult to initiate. The image of American banks is that of suits in an ivory tower meticulously scrutinizing their business so that every transaction, every personal or business loan, every inquiry and every mortgage contract is to the bank’s advantage, adding to the bank’s bottom line. There often appears to be a one-way street, with services costing more, interest rates to borrow climbing, while savings interest rates decline. And then there is the specter of exploitation of the black community when it comes to sub-prime loans, redlining predatory mortgages and pre-paid credit cards. The banking industry does not engender a lot of trust among African-Americans.

Enter Teri Williams, the President and COO of OneUnited Bank, the largest black owned bank in the United States, with locations in Massachusetts, California, Florida and online. This black woman has taken the lead in educating bank consumers, making the banking experience truly egalitarian while offering communities education associated with working with the bank. She is a staunch advocate against  predatory lending and high interest rates in urban communities and supports opportunities through mentoring and learning.

Teri Williams says the focus of OneUnited Bank is building strong communities, offering minority neighborhoods the financial means to grow and prosper. TheGrio recently sat down with Ms. Williams with the express goal of  “picking her brain” to spread her knowledge. She is an educator at heart: she first wanted to be a teacher before banking literally found her. We urge you to click on the segments below. It is  financial insight well worth sharing with your friends and family: The Black Financial Forum’s video Mentor conversations:

In Part One of Teri Williams’s profile with CNBC’s Shartia Brantley (seen at the top of this page), Williams talks about how she evolved from aspirations of being a teacher to becoming a banker.

In Part Two of Teri Williams’s profile with CNBC’s Shartia Brantley, Williams details how she acquired the financial institutions that make up OneUnited Bank by visualizing. “Yes, a black woman can own a bank!” Williams says her first instinct to buy a bank was for the purpose of giving back to the community while helping to turn around banks that were in trouble.

In Part Three, One United Bank President and COO puts her words into action by writing  “I Got Bank,” a book for young children to learn and understand the importance of money and how to manage it. Williams tells us money is power, and if used correctly, it leads to financial freedom to be creative and entrepreneurial.  She says the pages of her book contain what every parent should teach their kids.

In Part Four,  OneUnited’s Teri Williams talks about the value of credit, how to repair it and how to maintain a good credit record. She gives tips and advice and talks about the “freedom” good credit brings. Click here for that report.

TheGrio’s Black Financial Forum will continue through the month of August with posts of questions and answers from our forum with Ms. Teri Williams and other members of financial institutions and  featuring young people from WorldofMoney.org.