When Bill Bynum thinks about the true engines of community life in the South, he thinks about women like his grandmother, whom he remembers accompanying to a makeshift credit union established in a high school vice principal’s garage — the only banking outlet available to Black people in his Pittsboro, North Carolina community. With her savings, Bynum’s grandmother bought him the suit he wore throughout college.
Women like his grandmother, and like his mother, who worked multiple jobs to care for her family, , Bynum says, “were anchors in their neighborhoods. They modeled what is possible when people pool their resources to support their families and neighbors.”
In many places in the South, members of communities of color have historically been locked out of traditional banking, which means they are far more likely to get payday loans or to depend on check-cashing businesses with exorbitant fees. Bynum knows what’s possible when members of those communities (especially the women) have access to financial tools to save, invest, and borrow. They can feed their families, start businesses, become homeowners, and gain greater control of their futures.
That’s why Bynum, an Emerson Collective Dial Fellow, started HOPE —a credit union, loan fund, and policy center — in 1994. HOPE provides a range of affordable, responsible financial services to communities across the South, and it is now one of America’s premier, community-development financial institutions. HOPE has generated nearly $3 billion in financing in communities in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee — a region that contains one-third of all the U.S. counties classified by the federal government as having “persistent levels of poverty.”
The support that HOPE has brought to women in the region has been particularly transformative. “Sixty percent of our members are women — most, women of color,” Bynum says. “Supporting these women is one of the best ways to stabilize families and build community wealth.”
Women business owners have been among the hardest hit by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that, between February and April of 2020, the number of women-owned businesses dropped 25%, and the number of Black-owend businesses dropped 41%. According to a 2020 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the number of female entrepreneurs who ranked the overall health of their businesses as “somewhat or very good” fell by 13 points during the pandemic, compared to a five-point drop in the number of male entrepreneurs offering the same ranking of the health of their businesses.
“Supporting these women is one of the best ways to stabilize families and build community wealth.”
Women business owners are a key focus of one of HOPE’s most ambitious new collaborations — a partnership with Goldman Sachs and its 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, called the Deep South Economic Mobility Collaborative. Goldman Sachs has committed up to $130 million for investments in seven cities and nine historically Black colleges and universities to help bolster small businesses and entrepreneurs in the region where HOPE operates.
In 2020, HOPE closed 2,677 Paycheck Protection Program loans totaling $81 million. 35% of the borrowers were Black women. A staggering 93% of borrowers reported that the loans from HOPE saved their jobs.
For business owner Lesa Tard, HOPE Credit Union offered the only support she could find to keep the doors of her business, Suga’s Diner, open. After a 20-year nursing career, Tard had pivoted to the restaurant business in 2010 when her husband (who operates a lawn care service), proposed taking over an abandoned building in Stanton, Tennessee, a rural town about 45 minutes from Memphis.
“We started by using our savings, our paychecks, money from family,” Tard, 47, says. “We never went to a bank because we believed it was better to not have to depend on them.” The first five years were hard, but soon word of mouth kept the 42-table diner filled to capacity almost every day.
But, by May 2020, because of COVID-19, the customers had disappeared, and, Tard says savings were running low. “We never shut down, but we had to stop letting people come inside. My bank wasn’t doing PPP loans, and another one I was going to look at was only taking people who already had an account.”
Then Tard remembered HOPE, where she’d gotten a car loan a few years earlier. Within a week of applying, her application for a Paycheck Protection Program loan was approved. Tard says it carried her business until early 2021, when she was able to apply for a second round of funding. “In Stanton, it’s me, the mom-and-pop store, and the gas station,” Tard says of her diner’s role in the community. “Being able to stay open and serve the people here means the world.”
For Margaret Anadu, the youngest Black female partner in Goldman Sachs’ history, the investment is the culmination of a 10-year partnership with HOPE, through the company’s Urban Investment Group. The alliance speaks to the need for lived experience at the table during financial decision making — and for deeper partnerships with community-based organizations.
Anadu began working at Goldman Sachs right out of college, thinking she’d spend a few years in finance before switching to study law. But as Anadu helped develop investment strategies for the bank, something else began to come into focus — memories of growing up in a North Houston neighborhood with underperforming schools, no retail businesses, and few resources. It was totally different from the community across town where Anadu was bused to school each day.
“I really started to understand the importance of capital, and where investments are made, and who gets to make them,” she says. “I was very fortunate that, early in my career, I got to help deploy over $10 million in underserved communities just like the one I grew up in.”
“I’ve never seen as much acknowledgement of both the systemic racism and sexism that limit people from climbing the economic ladder.”
Twenty years later, Anadu says the HOPE partnership elevates an “ecosystem” approach to community investing. “What’s really exciting about HOPE is that they do so much more than focus on business and entrepreneurship. We’ve actually had the privilege to work with them, not just on those sectors, but on housing and health-care facilities. What I love about the collaborative is that it’s not just about that immediate recovery PPP capital that’s needed for these businesses to survive. It’s also about providing growth capital so that they can thrive.”
Bynum says the work to recover lost ground in the wake of the pandemic has only strengthened the resolve of HOPE. Though the past year has been difficult, he says that opportunities were uncovered alongside the challenges.
“In my nearly 40 years of doing this work, I’ve never seen as much acknowledgement of both the systemic racism and sexism that limit people from climbing the economic ladder,” Bynum says. “We are in a great position to convert that acknowledgement and support into real, transformational change for many people across the Deep South.”
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