About 100 people gathered inside a north Minneapolis building Saturday. The little-advertised event didn't attract television news cameras or a bevy of journalists. Which was ironic. Its impact could be epic.
The day belonged to Me'Lea Connelly's dream. The private security firm manager-turned-economic-activist wants to establish the state's only black-led credit union by 2019. Last weekend's get-together was about taking the next steps.
Some of it was feelgood hoopla. After months of receiving community input, the credit union now has a name: Village Trust Financial Cooperative. It also has a tentative location: at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Golden Valley Road.
But the event was also a kickoff, signaling there's much heavy lifting ahead.
The Association for Black Economic Empowerment is now in the process of applying for the credit union's federal charter. The operation can't work without members, however.
Unlike banks, which are owned by a small group of shareholders whose objective is to make money for themselves, credit unions are member-owned nonprofits.
That's where Saturday came in. Village Trust needs 5,000 people to pledge their support. As of Sunday afternoon, it's about ten percent of the way there.
"Pledging means when we're up and running, you say you'll move your account or all of your accounts to our credit union." says Connelly. "Giving us your information now is critical so we can get our federal charter.… [They are] going to want to know how many deposits we can expect to have, and so the community support, filling out the pledges, is how we are able to measure that."
According to Connelly, upstart credit unions traditionally have opening deposits somewhere between $5 and $20 million.
"By getting [5,000 pledges]," she continues, "we can bring that back and say here's all the people that support us and this is why we want you to support our charter."
The next phase will involve gauging what goods and services the community wants. Connelly believes Village Trust will be a game changer on the North Side.
"You cannot throw a rock in any direction and not hit a predatory lender in north Minneapolis," she says. "What this does is take away what's being thrust upon the most vulnerable members of our community and give them equitable products and services that will actually help them."
As an example, Connelly points to the fact that a check cashing business can charge as much 200 percent interest.