Faith leaders deposit $250,000 to open the first account at West-Side based credit union | Provided, The Leaders Network

Update 9:45 a.m.: This story has been updated to clarify a comment made by Rev. Ira Acree, who congratulated the Leaders Network and Great Lakes Credit Union for launching the partnership. We apologize for the error.

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “dream speech,” a dream for faith leaders on Chicago’s West Side came true.

They opened a credit union co-owned by West Siders. It is an investment in their community, providing wealth in an area more accustomed to disinvestment, they said.

“How serendipitous it is that the Leaders Network and Great Lakes Credit Union are launching this credit union partnership on the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington,” said Rev. Ira J. Acree, co-chairman of the Leaders Network.

They made the announcement at the intersection of Madison Street and Central Avenue, where the new brick-and-mortar location, called the Leaders Network Financial credit union, will be. It wasn’t lost to anyone that in the 1960s, King also lived on the West Side.

The credit union is expected to help bridge the gap in accessible banking options, loans and financial education, all of which are needed in Chicago’s West Side.

“We’re talking about economic opportunity, economic literacy and economic resources,” Rev. Marshall Hatch, a co-chairman of the Leaders Network, said about the “solid partnership” with the Illinois not-for-profit financial cooperative that has more than $1.3 billion in assets. 

Nearly one in three West Side residents are considered financially vulnerable, the Financial Health Network reported early this year. In addition, Black Chicagoans have less access to banking and homebuying financial support services. Eighty-three percent of Black households own checking accounts, in contrast with the 99% of white households who do so. Only 10% of Black homeowners received financial support to purchase their homes, while 23% of white homeowners did, a 2022 report by the same institution showed.

The significance of this moment was amplified after Leaders Network deposited $250,000 to open the credit union’s first account amid cheers and claps from the dozen or so people who attended the celebration.

In addition, the Great Lakes Credit Union donated $2,500 to the Leaders Network, matched by $2,500 from the Illinois Credit Union League.

“Our credit union is dedicated to becoming a neighborhood staple, offering safe, secure, and approachable banking services to empower the residents,” Michelle Collins, a Leaders Network member and advisor, said in a news release. “This event is a celebration of economic freedom and progress, echoing the ideals championed by Martin Luther King Jr. during his unforgettable speech.”

The West-Side-based credit union will provide access to financial services such as loans, checking accounts for individuals with limited financial history, housing and financial counseling, rental and foreclosure assistance, downpayment assistance and small-business banking and lending options.

“What’s happening on the West Side of Chicago can be duplicated in other communities…,” Acree said to Rep. Danny Davis of the 8th district, who stood in the crowd. “I believe this movement can put the brakes on the systemic destruction of Black wealth.”

The faith-based collaborative group announced its partnership with Great Lakes Credit Union last October.

“We are proud to be part of this historic moment, bringing banking services to a community that has been underserved for too long,” said Patrick Basler, chief experience officer of Great Lakes Credit Union.

Last year, the Leaders Network found that community members welcomed a local financial institution. Of 525 people surveyed by the faith-based group, 82% said it was “very important” to have a financial institution in their neighborhood.

Through this partnership with Great Lakes Credit Union, the faith-based group aims to bring high-quality services to West Side residents.

“This is something that ultimately could change the landscape in America because Black people would be able to get loans in their own community without paying too much money or just outright getting denied,” Acree said at the time.

The physical branch will open in February.

However, West Siders can begin to use the credit union. Members have immediate access to services such as digital banking, ATMs and shared branching services available through Great Lakes Credit Union. 

To become a member of the credit union, West Side residents can pay a $25 annual membership fee to the Leaders Network. Once enrolled, members can apply to the credit union membership via the Great Lakes Credit Union website.