NCRC Just Economy Conference 2022 — Recorded June 13, 2022
The community benefits agreements which NCRC staff assist NCRC members in negotiating with banks form a substantial part of our impact on the ground. To help Just Economy Conference attendees gain insight into how these processes work, we asked representatives from both the membership side and the banks’ side to discuss their experiences with the process during the mainstage Just Economy Awards Gala on the first night of the 2022 Just Economy Conference. Here is one of those conversations, featuring M&T Bank Executive Vice President Mike Keegan, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development Executive Director Barika Williams, and NCRC Chief of Membership, Policy and Equity Dedrick Asante-Muhammad.
Moderator: Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Chief of Membership, Policy and Equity, NCRC
Speakers: Barika Williams, Executive Director, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development; Mike Keegan, EVP & Head of Community Markets, M&T Bank
NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity.
and just a little bit more about the M&T Community Benefit agreement NCRC supported the M&T Bank Community Benefit agreement last year, because it provided specific and separate lending commitments to people of color in low and moderate income borrowers. And because M&T Listen thoroughly to 115 different local organizations from different states. These are just some of the acts if y’all could line up a little bit more. Let’s see. There we go. All right, that’s fine. Line up. Everyone, let’s give this group of font of representatives and financial institutions and Community Benefit Agreements, a round of applause for this community benefit agreement we put forward. We have put together over five this year, and we’re going to have actually, Barika Williams come up from association for neighborhood for neighborhood housing development, New York– Barika is gonna say a few words for us.
Hi, everybody, good evening. Can you hear me okay? All right, because you thought y’all feel very far away. Um, my name is Barika Williams. I’m the Executive Director of the Association for neighborhood and housing development or a NHD. And we’re about a 50 year old umbrella organization that does housing, economic development, community development and bank reinvestment advocacy in New York City, with our more than 80 neighborhood based nonprofit community members, many of which are represented up here. And I am up here today, because in M&T’s agreement, M&T made specific commitments to New York City. And so what we actually got was for M&T to say, we are going to make specific and further commitments around what New York City needs. I’m gonna give you a little bit of what that included. So M&T agreed to a new bank branch in the Bronx, which is huge shout out, shout out to the Bronx. And some of what ANHD does, you’ll see data that says New York City is over banked, and that’s never true. What that means is high income. And predominantly white and wealthy areas have a lot of bank branches. But places like the Bronx or underbanked, underserved and bank deserts. So for M&T to say we’re going to keep a branch here was incredible. They created a new home repair product, in order to help our our LMI and BIPOC homeowners and many of our immigrant homeowners. And they also did an incredible thing, which really matters for us HD, which is to support community organizing. And that’s not something I’ve heard talked about as much here at NCRC. So, community organizing is how we actually get this work done. Right. These are the folks who are on the ground, knocking on doors throughout COVID, talking to our tenants and talking to our homeowners doing the work of getting people activated and mobilized. I specifically want to highlight and thank M&T’s local staff, Steve Flax, and John Vazcones, who have worked with us for years. And I think that this is really important to highlight, especially for so many of our banks in the room, and so many folks and philanthropy in the room, that you can be incredibly impactful when you have local partners who really understand local organizations and local groups and are willing to have those tough conversations. So Steve and John for years have said, what’s going on? What do you all need? What are you all seeing? How can we tailor our products and our grants to actually advance the racial equity work that you’re trying to do? As groups on the ground, not just check the box as banks that say we do racial equity, and we’re incredibly appreciative of them as our partners. So I just want to thank all of the M&T team. I want to thank Mike Keegan and his team for all of the work and effort that they’ve done, to put in place this strong commitment around low and moderate income communities and communities of color and immigrant communities for New York City and for the rest of the country. We really look forward to continuing to work with them.
All right everybody line up, let’s say community benefits. All right, everybody. One more round of applause for everyone who worked hard for this and I know many of you in the audience says work for community benefits in your local area. Now, if everyone could come off the stage and I’m going to sit here and have an opportunity to talk with Mr. Mike Keegan, from M&T to talk a little bit more about the community benefits agreement in the work that we’ve been able to do together.
See other community organizations already trying to have a meetings with the financial institution on stage.
All right. All right. So we’re gonna have you’re miked up, I got a mic in my hand. I think that works better with my mask. And we’re here with Mike Keegan. We’re going to talk a bit about the MIT community benefit agreement. So Mike, you’re head of community banking division, can you tell us what that means?
I am. I can tell you, it means that everyone’s enjoying themselves right now. I’m just doing a check out there. What does it mean to be head of community banking, I mean, if you think about it for all the folks here, if you don’t have community banks that understand the places in which we live, and work and play, then you just can’t connect to the reality of how we provide capabilities to customers, how we understand the needs of the communities. So what we want to do is a bank that has size is stay small, stay relevant, and stay connected. Some of the partners are up on the stage when we work through this community growth plan. They were instrumental in telling us stuff that was in front of us that we didn’t necessarily see, so that we can adjust accordingly.
So what was your background? And how did you come to M&T?
So my background was in seventh grade, just seeing if anyone was paying attention. All right, good, good, good. And actually, in seventh grade, my father came to me and needed $900 To buy a really shitty car. And I gave him the money. And I wanted to make sure I got repaid. So I laminated for those of you who remember what that is a card, and I called it MasterKeeg. And I gave him the card, and he actually paid me back. And 30 years later, he gave me that card back. And he said, I’ve paid all my debts, and you went into the right industry. So that’s how I got into banking. But the other reason I got into banking is, if you think about what is possible, if you’re a banker, you can impact people’s lives, you can reshape communities, you just have to be on the right team to do it. And that’s why I’ve stayed on.
Well, speaking of like being on the right team to do it. How did you connect with NCRC? What made you at MIT want to engage in NCRC, and even more importantly, all the community groups that you know, working with NCRC means you’re going to engage with.
So this story goes back to 2015. When KeyBank was working to acquire First Niagara and Brad Dawson, who’s in the crowd tonight, he’s the one who’s talking the loudest. That’s why I can’t hear anything. Sorry, Brad. We were going through this whole process of who are we and watching what he was going through. And what we realized is, there were a gaps in the way we needed to show up in our community. And so we said back then that we need to at least think about a community growth plan, in our own mind. So when this opportunity with People’s United came up, we said, we should actually reach out to NCRC and start a conversation about a partnership. And your organization has been terrific ever since.
That’s good to hear. Let me give you an opportunity to ask some questions about NCRC or direct the conversation as you would like.
So what I want to know is, and we’re gonna go to q&a with the audience. What I want to know is, why does all this work matter? Because we see we see community groups on the front line, pouring their heart and soul into this work every day. So when you look at financial institutions, how do we develop a relationship that is interactive and sustainable and not episodic? Because what you find is, is there a moment where you feel the need to connect versus creating this ongoing dialogue around working together and making communities better?
I think, you know, I think we’d NCRC I think we feel proud that we’ve moved forward well and make the first second steps and is creating strong connections with you have over 700 membership organizations, strong relations with financial institutions like yours. I’ve been creating this Community Benefit Agreements, where there is opportunities to engage. I think the biggest challenge is, like you said, how do we maintain those conversations, because the issues we’re trying to address with racial economic inequality, or economic equity, you can hear me better now. Racial economic equality, or economic equity is not something that’s going to be solved through one meeting now through to meetings. But it’s going to be something that we have to engage over months years, and really have a relationship where we’re on the same page. So I think the Community Benefit Agreements is a starting point. But the question is, do we all have the will and organizing to move to help move the country past a space that we haven’t moved? I just saw a paper recently called I think the wealth of two nations were looked at the racial wealth divide from 1860 to 2020. And it highlighted that since 1980, racial economic inequality for many groups for blacks in particular, it’s actually been expanded and not decreasing. So you know, we’re doing, you know, important regional efforts, small efforts, what can we do to help change the direction that the country has been going for the last 40 or something years?
And I think Dedrick, there’s certain things that we can do, but but part of it requires that we listen, and that we hear those things that that we may that may be in front of us, but we don’t necessarily see or observe. So if you think about the process that you took us through, there were five sessions, two hours each, and the majority of the executive team of M&T, the CEO, included sat through every minute of that, and what we did, thank you. Wow. What we learned is, when we listen, we actually learn. And when we listen to people who tell us, things that we’d like to think are different, but aren’t, then we can start to shape our thinking around that. I mean, if you think about everything that financial institutions do, it’s with a level of kind of historical reference. But we can change that when we listen in on the conversations. And we hear from groups that are on the front lines, when we walk with them. And more importantly, when we view communities as places of economic vibrancy and opportunity, and not underserved or underrepresented if you shift the narrative, and you just say this is a place that so much is going on, and we can thrive together, then things start to unlock. And that’s the power of what this room represents.
Ya know, it’s been around a bit applause for that. And again, looking into the crowd, I recognize that many people in the crowd have been part of these meetings. And I think it’s been one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve had, is sitting down and listening to different regional meetings of 30 different community groups, giving their expertise, their years of expertise, on how financial institutions can better invest in support their communities, and, you know, really hope that we can develop a stronger best practices that can be shared throughout the country, and that banks can share. And banks could be learning from each other, as well as communities learning from each other.
I think that’s right. So if we approach this from our perspective of constant interaction, learning from each other, and figuring out how we can improve the way we show up, communities will thrive. If we don’t, then it becomes this interaction out of necessity, which isn’t the best way to build sustainable communities.
And I think sustainable is a key phrase as we’re dealing with more and more teams economic turmoil, concerns of inflation, that are really hitting the average working person very hard each day, concerns about recession, concerns about retirement going down because of the stock market. So I know we need to move on to the next phase. But let me ask you if you have one final question you want to engage before we move on to the next section here.
So other than please at my table, save my salad. I want to know why you chose NCRC. What What’s your story and why are you here?
So I chose NCRC. I guess really I chose the racial economic space, racial wealth divide. For the last 20 years. I’ve been focused on addressing the racial wealth divide. And I did that not because I had a deep love of economics, but because the 30 years before that, I worked in multicultural centers. I worked at a maximum security prison for women. I did some organizing in Harlem I worked for Reverend Al Sharpton for some years. And I saw that economics was at the key of all of the issues, I was trying to engage whether it was working with kids whose mothers were in prison, whether it’s trying to, you know, have safer streets, that economics was essential, you know, and this is a saying I saved a lot of presentations at the foundation of racial inequality is racial economic inequality, and foundation of racial economic inequalities, the racial wealth divide. So NCRC, I think really provides a unique space to engage nationwide with community organizations and financial institutions to create best practices, and also hopefully advocate for best policies that can, you know, hopefully, move the country out of the morass. It’s been in the last 40 years in terms of racial economic equality.
Yeah. Well, they’re glad to have you and we are as well.
I’m glad to be working with you. Let’s everybody give a round of applause for Mike Keegan, and we will then go to the next stage. Thanks, my friend.