KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This Black History Month, FOX4 takes a look at the history and legacy of a Black-owned bank in the KC metro and its latest efforts to empower communities of color.
The metro financial institution is re-energizing its passion to support minorities and bring more small Black business owners to the forefront.
When one speaks about supporting Black-owned businesses this is often one factor not mentioned, but investing in a Black-owned bank can be the foundation for helping many small businesses thrive.
The two locations of Liberty Bank at Troost Avenue and Emanuel Cleaver II in Kansas City, and 5th Street in Kansas City, Kan., were acquired by Liberty Bank as it was known as Douglass Bank.
Will Washington, owner of a small contractor business, WWFB, LLC, has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into his creation.
Washington bought several abandoned homes in the Lykins Neighborhood. He is renovating about five homes on the block of 7th and Benton. The homes are vibrant in color, you can’t miss them. Washington has a goal to bring suburban living to the inner-city.
“They want the same type of homes, same type of quality, the granite countertops, the ceramic tile floors,” said Washington.
Washington says many people who live in the inner-city like what suburban life has to offer, but they don’t want to leave. He says his ultimate goal is to see the inner-city look like the suburbs.
“To bring pride, respect and to provide affordable housing for people of all income brackets,” said Washington.
This Black business owner admits getting others to buy into his vision was not easy, but he eventually found support at Liberty Bank, known as the second-largest of 41 Black-owned banks in the United States.
“I had to Google it myself,” explained Liberty Bank Regional Vice President Tonika Brockman.
First established in 1972 in New Orleans, the bank has grown to eight regions across the United States
“Liberty Bank was started to serve the underbanked community as Blacks. We couldn’t go to a large institution and get financing,” Brockman said.
Brockman was hired in September 2020. She has an extensive background in finance, and has held positions with several financial institutions. However, after the civil unrest and protest last summer in Kansas City, she woke up compelled to make a change for people of color as it pertains to financial literacy.
“It turned my passion to really help the community,” Brockman said.
“When Liberty Bank saw the rich history that Douglass Bank had, they wanted to grow into acquiring Douglass Bank, and my passion is to re-energize that, to bring that community back to Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri markets.”
Brockman says issues including a lack of lending and funding, and limited ability to acquire assets and build wealth, have plagued communities of color.
She says Liberty Bank is working to change that with goals to provide more minorities with home ownership opportunities. Brockman says a new financial resource center provides financial education to customers and non-customers free of charge, and personalized financial plans are also available. In addition, other goals include offering more small business lending to people of color.
“Some of the issues why the bank started in 1972 are the same issues we’re facing now,” explained Brockman.
Washington says working with Liberty Bank has put his business on track.
“So our banking relationship has grown from just banking to where we share the same vision,” said Washington.
It’s a vision that is now placing higher value on economic change in communities of color. Brockman stresses the efforts to make change should involve everyone, and while the bank’s focus is to help African-Americans, Liberty Bank is considered a multi-cultural bank.
“We need your deposits we can’t lend without your deposits,” said Brockman.
It’s a community investment that will hopefully come back two-fold.
“Liberty Bank has truly been a blessing,” said Washington.