From hardwood to housing market, Atlanta businesses are leading the fight against the racial wealth gap
By Ashley Bell
Amid the widespread racial justice movement that emerged last year after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, many large corporations have been praised for their work in addressing the racial inequalities that plague our nation. since its creation. While these companies have certainly helped advance the cause, their efforts have failed to truly address the deep-rooted inequalities in black communities across the country.
To be truly effective in this effort, we need businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes to tackle pressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and provide resources to accelerate this change so necessary. While this may seem like a daunting task, luckily there are many groups already engaged that can provide a roadmap for those who wish to get involved.
Arguably one of the best-known organizations to pick up the slack is the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, which is refinancing the team’s Emory sports medicine complex construction loan with a syndicate of black-owned banks. The $ 35 million loan, which was facilitated with the support from the National Black Bank Foundation (NBBF), marked the first time that a professional sports franchise took out a large loan that was taken out exclusively by black banks.
To understand the importance of this loan, it is important to know the state of black banks in the country today. Black banks are often the primary source of equitable, non-predatory loans within the African American community, but since 2001 their number has declined by more than half. In 1976, there were 50 black banks spread across the country, but according to the latest FDIC tally, that number is down to just 18.
The loan taken out by the Hawks not only helps black banks because it allows them to compete with the big commercial banks, but it is also a victory for the black community. Lack of access to basic financial services in many black neighborhoods has forced underserved populations to rely on predatory businesses like check cashing and payday loans. But by supporting the health and growth of black banks, the Hawks are not only helping these vital financial institutions, but ensuring equitable access to capital for underserved communities of color and helping to close the racial wealth gap of the ‘America.
However, it’s not just professional sports teams and big names that are striving to reverse racial inequalities. There are many cases of lesser-known organizations making a big impact in black communities across the country.
For example, there’s the Atlanta-based real estate company Ornstein-Schuler Investments (OSI), which donated $ 25,000 to the NBBF to help modernize the black banking industry. Although OSI has contributed over the past two decades to improving the lives of people in the communities in which they operate, this particular gift couldn’t come at a more opportune time.
In 2019, 49% of black households were underbanked or completely unbanked, compared to just 15% of white households, according to the Federal Reserve. One of the main reasons for this is the sad fact that the black community has very few trustworthy banking options. Investing in black banks – whether by introducing new digital tools or increasing the number of physical branches in minority neighborhoods – also means investing in black-owned businesses and black neighborhoods. This is why the contributions of the Hawks and the OSI to the NBBF are so important in helping to modernize the black banking sector and ensure that black-owned businesses not only survive but thrive.
The Atlanta Hawks and Ornstein-Schuler Investments are two prime examples of organizations of different sizes doing their part to address structural racism and inequality in Atlanta and beyond. But they cannot be the only ones. To bring real and lasting change, businesses and organizations, large and small, must step in, speak out and make a difference through their voices and donations.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” so don’t stay silent.
Ashley Bell is a partner at global law firm Dentons and co-founded the National Black Bank Foundation, which facilitated a first professional sports deal between the Atlanta Hawks and 11 black-owned banks.