In this episode, Risha discusses redlining with Rose Washington, CEO of the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation as well as Venita Cooper, owner of Silhouette Sneakers & Art in Tulsa, OK.
All of this and more in this episode of Risha Talks.
Today we finish our conversation on systemic racism. We’re talking redlining, eating cornbread and collard greens with your fingers, and the concept of privilege as it relates to banking relationships. We will tackle this with a small business owner and one of Tulsa’s most popular lenders. OK, tell us about yourself and your businesses, please.
So Risha, thanks for having me. I’m Rose Washington with Tulsa Economic Development Corporation. I’ve been with the organization– gosh, about 18 years and we’re really in business to help businesses start and grow. We provide progressive lending to promising businesses with the hope of creating and sustaining economic prosperity in communities across Tulsa.
My name is Venita Cooper. I’m the owner of Silhouette Sneakers & Art, where a sneaker and street wear boutique in Greenwood Tulsa a Black Wall Street. And we’ve been open since November 1st of 2019.
Great. Thank both of you for being here today. We want to talk about systemic racism in banking and in financing because we know how difficult it is for small businesses period to receive loans and receive financing, but we also know that when those businesses of color or owned by people of color and Black folks that we certainly have a more difficult time. I think the numbers are 60% of small businesses owned by people of color that are not finance. Rose, can you kind of speak to that a little bit like, would you happen to know why that is or what’d you think the reason for that is?
Risha, I think part of the reason is that first of all, bank financing is difficult across the board. And I think there are so many rules that are really against businesses that are starting and growing. And then when you look at the requirements of banking and of lending, you see that the odds are stacked against minority businesses and startups just because a policy that have to be implemented.
And so beyond the policy it is my guess that truly, historically African-Americans have been redlined, of course, rules were created to eliminate the occurrences of that. But obviously, when someone is declined for a loan or they’re unable to open a bank account because– I’m going to say because of lack of preparation. It does feel like racism.
I would tell you that when I go back and think about my upbringing and the fact that my grandmother found a way to build her own level of wealth, really as a sharecropper. I know that life was tough for her, but I see her business as really– I saw her sharecropping experience as a real business. And while many people when– and I’m going to go way back, Risha– when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
And many of our forefathers were kept on a plantation because they had no place to go. There was no 40 acres and a mule as was promised to them. And so therefore they had to make a way, and my grandmother found a way out by sharecropping. But because she had 12 children, they were her workforce and my grandmother was able to be a domestic. So she paid all of her expenses of sharecropping, unlike many other people who had to pay a rent on the land and they had to lease or rent the mule for plowing and the plow itself and rent the seed, and then rent the house that they lived in on the plantation.
At the end of season there was no profit, there was only a loss. And so they never worked their way out of this cycle. My grandmother, was able to because she covered her costs to her day job. And so I think just from generation to generation that has passed onto us that sort of that debt, and I won’t say a debt mindset, but the fact that we have to be in debt to make magic happens has followed some of us for generations.
So if you go to a bank and you lack collateral and you lack really a way to inject your own cash into a business, if you lack certain types of experiences. And then if you have a credit, a character issue because you have a hiccup on your credit report. All of that works against us. And so we never were able to build a wealth. We never were able to really– most of us pass down generational wealth. And so we start out sort of behind the eight ball in through the work that we do here at TEDC that is very forgiving of some of the expectations that are traditional financial institution has to hold in high regard.
We’re able to start helping them break some of those generational curses that same to be financial in nature to move through helping people start and grow businesses.
So Rose, let me say first of all, grandma was a boss. I’ve known you forever and never heard that story. So grandma was a boss. But personally, I love TEDC because I’m that person, I’m a small business owner that could not get along with the traditional bank. I went through a lot to be able to get a loan. But before I speak on that, did you go through any of the traditional financing sources like banks to try again get finance for your store?
Man, it feels like it was so long ago. I don’t think so. I think, I was introduced to Rose and TEDC pretty early on in the process, and it just seemed like a program that was tailor made for me. Speaking to some of the things that Rose said have traditionally held back people of color entrepreneurs of color. I think I didn’t come up with an entrepreneurial background.
I didn’t come up with some of the things that I give other people a leg up. And so CDC just save like a great opportunity. I wanted to invest in my own learning. I think when Rose and I sat down and talked, she mentioned a program that was intended to help aspiring entrepreneurs develop a business plan, and I was like, I don’t need that. And from there, our relationship with CDC kind of grew and I guess I did sort of a pipeline to funding.
All right. I definitely think that banks has been as helpful and I relate to you. I did not come from a background of entrepreneurship. I just knew that it was something that I wanted to do. And prior to meeting Rose, I had been down a lot of avenues, a lot of no’s. There was no one helping. And not to bash banks, but I don’t think they’d help until you don’t need the help.
Everything to them seems risky, but then just being a person of color, I’m going to, Rose, you talk about redlining. I feel like with banks, it really is about relationships because being in business as long as I have almost 25 years now, I have now created relationships that enable me to be able to go and get those loans. Now, whether those loans are– whether the credit is an issue or the business plan is an issue, I have learned that when you create those relationships, those things become less of an issue. Am I right or is it just my awesome personality that is getting me through?
No, but definitely the relationships matter. And part of the work that we’ve been able to do here at TEDC is to build relationships with banks. So that when we have people who are really ready for bank lending so we can preserve our capital for people who aren’t quite ready, then we capitalize on those, absolutely. For many years when I first started here did not make sense to me why a bank wouldn’t take an SBA guarantee and just fund a loan for a business.
And then I understood more and more that banks answer to many fathers, the regulators, their shareholders. The state banking commission being one of those regulators, as well as the federal regulators. And I’m not making excuses at all for the banks, but I do believe that the intention of a bank is to lend and the relationships matter. But relationships are not enough, we have to be prepared. And preparation takes time.
And so it is really important for us to understand what a bank expects and requires. But typically you don’t get the opportunity to sit down with the lender if you don’t have the relationship, Risha, so they can tell you what is expected if you apply and you never hear back from the bank. Well, that feels like I’m being slighted and maybe I’m being slighted because of who I am and what I represent. Well, honestly, the bankers are just trying to get the next deal done. If they can’t get your deal done, they’re moving on to the next.
And so if you have a relationship, then that lender that banker is more willing to take the time to call and say, hey, Risha, I can’t fund you at this time because of xyz. We would hope that every bank would have a practice where that is important because, again, long-term you never know– you never want to burn a bridge. And so maybe, Risha 15 years ago, when you went knocking on doors the one bank that gave you a little TLC is the bank that now that you’re successful and employing people, and really growing your business and building well. That banker hopefully, is the one that has your business today.
[INAUDIBLE] on a bridge. Because you just never know who is going to be that star that’s coming around the corner.
How deeply do you think redlining has played a part though in systemic racism that we see in financing? Because I know it predates us by generations, but I think that when these things are not dealt with, we tend to see them now and it makes it more difficult for people that own or people code their own small businesses to get the loans we need to be successful.
I think, Risha, the redlining happened a lot more in home purchases in the home lending and mortgages and it was documented, obviously. And I think now you have a generation of Lenders and you have practices of financial institutions that really want to reach out and do business in minority communities and in underserved communities. I think the times sort of dictate what banks are hoping to accomplish.
And I think also the demands of the people are being heard. And so I would say now is a great time to get what you need and what you want from traditional financial institutions, because there really is an initiative to meet halfway and try to deliver the needs that people are expressing. But once again, we will still need to be prepared. I think sometimes it feels as, though, someone who isn’t the exact same vote as you as getting some preferential treatment.
But honestly, when you’re talking about finances, you never know what’s being brought to the table because it’s so private and impersonal. But I certainly believe that historically, there was racism in lending, there was discrimination in lending and I honestly believe that today we’re moving past that. I think we sort of graduated the old school lender who still had that mentality that maybe certain people were undeserving of opportunity. And we’re definitely moving past much to that.
And now we have to be prepared. And we’ve always had to be more prepared than the next person in order to achieve similar success. And even in this regard, I think we still need to.
Kind of say something in response.
So two things. One, I actually just listened to this podcast. I think it was Planet Money where they were talking about the end– or not the end, but the loss of Black owned banks. The fact that even during this pandemic like we’re losing Black owned banks. Black owned banks were already a very small percentage of bank ownership in America. So I think that’s a real issue. I think, there’s always going to be some of that systemic racism when we’re not even represented in the ownership of these institutions.
And the other thing is Rose says that she believes that there was systemic racism at play with lending, there for sure was. I mean, this is the fact that there was a period where the federal government was only giving money to banks if banks as long– [INAUDIBLE] the federal government was not giving money to banks if those banks were giving mortgages to Black families. I mean, this is like documented and these are things that we are still trying to overcome, but again there’s a lot to overcome.
So Coop, do you think banks then play a part in privilege those banking relationships play a part in privilege that, I will say mainstream businesses get access to?
Oh, yeah, for sure.
And what was it?
Well, first of all, I’ll just speak from my own experience. I think that there is a lot of distrust of institutions period, not just in banking but police and all types of institutions. And like I said, there is a huge disparity in ownership of banks and who owns them and who is running them. And from a Black person’s perspective, it’s intimidating. It’s Intimidating to go into an institution where you already feel like those people don’t represent you. [INAUDIBLE] in terms of who owns what, and who’s running what?
And so I think that is one hill that we have to climb. That’s one hurdle to overcome is that perception. And I think that there’s a lot of reality, there’s a lot of truth in that perception as well. I do think that there is a criteria that’s in place with banks that privilege people who are already coming from generational wealth. That are already coming from a lot of the things that have been stripped from Black communities for centuries. And that still have not been righted. Yeah. I mean, I think those are a couple of reasons I think that.
I was just saying, it was extremely comfortable working with Rose. It felt like I was talking to somebody who knew me and so if you have the same experience with Rose and with TEDC.
Rose is– but I’m not just saying it because she’s on the call. She already knows how obsessed I am with her.
She is first of all, incredibly, approachable. She was enthusiastic. I felt her enthusiasm for me and my idea from the beginning. She was incredibly open. But just the fact that she is not only Black, but a woman. And her position in Tulsa, I was eager and I was enthusiastic to be able to work with her.
And again, it’s like representation. You see someone who makes you feel, first of all, comfortable in your skin, but then also who you like aspire to be. Rose is an incredibly successful person and to see her, again, in the position that she’s in. It’s amazing to be able to work with somebody like that and for her to be [INAUDIBLE] is down to earth as she is. Yeah. I mean, I’ve loved every minute.
I was going to say more, but blowing the Rose’s ego up so much, I can’t continue to add to that. But no, I brought that up because I wanted to say how important it is and I’m talking to Bank here, specifically. You need to look at diversity recruitment. It is important for people to be able to align with someone to feel like someone understands who they are. It’s time for us to really look at diversity, not only from the economic side of it, but from the moral side as well.
And you’re going to find many people that feel like that about Rose. I don’t know this to be true. But I’m willing to go out on a limb and say, Rose, is probably finance more small businesses owned by Black folks and people of color than most of these banks here in Tulsa. So Rose, you mentioned earlier that there are some things that we need to be doing. And by we, I mean, people of color Black folks where we need to show up a little differently. And I want to bring that up because what are a few tips that can help us when we go into a bank to get a loan to make us more prepared to actually have that conversation into move toward getting the money that we need.
So Risha, that’s a great question. And I think if we think about accountability to one’s self, I think we get on the right path. Now, what does that mean? It means having some financial literacy. It means understanding the vocabulary of financing of entrepreneurship in a business startup and growth. It means knowing that we all need a personal financial statement, which is really a personal balance sheet representing what we own, what we owe, and what our assets are worth.
It’s knowing what a projection of financial performa looks like and why it’s important. And why the story behind the numbers means as much as the numbers. It’s being able to make a case that is undeniable and that means having passion about your business and what you are going to accomplish. I think being confident about your plan, your product is enormous because if you can’t sell it, nobody else can.
And even though we walk into a bank and, yes, it is important that we see people who look like us. It’s important that we see people who may eat like me. I haven’t done it lately collard greens and cornbread with my fingers. I mean, you do know that you can relate to the folks. They’d know your soul. And that’s hard to do when you’re not engaging with someone who looks like you and so that is important.
But even that person is not writing the checks, that person has to go and argue your case. And the only way you can expect them to do that job is to empower them with knowledge and facts about your business and about who you are and about your capacity to bring that plan to life. And so I think, again, education and financial literacy are really important for all of us.
Thank you both for your time. We have run out of time. But I feel like we could keep going with this for a minute. So I will have you both back very soon, but thanks again. That was great information.
Thanks, Risha. Thanks, Rose.
Thanks, Risha and Coop.
You heard it all. We need more diversity in the banking and finance industry. Banks need to see the value in businesses that are Black owned or owned by people of color. We need to build up in a relationship and you know we need to show up right. This is Risha Grant with two words for you.