Several black rappers opened up bank accounts on Tuesday at Unity National Bank in Houston's Third Ward as part of an effort to support black-owned businesses in the wake of high-profile police violence against black men.
The rappers aren't alone – in fact, over the last few days, many African-Americans have also opened up accounts at Unity, the only black-owned bank in Texas. As Black Lives Matter and other protests against police violence mount across the country, social media campaigns called #BankBlackBankSmallBankLocal (or variations thereof) have also sprung up, urging African-Americans to make their economic power heard and move their money to black-owned banks.
“To support a black-owned business is my priority,” said Karen Moore, who was opening a bank account at Unity on Thursday – despite living “50, 60 miles” away. She added, “If you look around our community, if we are to grow, we are to put back into the pot. If we just continue to take out of it and nothing goes in, then we would never expand. Supporting a black-owned business gives a future for my grandchildren.”
Moore said that her children opened bank accounts the same day that rappers Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Willie D (who writes a weekly column for the Houston Press), among others, opened theirs. She had told them that they had no choice but to support Unity, Moore said with a laugh.
Some of the rappers who opened accounts at Unity also met with Mayor Sylvester Turner Tuesday to discuss violence in Houston. The mayor's office did not immediately return the Press's requests for specifics about the meeting, which was closed to reporters.
“When I came two days ago, it was packed,” said Mary McCoy of the bank. McCoy was at Unity on Thursday to finalize her account application. “Probably every seat taken.”
“I had thought about it before, but with everything that's happening now, it's time to do it,” McCoy said, when asked why so many, including herself, had chosen just now to start her application to Unity.
“I think it should've been done years before,” she added.
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Though Unity has passed through several hands in its decades-long history, its current group of owners – including former Houston mayor Lee P. Brown – bought controlling stock in the bank in 2005. Outside of its headquarters in the Third Ward, Unity also has a Missouri City branch.
Minority Depository Institutions like Unity – banks that have 51 percent or more of their stock owned by minorities – have been on the decline since 2008, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation records. More than 200 MDIs operated in the United States that year. But as of July this year, there were only 162 left. Out of those banks, just 24 were owned by African-Americans.
Houstonians are far from alone in their push to support black-owned banks. In Atlanta, 8,000 people submitted applications to join the black-owned Citizens Trust Bank after the rapper Killer Mike told fans to support the bank, according to USA Today.
“I love it. It gives me a sense of contributing to the foundation of my people,” Moore said of supporting black-owned businesses. “To move your money to Unity can only benefit you, because of who we are. And we can establish a relationship with this bank and open other branches further out, so that's one of the main reasons we should do that, because it gives them a chance to grow.”