For nearly a century, Amalgamated Bank, the countries largest union-owned bank, has been a resource for people from all walks of life. And since its inception in Chicago in 1923, social responsibility has been at the forefront of the institution’s mission. Started by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, a group of immigrants who at the time were unbanked, the storied company now led by Priscilla Sims-Brown, sees women’s rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform as just a small sampling of social issues that warrant their involvement today.
“We are a B Corp and a socially responsible bank. In fact, we’re the country’s largest, socially responsible bank,” Sims Brown proudly shares with EBONY. “And what that means for us is that we simply do not take public positions and we do not invest in things that we think are harmful. What we are very quick to provide is a point of view and lend our voice to what we believe to be socially responsible causes.”
For Sims Brown, being able to support racial justice causes is particularly meaningful. As the head of a publicly traded bank, she believes it’s important to definitively state “Black Lives Matter,”to address the embedded racism in the criminal justice system, and to help dismantle the oppression of Black people. “We’re aligned with those in the system who seek to celebrate the good work that good people do. But we also recognize that system needs a major overhaul in order to protect the lives of Black people in this country,” Sims Brown asserts.
That’s why along with fighting for diversity, the bank has invested heavily into community development, mental and physical health treatment, education, workforce development, and affordable housing. “All of these these systems are important for diverse cultures who have been oppressed or who have not been on an even level playing field and I think those things need to be prioritized,” Sims Brown says.
As a socially responsible bank, Amalgamated sees the reversal of systemic wrongs as more important than policing and private prisons. As recently as 2019, major banks, including Wells Fargo, SunTrust, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, and Barclays were still financing private prisons. On the contrary, Sims Brown, a former journalist says Amalgamated is “very concerned about about the growth of private prisons in this country.” And, in fact, it was one of the first banks to support H.R. 40 which is creating a commission to explore reparations to African Americans.
It’s also a major supporter and funding partner of the Expanding Black Business Credit network’s (EBBC) Black Vision Fund. The fund will lend long-term financial support to seven successful Black-focused/led Community Development Financial Institutions so that they can make loans to Black-owned businesses. The ultimate goal is to reduce the racial wealth gap that has been prohibitive to the Black community.
“This is important because economic rights are a critical part of human rights. And when we have things occurring, like this pandemic, which has harmed a number of businesses those that have the weakest capital foundation are going to be those that are most harmed,” Sims Brown explains. “We want to make sure that the progress that has been made in some areas continues to be made.”
If it’s up to Amalgamated’s newest CEO, advancing these causes and making headway on the systemic issues that currently divide communities will happen. “We certainly exist to to make those things happen,” Sims Brown says. “We walk the talk, if you will.”