By Karanja A. Ajanaku, kajanaku@tri-statedefender.com

A management team from Tri-State Bank of Memphis has met with one of the groups involved in recent protests in a move that is in keeping with thrusts elsewhere to promote what some refer to with two words: “bank black.”

Galvanized by disgust with incidents perceived as police brutality, protesters in Memphis and myriad other cities have hit the streets in demonstrations. Emerging from that surge of activity has been multiple calls to harness the economic power of African Americans. The related thoughts being that such power could be used to empower business endeavors – big and small – to provide much-needed jobs and support within the African-American community.

“There are several local groups involved in this protest movement. Apparently one of the groups did come to the bank and met with our CEO and COO,” said Archie W. Willis III, vice president of the Tri-State Bank Board of Directors.

“They committed to start a larger campaign that would hopefully bring in additional deposits over a period of time. They are still working out the details of what they want to do and we are working out the details on our end to be sure we can accommodate them if there is kind of a large, spontaneous interest in opening accounts.”

Some African-American-owned banks have reported a surge of new accounts. While that bump partly has been associated with pleas from civil-rights leaders to support “our” financial institutions, much of the most recent interest comes amid ongoing protests of the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile near Minneapolis.

In Atlanta, more than 8,000 people reportedly opened accounts at Citizens Trust Bank between July 13-18 upon the urging of hip-hop artist Killer Mike.

Willis noted what he called “a small uptick” in new account activity at Tri-State Bank.

“Since the Sunday (July 10) event (that resulted in the shutdown of the Hernando Desoto Bridge) we’ve had approximately 78 new accounts opened,” said Willis, who did not have the dollar amount.

“We probably won’t get that (Atlanta) kind of impact. But based on the initial conversations with the group that they (the Tri-State management team) met with, they do expect to see additional accounts upon. And we think it is an opportunity for more people to potentially do business with Tri-State that haven’t before. We hope it builds momentum.”

In Nashville, Floyd Weekes, CEO/COO of Citizens Savings Bank, said Citizens had seen about 192 new accounts opened between about July 8 and July 18. Normally he would have expected 10 to 12 during such a span.

“It hasn’t translated into dollar growth. It translates into accounts growth. The dollar amount was only a little bit north of a $129,000,” said Weekes.

“We appreciate and like the support that’s coming in. What we want our constituents and community to know is that we would like for you to come and do your banking with us; not just put in $50 or $100 just to say we support the bank.”

Substantive support of African-American-owned banks increases the ability of those banks to do more in the African-American community, said Weekes, who sees the addition of 192 accounts as meaning there are 192 people who are aware of the bank and who may grow to do more with it.

Citizens Savings Bank operates in Nashville and Memphis. Information on how many of the 192 new accounts were opened in Memphis was not readily available.

Weekes suggests that many have forgotten or simply don’t know that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 it was after what Dr. King called for a “bank-in.”

That meant, said Weekes, “moving all your accounts and your monies from other institutions and putting them in African-American-owned institutions. …At the time, Memphis had quite a few black insurance companies also. He referenced that to say we also want you to do business in general (with African-American-owned businesses).

“We need to get our community galvanized again,” said Weekes, “to understand that the second half of his movement was an economic movement.”

African Americans had about $39 billion in disposal income (ninth among world economies) when Dr. King made his plea and today that figure is about $1.1 trillion, said Weekes, adding that ranks between ninth and 13th among world economies.

In 2013, there were 21 African-American-owned banks in the U.S., with approximately $4.7 billion in assets, according to HBCU Money. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation data showed 54 such banks in 1994.

Willis said there are multiple challenges to growth within the African-American community for banks such as Tri-State, including its relatively small size. Additionally, people have many options they didn’t have decades ago – including big banks and increasingly aggressive community banks.

“Technology speaking, we were behind the times for a period of time. …We are caught up and we have all the technology available, apps, the whole nine yards, online banking….It’s an ongoing challenge to make people aware that we are a bank that can provide generally all of the services that most customers will need and we can be competitive,” said Willis.

“It’s a matter of people knowing that we are there, and that’s on us.”

(This story includes a report by the Urban News Service, a TSD media partner.)