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APPEAL, Inc. Eyes a Black-Owned Credit Union

This weekend, as hundreds of Black people commemorate the founding of a local nonprofit and cooperative dedicated to the economic empowerment of Africans across the diaspora, its founding members have their sights set on launching a marquee project that’s been years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in the making.

Leaders of the Association of People for Pan-Africanist Economic Advancement thru Leverage, or APPEAL, Inc., said its community credit union, the first of its kind for Black people, will support liberation work and commerce that takes place in the D.C.’s African-centered community among Black-owned businesses and their patrons.

“We’re the wealthiest people in the world in terms of resources, but we’re not in control of those resources,” said Kelechi Egwim, APPEAL, Inc.’s executive director since 2014. “It’s not wealth, but organized control of that wealth we’re lacking.”

In February, after a nearly two-year process, the National Credit Union Administration recognized what will eventually become the APPEAL Federal Credit Union. Once opened, people all over the country can open accounts in the credit union and have direct involvement in its dealings.

An endeavor of this magnitude, however, requires $300,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, some of which Egwim said has already been raised. He expressed hopes of closing the gap Sunday during APPEAL, Inc.’s Founder’s Day Celebration at the Howard Theatre in Northwest.

On that night, guests will enjoy the musical stylings of Ayanna Gregory, Free, SAHEL, Tamika “Love” Jones, former members of BLACKNOTES, Bashea Imana, Ka’Ba Soulsinger and others. Proceeds from the celebration will fund the launch of the APPEAL Federal Credit Union.

“We have to harness all that we have,” Egwim said. “A community credit union is one step because it allows us to fulfill our purpose: building capacity to own the production and distribution of goods we consume and provide employment and training to become self-sufficient.”

Though Blacks account for less than 15 percent of the U.S. population, they collectively command spending power of $1.2 trillion, according to a February Nielsen report, what researchers call a huge draw to corporations vying for the consumer group’s attention in the realms of food, baby and hygiene products and air fresheners.

On the entrepreneurship front, women have taken the lead in business ownership within the Black community, but often face trouble acquiring private loans to launch their enterprises, forcing them to tap into personal funds, a phenomenon that stunts revenue growth and that of their business ventures.  

Through APPEAL, Inc.’s think tank, members have produced research analyzing these economic issues and compiled a 50-year plan that includes the APPEAL Federal Credit Union and charts its path as a conduit for financial freedom in D.C.’s Black community and beyond.

“In credit unions, controlling power is shared among its membership, and no one member is more important than the other,” said Brandon Green, a founding member and associate director of APPEAL, Inc.  “They are not-for-profit, cooperative institutions. Banks are for-profit corporations whose main goal is to maximize their value and profits for their shareholders, even if it goes against the interest of their depositors and customers.

“Unfortunately, many banks don’t have their customers’ best interests in mind,” Green said. “The ‘profits’ of credit unions are used to provide better services for their members. That’s why they can offer better rates when it comes to lending and deposits, charge less fees, and provide more competitive overall services than for-profit banks.”

APPEAL’s other offerings include financial literacy workshops and historical and cultural presentations at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Northwest, coupled with group trips as part of a 16-week program that connects community members to subject-matter experts.

Since its 2013 inception, APPEAL has sponsored excursions to the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center in Cambridge, Maryland and the Nat Turner Trail in Southampton County, Virginia. Organizers said the gatherings have created a following among APPEAL loyalists, young adults and elders seeking help with their finances.

In the spirit of cooperative economics, APPEAL connects people to Black-owned businesses, including Freedom Toilet Paper Company, Asli Pure Natural Body Care, and East Coast Honey, a group of Black beekeepers, twice a month as part of its Black Saturdays Co-Op at Umoja House on Bunker Hill Road in Northeast.

“We’re in a race to understand our own sovereignty and sanity,” Makini Niliwaambieni, founding member of APPEAL and chair of its socioeconomic analysis and education committee, said as she recounted past events, including those featuring local advocacy organization Friends of the Congo, a person who connected with chiefs in Ghana to purchase land, and a screening of Shirikiana Aina Gerima’s film “Footprints of Pan-Africanism.”

“People who’ve come back find it refreshing to attend workshops and receive additional information on a Saturday,” said Niliwaambieni, a Prince George’s County resident and education consultant. “Others are looking for an update on a particular situation like what’s happening in the Congo. For every topic we select, the goal is to find someone who’s well versed, done research, and is active in that realm.”

Lasana Mack, onetime D.C. treasurer, founded APPEAL, Inc. in 2012, with the help of more than 50 Pan-Africanists and the Community Law Development Clinic of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law in Northwest. A year later, APPEAL would formally launch as a nonprofit organization facilitating financial literacy and consolidation of the Black economic power.

Though on the front lines of APPEAL’s inception, Mack, a financial management professional of 27 years, wouldn’t live to see it maintain a foothold in D.C. African-centered community.

Mack died in 2014, having inspired a legion of activists, including Nataki Kambon, who has since spread messages of Black self-determination through Let’s Buy Black 365, an economic empowerment movement, and other ventures.

“Baba Lasana was getting the framework together and bringing together people who could better the organization,” said Kambon, a former APPEAL member who worked with Mack in the year before his death. “He led without telling people what was great about him. He also led in a way that amplified the greatness in each of us.

“That quiet leadership was powerful,” said Kambon, also a business consultant at Nu Business Solutions. “It inspired me to not just join organizations passively, but live activism. Learning about his community involvement, and the national and international vision of APPEAL really put me in check. After that, I knew I had no excuse for not using my business savvy to help advance Black economic empowerment.”

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