Dr. Melina Abdullah — a California State University professor who is also a founding member of Black Lives Matter (BLM) — has called on all allies to move their money to black-owned banks.
“Wells Fargo and Citibank…they’re putting the dollars that you give them in the institutions that keep us oppressed,” Abdullah said on Saturday. “If you’re not going to bank black, you are funding white supremacy.”
Her comments came during a Facebook Live panel sponsored by OneUnited Bank — the largest African-American-owned bank in the United States — whose partnership with Black Lives Matter has thrived throughout 2017.
Joining Abdullah as a featured guest was Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin — the Florida teen whose 2012 shooting death gave rise to the Black Lives Matter brand. Fulton is sometimes referred to as “the mother of the movement” by BLM activists.
The broadcast was part of a Juneteenth celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
“We have to think about what our institutions are doing for us,” explained Abdullah, who went on the emphasize the necessity for black-owned banks and businesses to coalesce with Black Lives Matter in working toward visions that benefit the African-American community.
“We’re going to put our dollars with OneUnited because we know OneUnited is going to help us develop a reparations fund for our people,” Abdullah cited as an example. “We know OneUnited is going to help fund the movements that are going to help us get free.”
Panelists promoted a #WeOut hashtag, signifying “a collective show of economic force” that black people might actuate if they transfer their accounts to black-owned banks like OneUnited, despite its history of questionable dealings.
Several years before Black Lives Matter came into existence, OneUnited had already garnered a reputation for engaging “in unsafe or unsound banking practices and violations of law.”
The bank became the focus of a House ethics probe after receiving a $12 million bailout from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — which was supposed to help “healthy institutions” recover from the 2008 economic crisis. As the New York Times reported, “the aid surprised some bank analysts because OneUnited was then considered to be in precarious financial shape.” One study published by NBC News concluded that the bank “was the weakest” of the more than 700 financial institutions that received TARP money.
During the investigation, federal banking regulators discovered Rep. Maxine Waters’s husband once sat on the bank’s board of directors, which raised concerns over her family’s financial ties to the institution. The board had approved footing the bill for a lavish lifestyle for Kevin L. Cohee, OneUnited’s CEO, which included financing a Porsche, a Jaguar, a luxury condo in South Florida, and a $26,500 monthly lease for a beach house in Santa Monica, California.
As the Los Angeles Times reported:
Cohee’s high-flying perks came despite having been charged in 2007 with felonies after his arrest by the Santa Monica Police Department on suspicion of possessing cocaine, crack cocaine and concentrated cannabis, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The case was dismissed the next year after Cohee completed a drug diversion program.
More than eight years after OneUnited received its controversial TARP bailout, Cohee remains as the bank’s CEO. Last December, he met with organizers from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles (BLM-LA). After the meeting, it was foreshadowed that “big things” were in the works.
(Organizers from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, including Funmilola Fagbamila and Melina Abdullah, met with OneUnited Bank CEO Kevin L. Cohee in December 2016)
By mid-February, OneUnited announced it had teamed up with Black Lives Matter to launch a debit card and “organize Black America’s spending power.” It was a Black History Month promotion in which approved applicants would be able to use the card to fund Black Lives Matter efforts.
The following month Black Lives Matter partnered with the bank again, establishing a $10,000 trust fund for the son of Wakeisha Wilson — a woman who died in police custody last March after she was found hanging from her cell in a Los Angeles jail. Since her death, Wilson’s family has been closely aligned with BLM-LA. According to a OneUnited statement, “the establishment of this gift, on the one year anniversary of Ms. Wilson’s passing, is another way in which the organizations are working together.”
Four days later, the Washington Post published an article titled, “Move Your Money, Move Society?” The story featured a man named Greg Akili who had been encouraging the black community in Los Angeles to open bank accounts at OneUnited and apply for its debit card.
As the Washington Post reported:
After 30 years of banking with Wells Fargo, Akili made the switch to OneUnited in February, the same month the bank announced a partnership with Black Lives Matter and debuted its debit card depicting the youth in the hoodie.
OneUnited anticipates its collaboration with Black Lives Matter will benefit both entities mutually.
The president of OneUnited, Teri Williams, who is married to Cohee, said the bank wants help Black Lives Matter obtain financial assistance. As she told The Root, “we’re going to ensure that we’re successful in getting them support.”
Meanwhile, taxpayers remain on the hook for the $12 million TARP bailout that OneUnited hasn’t repaid.