Minnesota’s first Black-owned bank opens in Minneapolis 

Detroit-based First Independence Bank plans to address Minnesota's racial disparities in income and wealth.

First Independence Bank, based in Detroit, has expanded to Minneapolis, Minnesota, making it the first Black-owned bank in the North Star State. The bank opened its doors on Tuesday and has promised to focus on the state’s racial disparities in income and wealth. 

According to Minneapolis Public Radio, Minnesota has some of the widest income gaps in the nation. Banks in the state also have a history of discriminatory loan practices that have hindered the growth of Black wealth. 

The first ever Black-owned Minnesota bank opened its doors in Minneapolis Tuesday, and officials at First Independence Bank, based in Detroit, promised to address the North Star State’s wealth and income disparities. (Photo: Facebook.com/FirstIndependence)

“Those things are true,” said First Independence Bank CEO Kenneth Kelly, “and that’s one reason that it was important to us, to look at seeing how we can help solve those issues.” 

The Minneapolis branch, the first time that First Independence has opened outside of Michigan, is inside a former Wells Fargo Bank location. Damon Jenkins, a vice president at First Independence, is in charge of the new office. The former Wells Fargo executive said the new bank is going to be a “servant to the community … really striving to build stewards of banking.” 

“First pillar is financial wellness,” Jenkins contended. “We have to get the resources in people’s hands, so they can understand banking, but more importantly so that they can trust banking again. And then the other thing is home ownership, you know we’re really striving to get more Black people into homes, knowing that here in the state that’s our biggest opportunity, with us having the worst discrepancy for homeownership in the nation for Black people.”

Other financial institutions contributed to the opening of the Black-owned bank. According to the report, Wells Fargo donated the building to a nonprofit called Project for Pride in Living, which is leasing the building to First Independence.

“We view this expansion as an effort that builds capabilities and muscle in communities of color, in the Black community for the long haul,” said Paul Williams, CEO of Project for Pride in Living.

First Independence Bank has three branches in metro Detroit and already has plans for a second branch in Minnesota. Wells Fargo has invested $50 million into supporting banks owned and operated by people of color. 

“It’s really, really important to understand that to close the racial wealth gap, it’s going to take all of us,” said Danielle Squires, Wells Fargo’s head of diverse segments for corporate investment and banking. “It’s not a one-bank solution, it’s not a five-bank solution; heck, it’s not a 20-bank solution. So we all need to work together to help institutions like First Independence grow and succeed and thrive. There’s enough business to go around.”

Despite that assertion and investment, Wells Fargo was sued this week in federal court, accused of racial redlining and lending discrimination. As reported previously by theGrio, per Fortune, only 47% of Black home loan refinancing applicants were approved by Wells Fargo in 2020, compared to 72% of white applicants, according to data examined by Bloomberg News.

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