Village Financial project leaders say they are poised for a productive 2020
[Samantha Pree Stinson (right) was named Executive Project Director of the Association for Black Economic Power in late November after several months without a leader. Malcolm Wells is one of just two board members currently in place at the organization, which will hold its board elections in January. Photo by Kenzie O’Keefe]
By Kenzie O’Keefe Editor
In a one-room office in the basement of 227 Colfax Ave. N, a tiny team is working diligently to get a project to open a black-led credit union on the Northside back on track.
The credit union is a community-driven idea that has been advanced by the Association for Black Economic Power since 2015. After two of the organization’s key leaders were ousted at the end of the summer over allegations of financial and organizational mismanagement, it became apparent that ABEP was far from its goal of opening a credit union by 2020.
Resources were running out, board numbers had dwindled, and the work that needed to be done in order to get federal approval to open a credit union were overwhelming to an organization that suddenly had no leadership.
Board member Malcolm Wells says it was unclear whether ABEP would survive the year: “It was really this daunting kind of a thing.”
Four months later, Wells says the future is much brighter because of “great decisions,” new leadership, and recently secured resources.
Samantha Pree Stinson was named ABEP’s new leader on Nov. 27. Pree Stinson previously served as “organizational alignment lead” for the nonprofit. She was its only staff member not laid off this fall.
“I see myself as a community vessel,” she said, noting her strengths as a project manager and convener of people and skillsets.
Before joining ABEP, Pree Stinson was Ward 4 City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham’s policy aide. She says her decision to leave her steady job at city hall and delve into the grassroots development of a credit union reflects her deep belief that “the best solutions” for the black community “are the ones that come from us” on the “street level.”
“I am a person who loves as local as you can get it. That is my passion,” she said.
Pree Stinson is ABEP’s only current staff person other than a part time IT intern, Brandi Morgan, a junior at Century College.
Pree Stinson’s staff position isn’t the only leadership role the board needs to fill. Today, the nonprofit had just two board members—Wells and Elaine Rasmussen. Former board member Felicia Perry, who helped lead ABEP through the volatility of the past few months, recently chose to step down.
ABEP plans to host public board elections on Jan. 21. Wells says his hope is that five new board members are named.
Despite the tumult of the past few months, Wells and Pree Stinson say they’ll enter 2020 energized and excited for what’s ahead. “We have a lot of opportunities to take advantage of,” said Pree Stinson.
Some of those opportunities are financial. Pree Stinson says ABEP has secured three new grants since September—$90K for the nonprofit to rebuild its infrastructure and $100K in a Federal CDFI grant to “revamp and reframe” ABEP’s New Day Loan program, an alternative to exploitive pay day loan options.
Wells says that ABEP’s major financial backers—including the City of Minneapolis and the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota—have had an attitude of: “we’re here for you but none of us are interested in bailing you out either.”
He says that the newly secured grants have been “reassuring” to those funders.
Patrick Troska, president of the Phillips Foundation, also a funder of this publication, says the foundation remains “committed to the project” and plans to make a financial contribution in 2020. He declined to give an exact amount, saying that the dollars would be paid out over time as progress is made.
“I feel much more confident in the direction it’s going now,” he said. “The vision remains the right vision.”
The 2020 city budget, approved by the council on Dec. 11 did not include a $500K line item for the credit union that had been included in the mayor’s earlier proposed draft. That money was reallocated elsewhere. Money allocated for the credit union in 2019 will be carried over, according to Pree Stinson.
As for what community members can expect from ABEP’s best known project, Village Financial credit union, Pree Stinson says little can be determined until new board members are in place.
ABEP’s application for a federal charter will need to be drastically revamped or recreated entirely, said Wells. That determination and work will be done after a new board is in place.
Where the credit union will be located and when it will open are yet to be determined, but Pree Stinson says “there is no question” it’s going to happen and that it’s going to happen transparently and collaboratively with community. “The new strategic plan to complete the final stages of the project will determine the new timeline that we can share with community,” she said.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is currently investigating allegations against ABEP’s previous leaders, Me’Lea Connelly and Joe Riemann. “The investigation has begun and there are no new updates,” said Pree Stinson.
“That’s above us now. We’ve moved on,” said Wells.