Fourteen community development credit union volunteers, with collectively more than 400 years of service to their institutions and communities, have been recognized by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.
The National Federation recognized the group in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Dubbed the Martin Luther King Drum Majors for Service, the honorees were chosen, in part, because of the link between CDCUs and the civil rights movement, explained National Federation CEO Cliff Rosenthal.
"Many CDCUs were born in response to the injustices, economic and otherwise, that the Civil Rights struggle sought to address," explained Rosenthal, "so it was only fitting that these CDCU leaders be honored with the Drum Majors for Service Award, named after the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."
The award name comes from a reference King made at the end of a long and powerful sermon called “The Drum Major Instinct,” about the desire in the human spirit to be great without doing any great, difficult things.
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter,” King said.
The Federation declared the common bond among the honorees is their heartfelt dedication, passion and genuine caring for others and published a statement from one of the honorees, Melvina Johnson, a member of the board of directors of All Souls FCU. Johnson has over 40 years of experience with the New York-based CDCU.
"I joined the credit union movement because there was a time when people, in particular minorities, could not get money or access to credit, especially in our area [Harlem]," said Johnson. "The credit union, which is now over 50 years old, was formed specifically to help these people and our community to prosper. I got involved because of my deep feelings for the movement and because I wanted to help people," she continued, "I did not anticipate my own personal growth from my volunteer work, but across the years I have learned much and have gotten such pleasure from seeing others in my community learn how to save and to realize what being a member of a credit union can do to help them."
Another awardee, former Federation Chairman Rita L. Haynes, who recently retired as CEO of Cleveland's Faith Community United CU after more than 50 years in the credit union movement, shared a similar motivation for her endeavors.
"Faith Community United Credit Union gave me the opportunity to share my faith with low-income individuals and families by providing me with a vehicle to assist them in their journey for financial independence. It has allowed me to make a real impact in peoples' lives and to participate in the broader cooperative movement worldwide. I feel blessed to have been able to help so many people in my community, and especially to know that my efforts will continue through the work of the credit union for many generations to come," she said.
"In this time of economic challenge for our nation, Dr. King's vision of service and volunteerism are more critical than ever," added Rosenthal. "We need more Americans to serve and strengthen their own and each other's economic security, and service is a powerful way for citizens, nonprofits, the private sector and government to work together to meet critical needs and advance Dr. King's dream of opportunity for all. It is with great pleasure that the Federation nominated these most deserving candidates, for their incredible and indelible contributions to their communities and to the community development credit union movement."
Rosenthal also acknowledged that as these leaders retire and move on, along with others in their age range, CDCUs like all credit unions face a potential leadership gap.
“The times have changed and CDCUs have changed as well,” Rosenthal said. “We are deeply concerned with how community development credit unions can help draw more young people into community finance,” he added.
The federation is exploring several option, Rosenthal said, to help fill the gap. It continues to hold its annual CDCU Institute, which focuses on training volunteer leaders for CDCUs he said. The National Federation is also exploring the possibility of obtaining grants to help it work with CDCUs on bringing younger people in the ranks of their leadership.