She was only 7 years old, but Lynette Smith remembers watching the historic March on Washington on television on Aug. 28, 1963 with her family.
Smith, the new chairperson of the African-American Credit Union Coalition, recalled seeing people from diverse backgrounds converge on the nation’s capital to hear the many messages advocating for the pursuit of civil and economic rights. More than 250,000 attended the event back then.
Fast forward to 2013, like thousands of others, Smith and her husband, Aaron, gathered around the Lincoln Memorial at a smaller event on Aug. 24 to memorialize the 50th anniversary of the march and reflect on the urgency in the iconic speech, “I Have a Dream,” delivered by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Among those who spoke was Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who is considered to be the only surviving speaker from the 1963 march.
“It was, in my opinion, very moving. There were people from all walks of life. It was a very peaceful event,” said Smith, who is also president/CEO of the $89 million Washington Gas Light Federal Credit Union in Springfield, Va.
On Aug. 28, a larger march and rally kicked off the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington event. More than 100,000 people were expected to attend the day-long event, according to some estimates. President Obama spoke on the same spot where King gave his historic speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
“We have come so far and yet, we have so much to do,” said Smith, a native Washingtonian. “It is our goal that the AACUC play a major role in helping America continues to reach its financial dreams. This will take the collaboration of all credit unions and the trade associations.”
Hubert Hoosman, a former AACUC board member, spearheaded a campaign to encourage credit unions to contribute to the building of the King Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Collectively, credit unions, leagues, CUSOs and others within the industry raised $1.4 million toward the monument, which was unveiled in October 2011.
“I think as a movement, credit unions have served people of color very well compared to other financial institutions,” Hoosman said. “My concern is the lack of diversity in leadership.”
Hoosman said he called on the industry’s national trade associations to make a public commitment to help promote more diversity. He said he’s not just referring to African-Americans, but all minorities.
“When you look at the leadership within the movement, I think we can do a better job of promoting diversity,” said Hoosman, the former president/CEO of the $718 billion Vantage Credit Union in Bridgeton, Mo., who retired in April.