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Black History Month: Reflecting on Credit Union Leaders

Credit union history is rife with strong, compassionate African American leadership that has strengthened communities and influenced the industry as a whole. Black History Month is a great opportunity to reflect on individuals who have dedicated their careers to empowering traditionally marginalized communities.

The men and women featured here are but a small sampling of the many servant leaders shaping the credit union industry. Many of these leaders are part of the African American Credit Union Coalition, whose mission is to increase the strength of the credit union community through advocacy, professional development, and diversity. Today, the AACUC continues to live its mission serving over 400 members and providing internships, scholarships and professional development programs. Here are just a few:

credit union leaders through the years

Photo order left to right: Bob Harvey, Rosemary Brinkley, Sheilah Montgomery, and Barbara Stephens

Seattle Credit Union’s very own Bob Harvey led our organization as CEO for 19 years before his retirement in 2011, taking the reins back when we were still Seattle City Credit Union. Harvey was extremely active in the credit union community. He served as board chair of the African American Credit Union Coalition, as well as a council director for the Credit Union Executive Society (CUES) and a lecturer for the California Credit Union League and Credit Union National Association. He also received both the Washington Credit Union Professional of the Year and CUES Executive of the Year awards. In 2004, he was named to the CUES Hall of Fame.

Rosemary Brinkley of Maryland’s Educational Systems Federal Credit Union (ESFCU), was another fierce champion of credit unions and those they serve. Inducted into the African-American Credit Union Coalition’s (AACUC) Hall of Fame in 2016, Brinkley led with the philosophy, “we can do better.” Brinkley understood the importance of educational equity. Her passion for promoting financial literacy inspired ESFCU to sponsor 115,000 students from 350 elementary schools in baseball reading programs, awarding over $40,000 in student scholarships and awards and donating nearly 7,000 backpacks to middle school students in need. She used to say the main reason she became involved with the credit union was to find a way to help educators struggling to make financial ends meet. Brinkley passed away in 2016, but her legacy lives on.

In 2018, Sheilah Montgomery received the coveted Pete Crear Lifetime Achievement Award by the AACUC for her dedication to serving others. Sheilah is the retired President/CEO of Credit Union of Atlanta and the former President/CEO of 1st Choice Credit Union. Under her leadership, 1st Choice Credit Union was the first credit union in Atlanta to be designated as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) certified home counseling agency. Because of these designations, over 25,000 new members had access to financial services not easily accessible due to credit challenges and/or lack of collateral.

Barbara Stephens, former CEO of Houston Municipal Federal Credit Union (HMFU), was inducted into the AACUC Hall of Fame in 2016 for her tireless efforts to bring financial services to underserved communities. Stephens was instrumental preparing the way for HMFCU to achieve a CDFI grant totaling more than $1 million. “Credit unions are committed to the financial health of their members and communities as a whole. These funds will go a long way towards stabilizing the finances of a low of low-income families, and we are thrilled to be a part of that,” Stephens says.


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