“Having an entire financial ecosystem in our community is critical. Growing up, my mother's mortgage was with the local credit union and had it not been, had our mortgage been with a large bank, we would have been on the street. We were able to stay in our house was because the gentleman who ran the credit union went to church with us. He lived down the street from us. He knew us. He was from our community.
We have to sacrifice and think about what's coming behind us, because those who came before us, weren't just thinking about themselves. They were thinking about all of us and we truly are the by-product of their sacrifice.”
--Greg Cunningham, Vice President for Global Inclusion at US Bank.
“My mom always told me to be careful what you pray for,” says Damon Jenkins, as he steps into banking history as leader for Minnesota’s first Black-owned and Black-controlled full service bank. Jenkins has joined Detroit’s First Independence Bank to head the financial institution’s Minnesota expansion this fall.
The banking venture is in part a response to the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. And because the incident took place in the neighborhood he grew up in, Jenkins says the tragedy hit him hard.
“My mom's is a 32-year resident of the Minneapolis community where Floyd was murdered. I grew up in that community. And so I've read this story of Black males’ lives getting taken by the hands of the folks that are supposed to protect us. And so it just hit home,” he said.
“And coming off the pandemic, I prayed that the next chapter of my life would put me in a position where I can be of service to other people.”
‘We were out there on my mom's porch watching buildings burn, watching people come down the block looting and coming back the next day, trying to sell us the same things,” Jenkins said in an exclusive interview on Conversations with Al McFarlane.
“I prayed to be put in a position where I can use my relationship building and my banking influence and experience, but also be a servant to the community that I grew up in because it. It hit home.”
Jenkins’ prayers and preparation landed him his new role as First Independence Bank senior vice president and regional consultant for the Twin Cities. In this role, he will direct all facets of operations for the retail branch offices in the Minneapolis area. Jenkins defines sales and services initiatives for the region. He develops objectives and measurement standards and monitors branch performance. He ensures the branch administration teams conduct operations and provide the service and product offerings that meet the needs of customers in the Minneapolis region.
Jenkins has been in the banking industry for 14 years. Before joining First Independence Bank, Jenkins was a Wells Fargo Bank vice president and district manager for Wells Fargo's downtown Minneapolis district. He has also served as vice-president and district manager at U S banks, Minneapolis. He is skilled in employee development coaching. He's a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion and served as the co-chair of the Wells Fargo, African-American employee resource group. Jenkins graduated from University of Minnesota with a Bachelor’s Degree in educational psychology.
“Shortly after the killing of George Floyd, I saw a need at Wells Fargo to really help foster these tough conversations within my own district, within my own region and within the company. What was different with the George Floyd incident is that it really exposed a lack of caring. You couldn't make the excuses that have made for prior situations, because you really saw this: that for eight minutes and 46 seconds there was a lack of caring. I realized that I had to help my employees and the communities that we serve to have these conversations. And so it just started there. We started having conversations about why this happened, not the fact that people were looting,” Jenkins said.
“We said let's talk about all the disparities our communities face,” he said. From there Wells Fargo started conversations with other banks and asked, “how can we do something together that we can't get accomplished by ourselves?”
“I'm a product of why this work is important. And I think that I've been blessed with the platform and also with the relationship building skills to be that buffer between what I would call corporate America and the community,” he said.
Jenkins was born in Kansas City, Missouri. The youngest of seven, five boys and two girls, Jenkins notes that his mom raised them by herself. “You think about what the average urban household goes through, I lived that. My mom moved us here to make a better life for us.”
“We first moved to Phillip's neighborhood and we rented there for about a year and a half. And then my mom got her credit approved through ACORN. They helped her out and she bought that home in 1991, right off Chicago and Lake Street where she's been for the last 30 plus years.
“My mom got us memberships in the local Boys and Girls Club. I realize now that what she was doing was giving us a place that was different than the hangout spot, giving us a place to go and connect us with more resources. So as a result, I got into basketball. As a result of that. I got into public speaking. As a result of that, my brother got into singing. And we met a community leader at the club named John Hardiman. I remember at 12 years old, he taught me how to tie my first double Windsor knot.” Jenkins said.
“What he told me was, ‘I'm preparing you for the future,’” he said.
Tracing his formative years, Jenkins said, “I went to Anderson elementary school, Sanford middle school and graduated from Minneapolis South and went on to the U. So I'm a Minneapolis guy. I am home grown. One thing I'll tell you is that what we are creating here with this ecosystem will ensure that we really play more in the equity space. Because that's what it's all about at this stage of the game. We've been knocking on the diversity and inclusion space for far too long. It's time now to start to create equity. And I'm just excited because this is going to be something that definitely puts us down that path.”