Self-Help Shares

Honoring Black History, Making History Today

By staff
  | Feb 16, 2024

April Snow Gilbert, Area Manager, stands with the Black history display in Self-Help Federal CU’s Chatham branch in Chicago.

It has been a festive February at Self-Help as we celebrate Black History Month! The nationwide theme for 2024 is “African Americans and the Arts.” Our branches are marking the occasion in a variety of special ways, ranging from live music and art exhibits to neighborhood tours. Otherwise, lifting up Black achievements and recognizing Black history as America’s history is just part of who we are and the everyday work we do to expand economic opportunities for all.

Here are just a few examples of Self-Help activities this month:


Appreciating art, food and community in Jacksonville, FL 

In Jacksonville, Florida, our branches have turned into temporary art galleries. As members visit the branch for their banking business, they can also appreciate beautiful paintings and sculptures made by local Black artists.

Laurence Walden, an award-winning artist based in Jacksonville, is known for creating masks from fine dining utensils and dishes. This piece is among the artwork displayed this month in our Kendall branch.

                                          Jacksonville artist Kiara Thomas Jones displays her work in Self-Help’s River City branch.



Later this month, the River City branch in Jacksonville also will host food trucks in our parking lot—one from a local Black-owned business, Krazy Fries, and another from Florida Blue. Florida Blue, an affiliate of Blue Cross Blue Shield, offers fresh fruits and vegetables at no charge. 

Florida Blue’s food truck displays enticing fruits and vegetables that Self-Help members and other passersby can pick up for free. 

The Jacksonville team is also busy with ongoing partnerships in the community. This month Self-Help will sponsor the Eartha White banquet, a fundraising event focused on homelessness held by the nonprofit Lincoln-Douglass Memorial Emancipation Proclamation Association. Our own Jonathan Leysath will emcee. Self-Help is also offering a financial wellness seminar at one of Florida Blue’s retail centers, an event open to the community that we do regularly. 

“To me, Black History Month is an opportunity not only to reflect on the past and all we have accomplished already, but also an opportunity to build our history in the present,” Jonathan said. 


Supporting entrepreneurship in Milwaukee 

For Pamela Bell, City Executive for Self-Help Federal CU in Milwaukee, celebrating Black history is also about looking ahead and making history. Pamela leads a team with branch locations serving Milwaukee’s north and side sides, strategically placed in communities where most of the city’s Black and brown residents live, work and play. For her, Black History Month is a time to pause and reflect on all the contributions made by African Americans globally.  

“I honor my family’s legacy and history by focusing on the day-to-day, long-term efforts of closing the racial wealth gap and expanding economic opportunities through the work we do with Self-Help members and the local vendors we support,” she said. 

Pamela and her team put this into action year-round through partnerships with organizations such as  Sherman Phoenix Foundation , a community hub that offers space for Black-owned entrepreneurs. Quarterly, a Self-Help representative visits the hub to offer financial literacy and service information. 

Pamela is extremely excited that during this Black History Month Self-Help Federal CU will be launching a new initiative,  MKE B.O.S.S. (Milwaukee Build Operate Scale Sustain), that will provide accessible online resources for certified minority-owned businesses in Milwaukee. This initiative, funded by JP Morgan Chase, will provide a continuum of support, ranging from financial coaching to business planning to access to capital. Self-Help Federal is one of three CDFIs providing resources and know-how for this project, which is set to officially launch on February 16. 


Recognizing amazing members in Chicago 

Other Self-Help Federal CU branches in the Midwest are honoring Black History Month by spotlighting members. At the Chatham location in Chicago, April Snow Gilbert, Area Manager, reports that they are displaying a poster that pays tribute to two young history-making members: Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman, a nationally recognized child prodigy and community leader who earned a PhD at age 17, and Darius Sanders, a world-class roller skater who last year performed at the Billboard Music Awards. 

In Bronzeville, also in Chicago, the branch is decorated with a “Someone You Should Know” theme. Fern Brown-Tyler, branch manager, said they posted information about some of the prominent and beloved members served in her branch. Self-Help Federal CU member Gloria Smith is the executive director of Black Star Project, a nonprofit dedicated to closing racial gaps in academic achievement and wealth. Another member, Mandene Muhammad, is a long-time radio host and a snappy dresser! The Bronzeville branch staff also appreciate his signature colorful printed socks (not shown). The staff also love member Harold Whitehead for his unfailing smile and good humor. Mr. Whitehead always has a story, song or joke for everyone anytime he comes into the branch. 

A wall display featuring three images of an older Black woman

Self-Help Federal CU member Gloria Smith 


A well-dressed Black man in a credit union lobby standing beneath a banner that says









Self-Help Federal CU member Mandene Muhammad


An older Black man sitting in a chair and smiling. He is wearing a cap and jacket that identify him as a veteran and Bronze Star Hero











Self-Help Federal CU member Mr. Harold Whitehead


Celebrating Black history in California  

Another Self-Help Federal CU celebration took place in the Pomona, California branch. Karla Rodriguez, assistant branch manager, said the branch kicked off the month by providing snacks and drinks for members to enjoy. They also set up a table with interesting Black history facts and literature and gave away BHM bookmarks to members. 

A display table featuring handouts about Black History Month







Self-Help Federal CU's Pomona, California branch

“We want our members to feel comfortable and to celebrate with us as we honor the history and legacy of African American people in this country,” said Karla. 


Learning and listening in Miami  

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country and way down South, Self-Help’s Miami team has organized a “Learning and Listening Tour” that will continue throughout the month.

A thriving garden with greens growing, and a building in the background with Center for Black Innovation written on it







The "Teach the Truth" community garden in Miami

Sam Chesser, Regional Manager, reported that this included a visit to the Miami Center for Racial Justice’s Teach the Truth Community Garden and a Historic Overtown Walking Tour led by Dr. Marvin Dunn, a Black author and historian.  

Other parts of the Miami “Learning and Listening Tour” include these events:

  • A celebration of the life and ministry of Absalom Jones, the first African American priest of the Episcopal Church
  • “The Black Bahamian Roots of Miami” walking tour through the historic neighborhoods of Coconut Grove
  • A tour at Virginia Key beach (Miami’s historic “Black beach”)
  • A visit to the Redlining Art Exhibit, created by artist and architect Brandon Clarke, that illuminates the history of discriminatory practices in financial services, past and present


The celebration of Absalom Jones, America’s first Black Episcopal priest, took place at the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. 

The Miami team also plans to connect with their local HBCU, Florida Memorial University, about scholarship and intern opportunities. 


Enjoying R&B in Asheville, NC 

In North Carolina, our Asheville branch launched BHM activities on February 2 with live music from Westsound, an R&B band that includes Self-Help member Randy Weston. On that same day, all the Asheville branches served cupcakes from a local Black-owned business, Smallcakes Cupcakes & Creamery. Dawn Lierman, Regional Manager, reports that both members and staff had a great time! The band plans to perform at our South Asheville and Old Fort branches later in the month.  


Jenli Lindsey (Sr. Member Service Representive, left) and Jillian Brown (Member Service Representative) enjoy tunes in our Asheville branch from Westsound. 


Sharing information in Columbia, SC 

In South Carolina, our Assembly branch in Columbia went all out with decorations and set up an information table for members to browse. 

two smiling women standing on either side of a table decorated for Black History Month Member Service Representatives Stacie Nunes (left) and Vanessa Lionello (right) shown with the BHM table they set up in our Assembly Street branch in Columbia, South Carolina.

These are just a few of the activities around Self-Help reported so far. Our hope is that our staff and members will come away from this month with more knowledge about Black history, greater awareness of Black achievements, and a renewed commitment to make history today by working for greater economic opportunities and justice for all.  


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