CDFIs–Bringing about a New Season in America

Lisa Mensah

Yesterday, we buried George Floyd. In the tradition of the black church, mourners found the strength to sing, to praise, and to focus on the need to stand together. Yet this brutal murder has shaken a nation exhausted by persistent violence against black lives. It has put on full display the unfinished work of our country to confront our systems of racial and economic injustice.

These are sober times. Our country is reeling from a pandemic, the economy is in great distress, and there is growing civil unrest. As saddened as I am personally by where we find ourselves as a nation, professionally my work has never felt more relevant and important. I am sure many others working for or with CDFIs feel the same way. In this moment our country needs CDFIs to be strong. Now, more than ever, we are needed to rebuild an economy that has left too many behind.

On June 3, as demonstrators and law enforcement officials were in the streets of our nation’s capital, I had the honor of representing the CDFI industry before the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services at their first hearing on CDFIs in over a decade. In my testimony, I reminded Committee members that many CDFIs were born out of the civil rights movement and the protests of the 1960s and 1970s. CDFIs are Financial First Responders in times of crisis. During recessions, natural and man-made disasters, and periods of civil unrest, when banks restrict lending, CDFIs lean in.

The hearing, ”Promoting Inclusive Lending During the Pandemic: Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs)” gave me and the other witnesses the chance to urge Congress to support our critical work with emergency funding of $1 billion in grants for the nation’s CDFIs. I emphasized that inclusive lending was critical before the pandemic. It is critical today and will be critical in the days ahead as the nation works to build a more equitable economy. The work of CDFIs is central to achieving this goal.

In recent days, I have spoken with numerous leaders of CDFIs. All are resolved to “lean in” to their mission and the valuable community building they undertake every day. As the executive director of one CDFI in Minneapolis said, “this is our community, and we will survive and rebuild.”

When the cameras leave and the media moves on to other stories, CDFIs remain in the communities we serve, where we fight for economic justice every day. Let us be strong. Let us take up this challenge and help usher in a new season.

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