Middle school students across the country have until June 25, 2015 to submit their 250-word essays to qualify for OneUnited Bank’s 5th annual “I Got Bank!” contest. Three lucky winners will win a $1,000 OneUnited Bank savings account by August 31, 2015. Founded 10 years ago by Teri Williams and her husband Kevin Cohee, OneUnited Bank is in the business of promoting financial literacy for urban youth.
The 2014 winners were Amaya Horace, Bowie, Maryland, age 12; Chase Abner, Los Angeles, California, age 12; and Damoni Swain, Dorchester, Massachusetts, age 10. They all wrote about entrepreneurship and the importance of saving money.
The nation’s largest Black-owned bank, OneUnited also offers Summer School that provides pertinent personal finance information about common issues such as building and rebuilding credit.
Here, we caught up with Williams to talk about the contest.
TNJ.com: How did you come up with the idea for the contest?
Teri Williams: We started the bank 10 years ago and it is now the largest Black-owned bank in the country. Our focus is on low-to-moderate income communities, so we had a program where we were adopting schools in the communities where we serve. Our goal was to teach the students about financial literacy. There was no material that talked about money matters for someone in an urban setting. The few books that were out featured suburban locations, lemonade stands, white picket fences and trees…nothing that spoke to kids growing up in urban communities who would be confronted with the likes of check cashers. So I was just going to write a little pamphlet to have something we could use. The pamphlet turned into a book that focused on educating kids on money matters in a way they could relate to.
After it was published, I thought about it some more. We felt it was important for us, as a community, to focus our kids on financial matters at as early an age as possible. When I grew up, we had “home economics” classes, which no longer exist. Today, kids are not learning about the importance of a savings account, etc. Plus, the financial world has become more complex. Back then, we simply had checking and savings accounts. Now, we have secured debit cards, CDs, credit scores, check systems, and more. The banking industry has become more complex yet we are doing less to teach these concepts in school. We thought one way to help was to get the book published. We provided it, for free, to nonprofits to get them into libraries, but it was expensive. The other way was to create this essay contest, “I Got Bank!” to get the kids focused at a young age. The assignment was to read any book about how they could use what they learned to help their families.
TNJ.com: Regarding the contest, how has the feedback been?
T.W.:Feedback has been excellent. We receive numerous essays from across the country. Some organizations have created a contest within a contest where they get whole classes to write essays and submit them as a group; parents who are homeschooling their kids get involved, too. They use the contest as a way to teach their kids at home; and the essays have all been fabulous. It’s getting harder and harder to choose three winners!
TNJ.com: In what state is the Summer School held and what is the course about?
T.W.: It’s held in Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles. We offer one per summer, but it’s held several times during the summer. It’s a 3-hour workshop. We always have a fabulous turnout. There is bonding that happens during the class where people feel comfortable enough and can talk about personal finance matters in a warm environment. They learn from the information we provide. It’s all about building, improving, and rebuilding credit scores and how banks look at them. This economy has significantly impacted a lot of people’s credit, the loss of jobs, etc. In our communities, we have a lot of credit problems. There are scammers that ask consumers for $1,000 to rebuild your credit, but you can do it without paying someone.
(CLICK HERE for another article about Teri Williams and OneUnited Bank.)