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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

My Block, My Hood, My City Helps South Siders Ditch The Currency Exchange, Get Bank Accounts Of Their Own

Jahmal Cole's team will head to Roseland, Bronzeville and Little Village next, offering $100 to people who want checking accounts of their own.

My Block, My Hood, My City Founder Jahmal Cole speaks with a passerby Saturday morning. His organization partnered with Seaway Bank and the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago to help 100 residents sign up for checking accounts this month.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
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CHATHAM — Armed with a clipboard of surveys and a table full of coffee and doughnuts, My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole and a small team of volunteers set up shop in front of a Chatham currency exchange, ready to spread the message of financial empowerment Saturday morning.

Their goal, inspired by Cole’s book, “It’s Not Regular,” was to sign up 100 people for checking accounts with minority-owned Seaway Bank, which converted into a credit union in 2017 after being acquired by State Bank of Texas CEO Chan Patel and the Center for Community Self-Help. In their first hour on the 8200 block of South Cottage Grove, about a dozen people filled out the team’s financial survey.

Those who filled out the survey would be contacted after and given $25 to open a checking account with the South Side banking institution on the condition they participate in a free financial literacy course, compliments of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago’s Chatham branch.

Upon completion of the course, participants would receive another $25, with the final $50 coming at the end of the year if their accounts remain open.

“We want people to explore the idea of property ownership, but we realize that a lot of people can’t even think about buying a house because they aren’t financially stable,” said Tiffany Smith, Neighborhood Housing Services’ neighborhood strategy coordinator.

“For a lot of us, that’s the barrier. We may have our monthly spending down, but we can’t buy a house if we have $65,000 in student loan debt. How do we manage that? How do we consolidate? How do we set up a repayment plan? If I work for a nonprofit, do I qualify for loan forgiveness? It’s all about educating people on how this works, and how they can use it to their benefit.

“Our Financial Fresh Start course helps people develop a spending plan, understand how credit works, and the dangers of using any service that promises a quick credit fix, which does more harm than good in the long run.”

The course also allows participants to explore their own relationships with money, a key to breaking bad habits, Smith said. Neighborhood Housing Services added another course on student loan management last fall.

Neighborhood Housing Services, Seaway Bank and My Block, My Hood, My City will host more sign-up events through April, with the team heading to Roseland Feb. 15. Events planned in Bronzeville and Little Village will soon be announced. They’re also exploring the possibility of bringing the initiative to the West Side, Cole said.

Cole added that CityKeys would also be available to undocumented citizens in need of identification to open checking accounts.

Cole said banking is a better, more sustainable alternative to cashing checks at currency exchanges, where customers pay fees to access their own money and are sometimes treated like criminals, he told Block Club in a recent interview.

“This is the best initiative My Block, My Hood, My City has been a part of,” Cole said. “The reception has been great. It’s not about shutting down the currency exchange as much as it’s about education, financial literacy and making institutions equitable.”

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