Harris County partners with black-owned bank for first such relationship

Houston – They rejoice in Harris County with historical news to tell. An institution that has been a major support for churches like Wheeler Avenue Baptist, restaurants, hair salons and other businesses for seven decades is celebrating another milestone – a one-of-a-kind partnership.

Unity National Bank — the only black-owned bank in the entire state of Texas — has been in the Third Ward since 1963 — originally as Riverside Bank. Last month, Harris County invested $5 million in Unity. This is the first time a county in Texas has partnered with a minority-owned bank for services. Never.

Michael Pearson is the president of Unity.

“We can take that $5 million and turn it around and fund loans for our consumers and for our business customers,” Pearson said.

The partnership essentially means that Unity will have more money to do what banks do: provide car loans, business financing and funds for real estate acquisitions. The county’s investment was largely led by Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

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“It’s a start,” Ellis said. “It’s not an end.”

Ellis said with a current societal focus on equity and inclusion, he felt it was time to invest in Unity, the same way the bank has invested in the surrounding community.

“It was definitely something we wanted to do,” Ellis said. “To reach out and find ways to try to help this institution thrive and survive.”

Thrive and survive is something Unity has been helping businesses and other institutions in Houston’s brown and black communities do for nearly six decades. In addition to Wheeler Avenue Baptist, a large number of black churches and ministries were able to obtain loans from Unity when no other bank would work with them. This includes St. John’s United Methodist Church downtown.

“Access to capital has always been a challenge for institutions of color,” said Rudy Rasmus, pastor at St. John’s.

Rasmus said the relationship between Unity and its customers largely comes down to two things: familiarity and respect.

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“It’s important to have an institution in the community that, above all, knows who you are. knows your story,” Rasmus said. “Knows you didn’t just show up, but came here and can trust their money.”

With this new partnership, Unity not only hopes that other entities will invest in the institution, but they look forward to it.

“We believe and expect that there will be others who will come and visit us,” Pearson said. “Understand who we are, understand our mission, and you’ll say, ‘You know what? We can support that.

How does the county benefit from this partnership with Unity? His investment of 5 million dollars takes the form of two CDs, one for two years and the other for three years. They will be able to earn interest on these returns and all funds are FDIC insured.

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Shawanda H. Saldana