Investing in Potential (Part Two)

Rev. Dwight Ford and Ty Lewis

United Way Quad Cities and AALS ‘widening the tributary of opportunity’ for Black Quad Citizens

By Alison McGaughey, United Way Communications & Events Project Manager
Growing up, Ty Lewis was anything but lacking in academic potential for college. At Rock Island High School, he exceled not only academically, but involved himself in a number of extracurriculars, including ones in which he mentored local youth. After graduating in the top of his class, he went to Black Hawk College on a Presidential Scholarship, graduating with an associate degree in business.

But to continue toward a bachelor’s degree, which would be necessary to obtain a professional role in the finance industry, he faced a number of barriers: namely, the cost of tuition and the prospect of having to take out loans, an unfamiliar process and one he worried about in terms of repayment.

As he was pondering his plans, little did he know, a local bank CEO and United Way Quad Cities board member, in partnership with UWQCs’ African American Leadership Society, happened to be developing a unique new program to open doors to Black students seeking an entry into the finance world. A mentor of Lewis’ from high school knew of the opportunity and recommended him for the role. 

Today, Lewis is attending St. Ambrose University on a fully paid scholarship, is conducting a paid summer internship in the industry he hopes to pursue, and, upon graduation, will have the opportunity to work for Quad Cities Bank and Trust full-time. While participating in a partnership developed by United Way board member and QCBT CEO John Anderson and UWQC’s African American Leadership Society, the college senior is excelling in a field marked by structural hurdles to success. Bloomberg.com reports that Black professionals are represented in an average of 3.4 percent of executive and senior management roles, despite comprising 13 percent of the country’s population.

And it’s not just Black employees who are underrepresented in the banking industry, but customers as well. “When there are fewer people working at these financial institutions that come from your own community,” Forbes.com notes, “getting access to capital becomes more challenging.” Furthermore, many African Americans have difficulty accumulating savings in part because they lack access to mainstream financial services like banking. 

These statistics are realities Lewis knows first-hand, noting that “some of the behind-the-scenes things of what lenders look at, certain aspects of credit, are just not as known in the Black community. So, these are things my parents never knew about that I’m learning now.”

“When you look at the majority of the industry, you won’t see Black people behind counters, or among those who sit in the seats at the highest capacity,” says Rev. Dwight Ford, who has been involved with AALS since its inception. “There are proven barriers. So, we have to ask ourselves the honest question: is the lack of representation because Black people don’t have the interest in working in finance? And we have to be honest and say that could not be so.” 

Rev. Ford, who serves as executive director of Project Now Inc. as well as senior pastor at Grace City Church, saw Anderson’s vision as a chance to not only provide opportunity for one young Black person in the community, but, as he says, to “widen the tributary of opportunity” in a way that can benefit the entire Quad Cities community.

“We want to help ensure that for African Americans, their way of moving up in the Quad Cities is not to move away from the Quad Cities,” says Rev. Ford. “We see that there may be individuals who have the interest and the spark, but they don’t see anybody that looks like them serving in that capacity here, so they go away for college to more diverse areas and find a way to have the flame emboldened somewhere else. All of the data would say, this hurts the entire community. When we serve the best interest of individuals who are left out, we serve the best interest of those who have already been included.”

Rene Gellerman, UWQC president and CEO, and AALS manager, Kayla Babers, encourage anyone interested in learning more about starting a similar partnership to contact United Way. To get involved AALS – at any level, from interested CEO to mentor or volunteer, visit the AALS webpage. You can also give to AALS via our convenient Mobile Cause app. 

“I’m incredibly thankful for people like John and Ty, because now we have proof of content that it is possible here in the Quad Cities.”

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In Part Three of our series, learn about how the community support Lewis is receiving as part of the program is already impacting his life – and what he hopes for future Quad Citizens. Read Part Three here or start with Part One.