White woman at the African American Conference
A message from MCUL CEO Patty Corkery
LANSING, MI (July 31, 2023) — Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC)’s Annual Conference. It was the Coalition’s 25th year of the conference, so it was a pretty big milestone. The conference is a five-day event held just outside Atlanta, Georgia.
Finally, I was in the minority at an event. Wait, before I get to that, let’s cover some background. Over the last few years, like a lot of you, I have been trying to understand and educate myself on the Black experience in our country as well as in our credit union industry. This has included reading books, articles, listening to podcasts as well as participating in more diverse events and talking and learning from some amazing people. It has made me look at my LinkedIn connections to see if they were made up of diverse connections. It has made me look at our MCUL events and my network of friends. It has been a very intentional experience.
Going down this road, one that I admit wholeheartedly that I should have started on much earlier, has brought a lot of emotions to the surface. This exploration has also, I hope, made me a better leader, friend, mother and colleague. To be clear, I am still on this road. Probably not even halfway there. Not even sure what “there” is and most likely I will just be a traveler for the rest of my days. But, I can say with confidence, that I will be an intentional and educated traveler as I continue to widen my network of credit union friends and mentors.
This journey has made me recognize my privilege. It has helped me understand why female, non-white attendees at events do not always feel as confident as I do. It has made me understand “the nod” as Renee Sattiewhite talks about — the nod an African American gives to another African American at an event when there are few of color in attendance. The “I see you” nod. I get it now.
Believe me, I appreciate that attending my first AACUC conference this month does not make me an expert. But, as I sit at the airport in Atlanta on my way back to Detroit, after hanging with some amazing people, it does give me pause and I am in a place of contemplation.
I told Renee, the President/CEO of AACUC, that being at the event and being in a room where I was the minority, probably for the first time in my professional career, was, in the best word I can conjure, refreshing. It was refreshing to not feel troubled by the lack of diversity at an event. It was wonderful to see this amazing side of credit union leaders, team members and volunteers gather and feel included and in the majority. I actually loved it. And, I felt included because the attendees made me feel included. They smiled at me, they introduced themselves, they saw me.
Don’t get me wrong, the ideal event has an equal mix of everyone represented. I am excited for that day. But, until then, the fact that AACUC continues to grow and thrive, shows me the power of the community and the passion for feeling included and seen. We have such a diverse and amazing family of credit union leaders and champions. The AACUC was born 25 years ago at the CUNA GAC by a small but mighty group that felt the need for something special. It was born and has continued to grow. After the murder of George Floyd, reach-outs and affiliation with AACUC grew exponentially. Out of tragedy came recognition in all of us that we needed to do more. We needed to understand and we needed to reach out. So many of our credit unions are doing amazing work in the DEI space and have been so intentional about their teams and communities. I have been in awe in what you have done and continue to do.
This road for all of us is long but I am excited to continue the travel as it brings me such joy and friendship in the people I am meeting and learning from. I encourage each of you to consider affiliation with AACUC and to send team members to their events. The vendor hall at their conference was sold out of our CUSO and credit union partners who are excited to be present and part of this community. This made me so happy.
During the event, Renee asked me to stand and be recognized for being there. I was only able to attend the first part of it but I am so glad I did. Renee told the group that I came all that way for one night just to show up. Showing up is important. But, Renee, it is me who should be thanking you. For all your work and your amazing team. I have never felt so appreciated or welcomed at an event. I am going to learn from you and make our events even better. Congratulations to AACUC on the 25-year anniversary. I hope it is okay with you that when I see someone who is in the minority at our event, I will also be doing the nod. Because I also see you and strive to be better.
To find out more about AACUC, check out their website.
About Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL)
The Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL) is headquartered in Lansing, Michigan. It enjoys 100% affiliation among its 187 member credit unions that serve 60% of Michigan’s population with 6 million members and total assets of $101 billion.