Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and co-chairman of the Leaders Network, is blunt about what prompted his organization to want to create a credit union on the West Side.
“We don’t have any banks that are community-focused,” he said. “Blacks have been unbanked and underbanked, have been redlined against, have just been treated so unfairly by the banking industry. It’s literally criminal how they treat us.”
Acree said there’s a need for a financial institution in the community that can “help small businesses, help people secure loans for homes and give them an alternative to payday loans and other loan sharks.”
The pastor said he’s been in Austin since 1970, after his family moved here from Arkansas in 1967. He’s been pastoring for 33 years.
“I consider myself a civil rights leader,” he said. “I’ve been pastoring for 33 years.”
A credit union, he said, is consistent with the legacy of community-building he wants to leave behind.
“When I took over this church it was only four years old and in a basement in a building in Oak Park,” Acree said.
“My legacy is when I see so many lives that have been turned around because of being a part of this ministry. It’s quite amazing. When I look around and see someone like Stacy Osidecko who grew up in this church, went away, came back and now she’s teaching school in a neighborhood she grew up in. And she comes here on Sunday as a beacon of hope for other young people to let them know that they can do it. That means a lot.
“Stacy Osidecko is a business owner, she can get loans to buy things that she needs to keep building her business,” Acree said. “Others come to mind who are not homeowners yet, but would like to have their own brick and mortar. At the end of the day we wanted to do something tangible that could impact our community.”