Feel it's time for you to hear my side of the story on "the little scuffle" that broke out between Hubert Hoosman and me at the GAC back in February. The "dust up" occurred downstairs around the exhibit area near the Washington Hilton coffee shop. Evidently, several of you who witnessed the brouhaha assumed it was a "racial incident" and, knowing Hubert Hoosman to be a fine gentleman, readily assumed that I had provoked the whole thing! Well, you're right, it was my fault. But, just perhaps, you may have reached the right conclusion for entirely the wrong reasons. Let me explain.
It all started last November when Hubert, who is CEO of Vantage Credit Union, called me up about contributing to the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK Jr.) Memorial that is to be built in Washington. I hemmed and hawed and put him off, but he called me again. I offered numerous excuses including difficult times, difficult board, difficult issue, but he called again. I deflected, deferred, ducked and demurred, but he sent a package of information and called again.
Hubert's persistence was bothersome, but what really irritated me was his annoying patience! He made it very, very clear, in a pleasant sort of way that he was not "going away" until I addressed this issue.
The MLK Jr. Memorial in and of itself is a remarkable project. Approved by a joint resolution of Congress in 1998, the MLK, Jr. Memorial is to be built on a four-acre tract on the National Mall between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. A national architectural design competition has been held and the final design was approved in 2000. The construction budget is $100 million, of which $78 million has already been raised from private sources. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in November 2006.
Be A Part Of Memorial Effort
Hubert Hoosman, in his role as treasurer of the African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC), has been contacting folks to make sure that "America's Credit Unions" become part of the MLK Jr. Memorial effort. Contribution requests are tiered by assets and range from $250 for credit unions of up to $10 million in assets to $25,000 for credit unions with assets in excess of $1 billion. The total overall goal is a relatively modest $2 million in contributions-hardly a major challenge for 8,000-plus credit unions with assets of $700 billion, representing 88 million Americans!
Leadership that lacks courage is a terrible thing-an oxymoron of the first order! Hubert Hoosman and the AACUC have called on the leadership of the credit union movement - that means you! - to become a part in building the MLK Jr. Memorial. The memorial seeks to honor a man who helped us all see that people should be judged first-and last-by "the content of their character" and to see that America should be a country that truly believes in and practices freedom, democracy and opportunity for all.
But, some of us are a bit timid at times. After all, well, you know...there are still "some issues." Discussions about race, civil rights and even Dr. King personally can still make some folks pretty tense, even downright uncomfortable. Sure would be easier just not to talk about it. I mean I really don't need to create any new problems with my board, right?! But, that annoying Hubert just doesn't stop calling.
Well, as it turned out, my board, when asked to contribute, actually did rebuke me for the MLK Jr. Memorial donation request. They quickly made it vehemently clear that I had not asked for enough! Didn't I realize what Dr. King had achieved in calling his country to live up to the idea that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal"? Didn't I realize that Dr. King had achieved through non-violent, moral conviction what Thomas Jefferson could not achieve through politics, nor Abraham Lincoln through civil war? Did I know of anyone who still believed that separate lunch counters and separate water fountains made sense? Didn't I realize that Dr. King's advocacy and vision had freed us all? My board said we don't want to make a contribution; we want to make a statement!! And, financially they most certainly did!
What Provoked The Incident
What provoked the incident at the GAC was the delivery of our credit union's contribution for the MLK Jr. Memorial. Hubert asked if I had had any luck with the board, I handed him a folded check and told him I needed to apologize. I had tried, I had done the best I could. But these were tough times; we were a "Southern" credit union, and he needed to realize there were still "some issues." And, I hoped that he wouldn't be too disappointed if all we could offer was a token contribution. Hubert's face noticeably tightened, his disappointment was very apparent, but with great grace he still managed a smile and a "Thank you." As he was turning to leave he glanced down and unfolded the check...
Must admit that I have never ever been "hugged up" so enthusiastically by a 6'4" point guard! Hubert started whooping like a maniac! In the packed lobby, people standing nearby assumed the worst and started to scatter, you could see 'em searching for their cell phones to call 911. It appeared that a moment of mayhem was at hand. But, at that moment, Hubert and I weren't trying to tear anything apart-hopefully, very hopefully, we were working on building a bridge!
One of Dr. King's great legacies was his bothersome persistency and his annoying patience. Peacefully he preached about the "fierce urgency of now." The MLK Jr. Memorial is being built now; credit unions need to be a part of that effort! It will take some courage for you, as a credit union leader to ask your board to be a part of this important memorial. But, the hardest work has already been done - site designated, budget formulated, design selected. You won't even need to confront the police dogs, the fire hoses, nor spend a few nights in the Birmingham jail-that hard work's been done for you, too!
The MLK Jr. Memorial symbolizes the idea of equal opportunity for all. Isn't that exactly what credit unions are all about? Haven't we all waited long enough on this issue? We all need to sit together at the front of the bus on this one. Really, it's time; let's not miss this opportunity.
Hubert's waiting-patiently-on you.
Jim Blaine is CEO of State Employees Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C.