So much comes to mind when Darius Wise thinks about Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Atop the new Red Rocks Credit Union president’s list is the hope that carries on today, nearly 54 years after the assassination of the minister, activist, and civil rights leader.
With hope and the ongoing fight for equality in mind, Red Rocks, a $368 million asset credit union in Littleton, Colo., will recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day on all its communication channels Monday, January 17.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s story is a reminder to Wise that he stands “on the shoulders of so many who have gone before me.”
“He changed our nation and our world for the better,” Wise says of King. “It's inspiring that a person would essentially give his life for a purpose that was greater than him.
“This day means freedom for people of color in America,” he continues. “It is a celebration of progress in the fight for equality that continues. This day means freedom and hope for Americans everywhere. It also represents that through conflict comes progress. All that went into the celebration of this day was through unimaginable conflict, and this day should stand as a representation for us all that we can be better as a country.”
Wise says it’s also important to honor the beliefs of King—and the countless others who fought for civil rights—the other 364 days of the year. At Red Rocks, that means honoring everyone, no matter their race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or ability.
“We do this by living out our core value for relentless care for others and of unwavering commitment to the good of humanity,” he says. “We owe it to the generations who are coming behind us to be the best version of ourselves.”
Since being hired as Red Rocks’ chief impact officer in 2019, Wise has tried to be the best version of himself every day. Those who know Wise consider him a “leader of leaders,” and his desire to lead drove him to a 17-year career in pastoral ministry and leadership positions.
When it came time to make his next career move, he set out to find a place where he could make a bigger impact. Red Rocks provided the perfect opportunity, as the member-focused credit union industry is centered on the principle of “people helping people.”
“The core of ministry is people,” Wise says. “The beauty of credit unions is there's such a similarity in focus. My ministry background enables me to care for people beyond a transaction.”
Those values have carried into his role as president, where he handles much of the credit union’s day-to-day operations while David Brooks serves as interim CEO.
Wise’s top priorities are to lead a successful core conversion as well as other digital transformation efforts, recover from the pandemic, focus profitability, and reimagine the new Red Rocks.
Part of this reimagination is continuing to build the credit union’s culture of trust. Wise believes trust is the foundation of leadership and that good leaders are open, honest, and respectful.
Red Rocks has worked to build a culture that applauds trust, honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability. Furthermore, Wise seeks a high level of visibility, transparency, and clarity throughout the organization because success comes from allowing people to be their authentic selves, make mistakes, and grow in the process.
“The more people feel that you truly see, value, and know them, the more trust you build,” Wise says, noting that he spent his first year at Red Rocks listening to people throughout the credit union. “It developed trust and closed the gap between staff and management. It tore down silos erected over time. And two years in, we have a culture of trust that is built on accountability, honesty, and respect.”
He’s a proponent of holding the occasional “air-clearing” conversations, believing “They are the foundation of trust, honesty, and respect within a workplace. It takes vulnerability and courage to initiate and engage in them, but in the end, all parties involved are better for it.”
Building a culture of trust also stems from the ideals Martin Luther King Jr. espoused, and the ideals Red Rocks celebrates year-round. Red Rocks is a diverse organization, where most board members are people of color, 75% of staff are women, and 50% of senior leadership team members are women.
“We believe deeply in diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Wise says. “This is all a byproduct of the work and legacy of Dr. King. Our aim to honor his and so many others’ legacies of learning to not tolerate [the status quo] and to celebrate systems that perpetuate diversity, equity, and inclusion. The fact that I've been appointed president of a financial institution is a nod to the legacy of Dr. King.”