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I was fortunate last month to attend the African-American Credit Union Coalition’s (AACUC) 25th Annual Conference. It was great to celebrate a quarter century of work alongside AACUC (which began as a series of meetings at the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference), and it got me to thinking how we got here.
AACUC President/CEO Renee Sattiewhite asked me to speak about legacy and connection, and what that’s meant for our two organizations, particularly over the past three years in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Renee’s leadership prior to the summer of 2020 helped turn AACUC into a network of professionals into a mature association that helps guide our movement.
She’s done that through communications, service, development, team building, and strategic planning—skills she has put to great use with AACUC. She’s helped us have difficult conversations, and her leadership is helping us turn those tragic events into a call to do better.
Our partnership with AACUC is a living example that our diversity is our strength. And after the summer of 2020, her bold leadership helped the CUNA Board commit to action, a commitment we work to honor today.
I was also able to pay tribute to another great cooperative leader during the event: Maurice Smith, AACUC’s board chair. Maurice has led CUNA’s board along with his own credit unions, and he’s had leadership roles on the Filene Research Institute Board and the CUNA CEO Council Executive Committee.
Recognizing Maurice was especially timely because AACUC presented a new award at the conference: the Maurice R. Smith DEI Leadership Award. It’s given to thought leaders whose social impact is felt across the credit union movement.
I can’t think of anything more fitting than recognizing the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders among us with an award named after Maurice.
It was Maurice who pushed us—and the cooperative movement—to include diversity, equity, and inclusion as the eighth cooperative principle.
Maurice called upon our movement to not just say we support DEI, but to take a leadership role to make it our responsibility to plan and execute how we increase DEI in everything we do.
CUNA—as the champion for America’s credit unions—has a leadership role to play as well. Our board resolved in 2020 to make CUNA and leagues a pathway to change, directing us to work with system partners to recognize inequities facing Black communities, commit to action, and measure our progress.
That means making ourselves—and the movement—accountable to the lofty goals we’re setting for ourselves.
Leadership can accomplish incredible things under the toughest of circumstances. Credit unions wouldn’t be where they are today without generations of leaders who decided the way it had always been done wasn’t enough. It’s on us to continue that legacy.
They’re lessons I won’t forget. And I hope you can learn from the examples in your own life and be the leader your organization—and our movement—needs.
JIM NUSSLE is president/CEO at Credit Union National Association.