By Miriam Schwartz | June 27, 2018 | 3 Minute Read
The Eastern Bank branch in Roxbury is only a few weeks old, but it’s a labor of love that’s been five years in the making. The first bank branch to open in 20 years in the neighborhood, Eastern Bank in Roxbury is filling a community void—not only for comprehensive banking services but for education and empowerment.
With almost 60,000 residents as of 2016, Roxbury has long been considered the heart of the Black community in Boston, with more than 60 percent of its residents identifying as black. Hispanics/Latinos make up another 28 percent of the community. And yet, despite being home to 8 percent of Boston’s population, Roxbury was home to only 3 percent of the city’s bank branches.
“There were very few banks for the demographics and there is a huge disparity for income and wealth. But Roxbury is a growth market with growth opportunity. We take a long-term view and when we see potential, we want to partner with that community,” says Roxann Cooke, Senior Vice President and Regional Manager for Eastern Bank, who oversaw the development of the Eastern Bank Roxbury branch. “We need Eastern in Roxbury based on the social good that we do and what we want accomplished. Access to banking is not available to all, right now.”
The branch, which opened in May 2018, will play a big role in revitalizing Roxbury, but Eastern Bank is anything but a newcomer. “We were giving to Roxbury before we came to Roxbury,” says Cooke about Eastern’s involvement, including more than $1.5 million donated to community organizations. In a May interview with WGBH, Eastern Bank CEO and Chair Bob Rivers, a longtime board member of Roxbury’s Dimock Community Health Center, echoed this along with the need for a bank that understands local residents. On the path to becoming true partners to Roxbury, Eastern Bank teamed up with Metro Housing Boston, Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services and other community stakeholders.
Since planning began, Cooke immersed herself in the Roxbury community, but she was no stranger to the area, having gone to high school just two blocks from the brand-new branch. “As a first-generation American who came here and lived in the Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan communities, I felt firsthand the need for resources and financial literacy,” says Cooke. Listening to community leaders, it’s clear that this branch was long needed. “Being a community partner [and] giving people access to resources, it’s personal to me because it’s my community bank,” Cooke says.
Along with branches in underserved communities like Chelsea and Lawrence, the Eastern Bank Roxbury branch hopes to be built on relationships with a mission to address the enormous wealth gap in Boston. The median net worth of a black Bostonian is only $8, compared to more than $247,00 for white residents. Additionally, according to the city of Boston’s resiliency and racial equity efforts, black Bostonians are denied home loans at three times the rates of similarly situated white residents.
With this, the Eastern Bank Roxbury branch plans to deliver much more than banking. “Access to capital, access to information, access to resources, relationship banking, the networking,” says Cooke. “We do financial literacy events. We have other partners that can help with the knowledge gap. We can serve as a central focus for customers looking for information. It’s about prosperity, it’s about how to get access.”
In fact, one of the challenges for residents looking to start small businesses in Roxbury is access to growth capital. The small businesses that have started in the community, and that are hiring in the community, will play a crucial role in building life-sustaining commerce in the area. With Eastern Bank’s Business Equity Initiative, which seeks to scale black and Latino-owned small businesses, “Join Us For Good” isn’t a tagline—it’s a meaningful business driver for Cooke. “Join [us] as a customer, join us as a community partner, join us as an ally. As we do well, you’re going to do well.”
What’s next for the Roxbury branch? “Beyond the numbers, I want to see economic growth, I want to see the number around the wealth gap in Boston and Roxbury shrink or be eliminated,” she says. “I want customers to say Eastern Bank was one of those catalysts in eliminating the wealth gap. I want to make sure that those residents who have been in Roxbury remain and are part of that prosperity.”
Stop by the Roxbury branch and meet the team!