Wednesday, December 13, 2017

See Why Southeast Queens Residents Are Building An Economic Empowering Credit Union

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Saywalah Kesselly Shares The Vision Of The
 Southeast Queens Proposed Credit Union

By Kamau Austin & Dujon Ricks Interviewing Saywalah Kesselly

Southeast Queens, increasingly is drawing a diverse population. However the area still is over 90% Black.  It also has a historic place in Black and US history in that it is the first large area in the US where the average Black income exceeded whites in the surrounding area.  With this heritage of economic progress there's no surprise that residents are extremely interested in homeownership and economic empowerment.

The Greater Jamaica and Southeast Queens area is also home to one of the largest concentrations of Black homeowners in the country.  However, Southeast Queens, homeowners experienced the largest amount foreclosures in NYC related to the Great Recession of 2008.

In has been known now that ethnic or interest groups who have been able to form lending organizations for homes or businesses like credit unions or microfinance business lending organizations have been able to accelerate their economic success.  For example there are nonprofits that have been able to give tens of billions of dollars to their ethnic groups like Accion and Grameen Bank (to Latinos and Asians respectively) with business loans.  In a similar fashion credit unions have been able to help members get less predatory lending for homes, cars, and even student loans than commercial banks focused on profit margins.

But what is a credit union and how can it help Southeast Queens?  According to Wikipedia "A credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members."

Could a similar type of nonprofit financial organization help residents further economically develop Southeast Queens?  Enter Saywalah Kesselly, the catalyst behind the Southeast Queens Proposed Credit Union to give us the mission of the developing nonprofit finance organization.
Saywalah Kesselly
Saywalah Kesselly - Saywalah graduated from the W.V.S. Tubman High School in Liberia in 1981, and immigrated to the United States in 1984 in search of higher education, graduated from Baruch College with a BBA degree in Economics in 1991. Currently, Saywalah is the Executive Director of the African Center for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

Saywalah started the ACCE, after some young people he personally knew were killed in senseless violence.  He started the Center to help young people excel in life.

He has also been a member of the Board of Directors of the Joseph P. Addabo Family Health Center, Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corporation and former President of the Board of Directors of Arverne Limited Profit Housing Corporation.

He is also the recipient of numerous awards including the 2005 Union Square Award, 2006 HBA / Times Ledger Newspaper “Community Impact Awards,” New York City Council Citations and many others.  These days Selwayla is very involved in the creation of a Proposed Southeast Queens Credit Union (FCU) to help bring about credit and economic development in the area. Our Associate Publisher, Dujon Ricks, caught up with Kesselly for a brief interview.

Dujon Ricks
Dujon Ricks: Can you tell us a little about your background as a community center manager and time working in Southeast Queens?

Saywalah Kesselly: I came from a very poor family and I had a very rough childhood. So, I am naturally inclined to help young people, which has become my passion at the African Center (

Yes, I have a Bachelors of Science degree in Economics, but majority of my education is self-taught. I’ve learned a great deal from listening and working with people from all walks and strata of life.

Southeast Queens is the only place I have ever lived since I came to the United States in 1986. While living in Southeast Queens, I worked as a messenger, dishwasher, livery van driver, bus boy delivering food, and flipping burgers at white castles. That is how I supported myself through college.

It was not easy going to classes at night after working different odd jobs. Southeast Queens is also where I met my lovely wife of 30 years and we are blessed with three wonderful children. Southeast Queens has been good to me.

Dujon Ricks: What inspired you and other community members to work on starting a credit union?

Saywalah Kesselly: My family was a victim of the subprime leading and so were many of my neighbors. And so instead of complaining, we got together and decided to do something about the situation. That is how the concept of the credit union was birthed.

Dujon Ricks: What point are you at now in setting up the credit union?

Saywalah Kesselly: We have done approximately 70 percent of the work, which is encompasses completing over 3,000 surveys, raising $90,000 in commitments from community residents, developing business and marketing plans, printing a suite of stationery and website, and creating lots of awareness in the Southeast Queens community. And finally, we need to to raise a balance of $310,000, find a convenient location, and then file the charter application.

Dujon Ricks: What is the name of the credit union and services offered by the credit union?

Saywalah Kesselly: The name of the proposed credit union will be “Southeast Queens Federal Credit Union (SQFCU).”

We are looking to offer:

~ Checking & Saving Accounts

~ Money Market Accounts & CDs

~ Club Accounts & IRA Savings Accounts

~ Direct Deposit and Payroll Deductions

~ Kids and Teen Accounts

~ Loans-Auto

~ Business Loan

~ Personal Loan

~ Student Loans

~ Home Mortgage

~ Insurance & Investments

~ Line of Credit and Overdraft Protection

~ Credit Cards

~ ATM, Money Orders

~ and Traveler’s Checks

~ Online and Mobile Banking

~ Financial Literacy and...

~ Credit Counseling and Notary Public among others.

Dujon Ricks: What is so unique about the Southeast Queens Federal Credit Union in contrast to other credit unions in the area?

Saywalah Kesselly: The SQFCU uniqueness will come from three areas:

First, we’ll place a lot of emphasis on financial literacy to let money work for our people instead of our people always working for their money;

Second, we will create a one-stop financial shop that will provide an array of services in a professional and efficient manner;

And thirdly, we will create a business incubation center to encourage entrepreneurship, help local businesses grow by developing back-office support, helping them develop strategic business and marketing plans and finally, providing the financing for growth and expansion. In a nutshell, SQFCU will serve as an engine for economic development and growth in our community.

Dujon Ricks: Can you tell us about some of the challenges you've had in moving the credit union along and how you plan to overcome them?

Saywalah Kesselly: There is certainly a trust deficit in our community which is a relic from our historical past. This is manifested in the challenges of raising money, of getting community members to take ownership and vest themselves in this noble enterprise, and people’s natural instincts to resist change no matter how positive. Those are, to name a few, some of our current challenges.

Dujon Ricks: What is the best way to contact the proposed Southeast Queens Federal Credit Union organization?

Saywalah Kesselly: email us at: or call 718-210-3201 or 646-533-3207 or visit us at 111-20A Farmers Blvd., St. Albans NY 11412.

Dujon Ricks: Can you tell us about some of the community member’s goals and plans for the future of the Southeast Queens Federal Credit Union?

Saywalah Kesselly: Base on the responses to the surveys and our interactions with community members, their expectations are pretty high. They envision a full-fledged financial establishment that they will own and operate, one that will meet their financial needs without prejudice or discrimination. They are also excited about the prospects of creating and leaving a financial legacy to their children and grand children.

You can find out more about the proposed credit union's development by clicking here 

Watch this report by Bloomberg News About The Advantages of Credit Unions

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