In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting the incredible legacy of Maggie Lena Walker, whose vision of equity and independence defied the conditions of her time, paving the way for progress in her community and generations to come.
Portrait of Maggie Lena Walker, Source: nps.gov
Maggie L. Walker broke barriers as the first African American woman to start and lead a U.S. bank—an incredible feat for a Black woman living in post-Civil War Virginia. As a child of a freed slave, Walker faced many hardships, including working at an early age to help her widowed mother.
Despite her circumstances, her inclination towards helping others motivated her to join the local council of the Independent Order of Saint Luke (IOSL), whose purpose was to administer to the sick and aged, promote humanitarian causes, and encourage individual self-help and integrity, according to historical records.
A Legacy of Service & Financial Empowerment
Walker rose through the ranks of the IOSL, and after 20 years of service in the organization, she earned the top position. As the head of the IOSL, she set a plan to increase membership and raise support for the organization’s causes. “Let us put our money together; let us use our money; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves,” she said at a conference in 1901.
Maggie L. Walker and the Independent Order of St. Luke staff in 1917. Source: nps.gov
By 1903, Walker had leveraged her organization’s influence and funds to open the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, The St. Luke Herald, and the St. Luke Emporium. These community-funded ventures provided Black Americans the opportunity to invest, seek career pathways, and buy goods and services.
Maggie L. Walker’s accomplishments, driven by her commitment to equity through financial empowerment, inspire the work of many here at JVS SoCal, including Associate Director Julian Hampton, who oversees JVS SoCal’s BankWork$® career training program. Hampton sat with us to talk about his role at JVS SoCal and how Walker’s legacy inspires his work serving historically marginalized communities today.
“She’s such an innovator and such an inspiration,” says Hampton about Walker’s legacy and career path, noting that her only formal schooling was high school. As an educator, Hampton sees the value of bringing Walker’s story to light. He says that young Black women can see themselves as innovators and pursue their dreams, despite the adversities they may face.
Julian Hampton During 2019 BankWork$® Graduation
In his role overseeing the BankWork$® program and teaching program courses, Hampton has seen first-hand how motivated individuals have been able to break barriers they have faced—like homelessness, financial insecurity, and low self-esteem.
“We work on building our students up,” he says after describing how one of his students completed the course while living out of her car. “We see extreme transformations… over time we see them grow… they carry themselves different, they smile more… they have better relationships with their families. Because when I’m teaching, I’m teaching not just for work, I’m teaching for life.”
Julian Hampton Presents JVS BankWork$® Certificate to 2019 Graduate
Financial literacy was a tool Walker used to break barriers and empower her community to fight injustice and inequality during her lifetime. Hampton acknowledges that this knowledge has not historically been passed down from generation to generation in communities of color. He shares that teaching students about credit management, budgeting, and other financial skills through the BankWork$® program empowers not only students to achieve financial stability, but their families as well—thus building stronger communities.
Hampton also makes it a point to ensure his students can see themselves reflected in the roles they aspire to in their banking careers by engaging successful business people from all backgrounds to speak at BankWork$® classes and events. “Just like Maggie helped her community by utilizing this great idea of bringing people together to… help her community… [my students] can write their own stories,” he says. “They can make their own legacies that allow them to be successful and [help] their community to reach corporate success.”