(from right) Dominik Mjartan, Optus President; Benita E. Lefft, Optus Chief Operating Officer; SC Progressive Network Executive Director Brett Bursey, and SC Progressive Network Interim Executive Director Brandon Upson.

Financial Activism in Action: SC Progressive Network transfers a Quarter-million dollars to Optus Bank

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4 mins read

The phrase, “put your money where your mouth is.” Often feels vague and ambiguous. Instead, I advocate for the idea of putting your money where the work is.

Last Tuesday the South Carolina Progress Network put its money where the work was when it deposited a quarter-million dollars into Optus Bank. This historic action was commemorated with a press conference at the bank’s headquarters in downtown Columbia. The decision to redirect funds underscores the longstanding relationship between the Progressive Network and Optus Bank, dating back to the early 1970s. Beyond this financial transaction lies a broader message—one that speaks to the heart of the fight for economic equity and justice.

We often celebrate those courageous souls who marched against water hoses, dogs, and police batons, or those who endured the ridicule and humiliation of food and drinks being thrown at them or poured over their heads as they sat in at lunch counters to protest the segregation of public places. We applaud those who had the fortitude to employ these tactics, but we must also acknowledge the strategic uses of financial activism during the movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott remains a poignant example of financial activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, lesser-known campaigns like the Brooklyn C.O.R.E. Project and the Shreveport Sit-ins also played crucial roles in advancing civil rights. These movements applied economic pressure to challenge discriminatory practices and promote equality.

In this light, the recent action taken by the South Carolina Progressive Network to deposit a quarter of a million dollars into a Black-owned bank in South Carolina resonates deeply with the legacy of past civil rights actions. While not a confrontation against discriminatory practices, this financial transaction symbolizes a commitment to economic empowerment and social justice. By investing in institutions that share their values, organizations advocating for marginalized communities demonstrate a tangible form of resistance against racism, discrimination, and economic exclusion. In today’s political climate, where extremity threatens progress, this act of financial activism serves as a beacon of hope and innovation, highlighting the transformative power of strategic economic engagement in the fight for equity and justice.

With a President and CEO who has made it his mission to close the wealth gap through mission-driven banking, any organization wanting to follow the Network’s example couldn’t have a better economic ally than Optus Bank. The bank boasts a profound history, embodying a tradition of empowerment that spans over 70 years. Championed by notable African American families like the Leevy’s and Stephenson’s, and connected to the legacy of Modjeska Simkins, the mother of the civil rights movement in South Carolina and former Public Relations Director for Victory Savings Bank (now Optus Bank.)

SC Progressive Network Executive Director Brett Bursey giving check to Dominik Mjartan, President and CEO of Optus Bank, Also Pictured is Benita E. Lefft, Optus Chief Operating Officer.

Imagine the resounding power and the unequivocal statement it would make if all the black churches in Columbia, HBCUs, and other prominent black-owned organizations and institutions in the city followed the lead of the SC Progressive Network and transferred their accounts to Optus Bank. Such a unified action would provide the black community of Columbia with economic capital and the means to ignite a new era in economic development throughout African-American communities in the state, on an unprecedented scale. 

If the aforementioned organizations were to employ this type of financial activism, every dollar spent or saved would make a bold statement. It would demonstrate alignment between their deposits and receipts and their mission and values statements.

Michael Bailey, a trailblazer in the field of photojournalism and a profound political writer, possesses the exceptional ability to distill complex political issues into accessible narratives that resonate with readers of all backgrounds. As the vanguard of the editorial team, Michael not only serves as a new media correspondent but also showcases his distinct talent as a photojournalist. His portfolio is a testament to his expertise in crafting news stories and intimate profiles that vividly portray the cultural, social, economic, and political journeys of minorities, both in South Carolina and beyond. With a rich tapestry of experience spanning media, business, and politics, Michael has emerged as a highly regarded voice and a sought-after commentator, offering invaluable insights into the challenges faced by people of color.

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