City National Bank opened its Crenshaw branch six years ago and participated in its first Taste of Soul festival. From that day forward, City National Bank realized that the mission of the Bakewell Company, owner of the LA Sentinel, the voice of the people and Taste of Soul, a yearly celebration of Black culture and excellence, and what Danny Bakewell Sr., founder of the Bakewell Company calls the “biggest and baddest block party in all of LA,” were in complete alignment.
City National Bank did not want the label of being a business only in the Leimert community, but a bank wholly invested in its people, providing resources, education, and, most notably, increasing Black homeownership.
When you speak with City National’s Senior Vice President Karen A. Clark and Vice President Michele Ashley, you immediately know that City National Bank does not talk for talking sake – they put their time, money, and resources into action. The bank’s investment in the ‘Shaw’- the affectionate name for all things Crenshaw – can be seen in everything they do.
Taste of Soul, the marvelous community festival created for Black people by visionaries Bakewell and the late Brenda Marsh-Mitchell, a community advocate and servant whose presence and name continue to reverberate throughout Black Los Angeles, knew they would find partners that loved the Leimert community and who also had the desire to serve its residents as they did.
Ask any Leimert resident about the work of Bakewell and Marsh-Mitchell through the years, and they will speak of the activists tireless efforts to bring resources and education to the community, to fiercely advocate on behalf of Black people and, yes, create a fun-filled atmosphere for the community. Their mission continues, and City National Bank has become an invaluable partner.
“I did not know Ms. Marsh-Mitchell personally, but I knew of her tremendous esteem and reputation in the community,” said Clark, who serves as City National’s senior vice president of Inclusion Strategies and Business Development.
“I knew of her work with the Taste of Soul and with Mothers-In-Action, so we are a very proud presenting sponsor of the Brenda Marsh-Mitchell Gospel Stage at this year’s Taste of Soul. I like to say that City National has laddered up our involvement with the TOS festival,” Clark said.
Indeed, the legacy and impact of Marsh-Mitchell can still be seen in the work of the Taste of Soul and Mothers-In-Action, and she would wholeheartedly approve of the mission of City National Bank, said Tracy Mitchell, the current president of Mothers in Action and the youngest daughter of Marsh-Mitchell.
On Sept. 12, City National Bank announced a new program – the “Ladder Up Homeowners Program” designed to increase Black homeownership.
The “Ladder Up Home Loan Program” grants $15,000 or 3% of the loan amount that may be used for a “down payment, closing costs, or buying down the rate.” The good news is that these funds are available to “more than just first-time homebuyers, and you do not have to repay the grant,” said Ashley, City National’s vice president of Corporate Communications.
“We intend to help Black people build generational wealth through homeownership,” said Senior Vice President Clark. The “Ladder Up Homeowners Program” requires no mortgage insurance regardless of the down payment amount.
Helping Black people in the community, providing credit education, and providing excellent service are tenets Marsh-Mitchell would have approved of. City National Bank would have been her joined-at-the-hip partner, said her daughter, Tracy Mitchell.
“It’s a huge deal to present the Brenda Marsh-Mitchell Gospel stage to the community because the bank gets to acknowledge the community, our music, and to have a platform that presents a real celebration of who we are as a people,” Clark said.
“We admire that Taste of Soul is a lot of fun, but the festival has a purpose. When people visit the Ladder-Up Lounge at this year’s Taste of Soul, they will walk into an experience filled with excellent homeownership information, and bank experts who will answer all questions about home ownership, refinance, or purchasing their dream homes,” said Clark. City National also promises visitors great swag – handmade fans, popsicles, and more.
Like the L.A. Sentinel, City National Bank considers itself a storyteller, telling stories of successful Black homeownership, and continuing the work of Brenda Marsh-Mitchell, being a resource that uplifts and empowers the community, and “helping to decrease the wealth gap in the Black community.” The mission of City National is one that those who knew and loved Marsh-Mitchell say she would have embraced with every fiber of her being.
It is the hope of City National that, along with the great music at the Gospel Stage and the Ladder Up Lounge, festival attendees will leave knowing that City National Bank is there for them, affirming and carrying on the life mantra of Marsh-Mitchell, forever remembered for her advocacy, service, and unwavering commitment to transforming lives, educating, and empowering the Black community.