People laughing, smiling and celebrating

Discussion: Equity Is Not an Option. It’s a Must.

People laughing, smiling and celebrating

Discussion: Equity Is Not an Option. It’s a Must.


As part of our celebration of Black History Month, Wintrust recently held a virtual panel with esteemed African American business leaders who also serve on the boards of directors for the Wintrust family of community banks and companies.

This poignant discussion explored opportunities and the responsibility to pursue a racial equity agenda in the new decade as we continue our efforts to strengthen our communities.

Hosted by Melissa Donaldson, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Wintrust, and moderated by Wintrust CEO & Founder Ed Wehmer, the event included the following panelists:

  • Alex Washington — Board of Directors, Wintrust Financial Corporation and Wintrust Bank
  • Cecelia Gore — Board of Directors, Town Bank
  • Dr. Suzet McKinney — Board of Directors, Wintrust Wealth Management
  • Jim Clark — Board of Directors, Wheaton Bank & Trust
  • Cherryl Thomas — Board of Directors, Wintrust Bank

Read some highlights from the discussion below, and scroll to the bottom of this page to view the full recording.

How can we address the barriers to homeownership and the financial inequities in communities of color?

Jim Clark: This is a systemic problem, so there’s not a quick solution. One of the biggest concepts in our industry is compound interest. You can look at inequity in a similar way. There’s been generations of inequity, and what you end up with is something that’s going to take federal support, new legislation, mortgage insurance, and better support for first-time homebuyers. And, then revisiting appraisal standards in some of these communities.

Coming up with new and creative ways to support financing and capitalizing some of these communities is really what it’s going to take, as well as advocacy and access from the businesses that operate throughout the Chicago area. … It’s those kind of moves that will begin to open doors and opportunities, but it’s going to take time and it’s going to have to be consistent.

In your experience, what does effective civic engagement look like? How can for-profit and nonprofit organizations better affect change?

Cecelia Gore: There’s a renewed commitment to addressing the historic inequities that exist in our community. I believe there’s an acknowledgment that we have to do things differently to get a result. I’m witnessing a commitment to education from leaders in our community unlike what I’ve seen before.

I think there’s a recognition that we need to be transformative versus transactional in our efforts. The commitment to a transformational approach in our efforts gives me hope. We have done many important things to move the needle on race with some results. I believe we need to tackle the greatest challenge, which is to dismantle systemic racism. The examination of barriers that are historically baked into who we are and what we do need to be examined and restructured. Until then, we will not get the outcomes that I believe we all would like to achieve.

As leaders in our various communities, we are acknowledging the moment we are presently experiencing. It is my hope that we are committed to a movement. The hard work requires us to look from the inside out, and that’s tough. But, I believe that’s where we are and that’s what we must do.

To view the full recording of our discussion, view the video below.


As Chicago's Bank® and Wisconsin's Bank®, we're proud to partner with the people and organizations that are walking the talk and making a difference in Black communities. To learn more about our commitment to these areas, click here.

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