Episode 5: A deeper look
Stories about previous episodes
JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS, HOST: On a quiet street corner on Waterloo’s east side, there’s an old former school. It’s a huge, drafty brick building – stately, with the message “For God and Country” over the door. And on one side of the building, there’s a church attached. It’s called the Ambassadors for Christ Church.
[Audio from sermon begins, faintly]
Every Sunday, you can hear a sermon from Pastor Faye Scott. These days, you can also see her live on Facebook.
CONGREGATION (responding to sermon): Right.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: Some think if they come two Sundays, they can miss the third Sunday.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: And our key word for today …
HOST: The big sanctuary is covered in orange carpeting and full of wooden pews. Pastor Scott is a small woman, and she commands the room.
She wears these vibrant, colorful robes while she preaches. And she does it barefoot.
CONGREGATION (clapping): Amen, amen.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: “I catch too much hell during the week, that when the Sabbath day comes, I want to rest.”
HOST: When I met her at the church on a Wednesday afternoon, she was just as vibrant in a pink dress, with matching stilettos.
[Sounds of walking through the church property]
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: And that was a band room. And this was an arts and crafts room.
HOST: The church owns the whole building: the sanctuary, the empty classrooms, a gym, plus a vacant lot across the street.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: Old St. John.
The congregation bought it almost two decades ago. It was more space than they needed, but it was cheap.
They moved here in 2004. And one night soon after that, Pastor Scott had a dream. She calls it a vision.
JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS: It was 3-something in the morning, right? You woke up …
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: Four o’clock in the morning.
HOST: In it, her building was completely transformed. Classrooms, instead of sitting empty, were home to local businesses. When she woke up, she rushed to her kitchen counter and sketched it all out on paper.
JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS: Here’s the parking lot, where we’re looking at it, and here it is on your plan.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: Yes.
JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS: And these businesses would have been in this building?
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: In this building to start off, each room upstairs, whichever room they chose to start it in. … But none took off.
HOST: It never happened. Other than church functions, the school sat empty.
Old buildings are a lot of work, and as the years went by, Pastor Scott says more and more things broke down.
Like in 2019, when the boiler failed.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: So we went through 2019 with thermal underwear and winter coats and mittens and scarves and caps.
JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS: And the pipes froze in 2020.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: 2018, we couldn’t get anyone to come in and make an offer …
HOST: It seemed like her dream for the building full of small businesses, and even the church itself, was slipping away. She had no choice but to try and sell it.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: But at that point we were just — and we tried to auction it. … We wanted to auction it off. No one came to the auction.
HOST: A later lien on the building made it even harder to find a buyer.
But now, 17 years after she had the vision, it’s finally, maybe, happening.
Because of ReShonda.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT (laughing): You heard us?
RESHONDA YOUNG: I heard you (laughing). I’ve been walking all around.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: I left the door open for you.
HOST: I’m Jamie Smith Hopkins. From the Center for Public Integrity and Transmitter Media, this is The Heist. This season, we’re focusing on the massive wealth gap between Black and white Americans.
For the past four episodes, we’ve followed one woman’s attempt to help change that — at least in her community — by starting a Black-owned bank.
And one big step in the process is finding a place to build the bank.
So when ReShonda saw this big building for sale on the east side of Waterloo, and when she met Pastor Scott, it felt too good to pass up. Even with all the challenges.
ReShonda wanted to buy it.
[Sounds of church walk-through fade back in, heels clicking]
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: You know me in my heels, but I wasn’t expecting all this today. I was telling Jamie I’ve been up since 2:30.
RESHONDA YOUNG: Yeah, because you were texting me at 3-something! [Laughs]
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: Did you hear a ding? It didn’t bother you, did it?
RESHONDA YOUNG: No, no.
HOST: For most of the time I spent with this story, the Bank of Jabez felt like an idea. All the steps ReShonda had taken were necessary, and hard — but they were kind of abstract. A bank on spreadsheets and word docs.
But as I walked through the church that day, the bank started to feel like a real, tangible thing.
ReShonda plans to build the Bank of Jabez on the empty lot right across the street from the school.
And I could imagine it there, on that east side corner. Less than a mile from the first Popcorn Heaven location, and not far from ReShonda’s high school. I could picture the parking lot filled with cars, big glass windows, maybe a drive-up ATM.
But ReShonda has plans for more than a bank. In fact, she wants the school to be a lot like what Pastor Scott envisioned years ago. ReShonda wants to lease out rooms to local small businesses, hold a Saturday market on the property, and rent the commercial kitchen to local cooks. She told me she’s already in touch with five business owners who are ready to move in.
RESHONDA YOUNG: Yeah, so the businesses would go into the classrooms. So we’ll spruce them up and get them ready for businesses to come in.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: But it’s going to add life to this building. And that’s all we wanted to do was add life to a community that needs a ray of sunshine.
HOST: Pastor Scott plans on keeping her congregation in the building — she’ll rent the sanctuary from ReShonda and continue holding services there every Sunday.
And that’s where we sat, in a circle of chairs, up where Pastor Scott gives her sermons, while the two women talked about how this plan came together.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: You remember which visitation it was? What number?
RESHONDA YOUNG: It feels like it was the second when we really unfolded each other’s vision. So our first visitation was in the parking lot and we actually didn’t go into the building.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: And ReShonda doesn’t talk much. So that second time, you didn’t talk much. And it was the third time that I told you our visions were very similar.
HOST: ReShonda realized that her plan for the church was almost exactly the same as Pastor Scott’s dream. And when Pastor Scott heard about the Bank of Jabez, she immediately believed in that mission, too.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: God blessed me to plant. He’s blessing ReShonda to water. And God, because of the Bank of Jabez, I believe God will give her the increase. … I can’t put it any greater than that.
RESHONDA YOUNG: There’s an amen there [laughs].
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: I’m excited for her. And I’m excited that I’m a part of her transitioning into what God has given her. I think it’s, if I felt any other way, I wouldn’t be real. … And I won’t have to carry the load.
JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS: How does it feel to be carrying the load, ReShonda?
RESHONDA YOUNG: That’s always a scary place. But I don’t walk in fear, you know. You may have just these thoughts of, “Oh my goodness, this is a big thing that I’m taking on,” but there’s no fear in it. You know, I know that God’s supplying the people and resources and expertise that’s needed to get the project done.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: Knowing that it’s yours, how do you feel?
RESHONDA YOUNG: This may be the wrong way to do things, but I’m always almost suppressing emotions and …
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: That’s what I’m trying to pull out, though.
RESHONDA YOUNG (laughing): I know! And I’m still very effectively suppressing emotions. There’s excitement. Yeah. But I just want to keep my emotions in check because I can mentally function better that way.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT: Just take a couple minutes, go ahead, girl [laughter from ReShonda]. Just take a couple minutes. We’re good. You can lose it for about three or four minutes. OK? We’re good. Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. I gave you permission. … I got your back.
RESHONDA YOUNG: Oh, I appreciate that. …
So it’s for me, it’s just confirmation about what it is that I’m doing. … Yeah. So it was just confirmation that I was walking a path with somebody I could trust and a vision that, you know, aligned, and knowing that our connection is a godly connection.
HOST: Sitting there, I thought about how much more ReShonda could be taking on with this building. Way more than just the bank.
And what I didn’t realize was that ReShonda was ready to buy the property herself. It’s only $23,000 dollars, and she was ready to make an offer on it that day.
RESHONDA YOUNG: So actually I’ve got [sound of shuffling paper] the purchase agreement for Pastor to look over and make any changes or adjustments. And then we can gather back together another day.
PASTOR FAYE SCOTT [to host]: See what you get to see today? Her handing me the purchase agreement. Thank you. And I will, we will look it over. Thank you.
RESHONDA YOUNG: You’re welcome.
HOST: I knew ReShonda was moving forward because she could see the opportunities. But I’m an anxious person, and the risks loomed up in my mind. Everything that could go wrong with a big, old building. And everything that could get in the way of raising the money she needs for the bank.
Ten million dollars to get it up and running. That day we visited the church? It had been more than a year since she started the bank project, and though she’d completed a lot of the steps on her list, on funding, she was still only about 5% of the way there.
The money is the biggest question looming over the Bank of Jabez: Where will she get it? It came up a lot in my reporting.
The thing is, ReShonda does have a big lead.
Remember Community Bank & Trust? They’re another bank in town that’s looking to support the Bank of Jabez. And they could help get ReShonda across that $10 million line.
But first, ReShonda has to convince them that the Bank of Jabez would be a good investment. That there’s a need for a Black-owned bank on the east side of Waterloo.
And she’ll need to pitch it at a meeting with the bank’s top executives.
HOST: On the morning of ReShonda’s big pitch, she says she’ll take some time for quiet reflection and put on something professional but comfortable — probably a dress, she says, but she’ll wear bike shorts underneath.
RESHONDA YOUNG: Yeah, so when I think about the pitch, I think: This really is our best shot of getting a substantial amount of funding.
HOST: She’ll walk into the conference room, with her slideshow ready to go. The slides are purple, just like the Bank of Jabez logo.
RESHONDA YOUNG: All right, so: Good morning. My name is ReShonda Young. And I am one of the founders of the Bank of Jabez. So I appreciate you taking the time today to learn more …
HOST: ReShonda has been working on this pitch for months. And she shared it with me.
RESHONDA YOUNG: In 2018 there was a 24/7 Wall St. report that ranked Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa, as the No. 1 worst place for Black Americans to live, stating that no U.S. metro area has larger social and economic disparities along racial lines than Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa. The homeownership rates for Blacks in Waterloo and Cedar Falls is less than half …
HOST: A real influx of cash would make all the difference. But where that money comes from matters, too. Because ReShonda’s trying to qualify to be an MDI, a minority depository institution.
Remember, that opens up more opportunities for her to get federal assistance and better serve the community. And lately, the federal government is making more of an effort to support minority-owned banks. ReShonda wants to capitalize on that momentum.
To succeed at its mission, she says, the Bank of Jabez needs to be an MDI.
And Community, like a lot of banks, is publicly owned, which means the odds are it’s mostly owned by white people. So if ReShonda gets a big chunk of money from them — half or more of total investments — the Bank of Jabez wouldn’t actually be a Black-owned bank.
When I think about this, it feels like a Catch-22. The same Catch-22 that defines the entire wealth gap. Like, you can’t make money without already having it.
In this case, it’s incredibly hard to start a Black-owned bank because there isn’t enough money in the Black community, which is the whole reason you’d want a Black-owned bank in the first place.
It’s infuriating. Honestly, what is ReShonda supposed to do?
Well, as usual, she’s one step ahead.
RESHONDA YOUNG: When we talked to the consultants about that, there’s ways around it.
HOST: Experts have told her that, for instance, all the time and labor ReShonda’s put into the bank — that could count as an investment.
RESHONDA YOUNG: And even looking at in-kind, like not just the money that I’ve put in, but also my cousin’s put in and the time that we’ve put in as well and putting dollar figures on all of that. … Just, we’re figuring that we can work around that somehow.
HOST: Even that church building and the land it’s on: If she’s able to buy it, ReShonda thinks that can be counted as an asset.
And if that doesn’t work, she says she’ll find money somewhere else. Maybe out of state, like Rodney did with his grocery store. No matter what, ReShonda says, the Bank of Jabez will be Black-owned.
Throughout this project, I’ve been struck by ReShonda’s confidence. Confidence, in the face of so many unknowns. It felt like every time we talked, I’d bring up some new challenge. ReShonda has had an answer for all of them.
But as I kept reporting this story, there was one nagging question that even $10 million couldn’t answer.
Remember when I mentioned that ReShonda’s been through bankruptcy?
Well, it turns out the FDIC looks at the personal financial history of anyone hoping to start a bank. It looks at their business background, their history with loans … and their bankruptcies. No matter how long ago they happened.
So after all of this work, it’s not clear yet if the Bank of Jabez could be approved with ReShonda involved.
ReShonda has an answer for this too.
If needed, she says, she’ll take a step back. Let the bank go on without her.
RESHONDA YOUNG: I’m OK with that. Like, I mean, I’ve said all along, this is — it wasn’t the plan that ReShonda had, you know, that “ReShonda comes up with, ‘I want this bank.’” That’s not, it wasn’t that at all.
So I know that all things are going to work out the way that God wants them to work out. If I’m supposed to be, then I will be, if I’m not, I won’t be. But there’s a very capable team that will be able to make sure that this happens.
HOST: And the truth is, ReShonda never wanted to run the bank. She just wanted it to exist, to do some good in her community. That’s why she’s working through those 74 steps. It’s why she’s trying to raise millions of dollars.
The Bank of Jabez isn’t about her. And no matter what, she says, it will exist.
But there is a massive, centuries-old machine standing in her way. From the start, the wealth gap was built to move money into the hands of the wealthy, into the hands of white people. It was built to pull wealth out of Black communities like the east side of Waterloo. And the wealth gap machine shows no signs of slowing down.
So, again, I wonder how ReShonda stays so confident.
One answer, of course, is that confidence is good for business. To sell an idea like this, you have to believe that it’s possible, and you have to get other people to believe it, too.
Another answer is that ReShonda’s not doing it alone. There are so many people in the community who are rooting for her and finding ways to help where they can.
And even all the stuff ReShonda has to do by herself, she doesn’t feel alone.
RESHONDA YOUNG: There have been so many moments where I’ve absolutely felt, you know, just the presence of God and just hearing His voice. And the thing, like a lot of people may stop and think like, “OK, she’s just like this religious whack.” However, when things that He’s downloaded to me have come to fruition and come to pass so many times, it’s like, I can’t deny, you know, His presence.
And I know that there are a lot of things I’m like, “Yeah, I’m so not smart enough for that.” So I know that was absolutely Him. I knew it from the beginning, but yeah, it was not, there’s no way I could have done that.
HOST: Maybe that’s what it takes to do what ReShonda’s doing. To look an $11 trillion wealth gap in the face and decide to do something about it.
Something local, sure. Something in just one community, in one town in Iowa. But to take up the challenge, despite the centuries of history stacked against her.
RESHONDA YOUNG: Of all the moments, because there are so many, there’s the one that continues to give me hope and pushing me forward.
And that was the moment when I heard Him say: “This is already done. … I’ve already done this. This is already done. All you have to do is keep walking, and keep walking into this vision.”
HOST: In ReShonda’s vision, on the corner of Mulberry and Vinton Streets, on the east side of Waterloo, there’s a bank.
I asked ReShonda to describe it for me.
And when she did, she didn’t describe the big things. She didn’t tell me about the homeownership rate going up for Black Waterloo residents or the wealth gap shrinking — although she hopes the bank will help with those.
Instead, she told me about something really simple.
She told me about a customer,
walking into the bank,
and having an employee greet them by name.
RESHONDA YOUNG: Every person who has an account there needs to feel like they know somebody in there by name and that that person knows them. …
What their financials are like, even what their families are like. … You want them to feel like they’re part of this whole community that we’re creating. …
It may seem impossible, but it, I really don’t feel like it is.
HOST: For ReShonda, that future already exists.
She just needs to get there.
This season of The Heist is hosted by me, Jamie Smith Hopkins, and brought to you by the Center for Public Integrity and Transmitter Media.
This episode was written and produced by Mitchell Johnson.
Sara Nics is Transmitter’s executive editor with additional editing by Shoshi Shmuluvitz.
Wilson Sayre is our managing producer and Gretta Cohn is our executive producer.
The Center for Public Integrity team is Jennifer LaFleur, Matt DeRienzo, Lisa Yanick Litwiller, Janeen Jones, Ashley Clarke and Alex Eichenstein.
Our fact checker is Peter Newbatt Smith.
Rick Kwan is our mix engineer.
Special thanks to Jordan Bailey.
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