Michael Render, known by his stage name Killer Mike, knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur when he wanted to go to Six Flags as a child but didn’t have any money. So, he started cutting grass for people and doing other small jobs.
Now a rapper, activist and entrepreneur, he has two ventures under his name: Graffitis SWAG Barbershop, which he started with his wife, Shana, and Greenwood Bank.
As a child, his grandmother instilled in him the importance of Black people supporting Black businesses. She would take him to Sears and Roebuck to buy sneakers, but she would also shop at smaller companies.
“When it came to matters of things that could be bought right directly from our neighborhood from people that look like us, that’s what we did. The Exxon we went to was owned by a Black woman. We got our vegetables from a fruit stand. We bought our meats from a Black butcher,” said Killer Mike in an exclusive interview with The Final Call.
He said he has banked Black all of his life and has been with Citizens Trust Bank, a Black-owned bank with branches in the Atlanta-metro area, Birmingham, Ala., and Eutaw, Ala., since he was five years old.
“Now I have the opportunity to bring Greenwood to places there may not be a Black bank. It may be harder to find a Black bank, once you get outside the Southeast. We’ve made it easier by putting it right in your hand,” he said.
Greenwood is a digital banking platform founded by Killer Mike, Ryan Glover, the founder of Bounce TV, and former Atlanta mayor Andrew J. Young. They initially planned to launch in January, but due to Covid-19 and the overwhelming interest, the launch has been delayed. Still, Mr. Glover told CNN Business that there are over 600,000 people on the waiting list.
The banking platform was named after Tulsa, Oklahoma’s predominantly Black business district, known as Black Wall Street, which was destroyed when White mobs descended on the Black residents and businesses, torching buildings and leaving an estimated 300 people dead. The 100-year commemoration of Black Wall Street was observed May 31.
The relationship between banks and Black money is not a good one. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reports that 46 percent of Black households were fully banked in 2017, compared to over 77 percent of White households. Big banks have a history of loan denial to Black people, and the practice of redlining continues to affect Black access to loans.
Killer Mike said it’s a long and hard process to get into banking, because you have to partner with people who are already in that world, but he encourages people to think about credit unions.
“It only takes a consolidated number of people to do it, and essentially you become a lender circle to one another at lower interest rates in terms of loans that you’re giving to one another,” the rapper and business owner said.
He brought up a strategy that he learned from his Korean friends. “When it’s time for a great idea, they get in a circle of 8-10, they go to somebody’s grandparents, somebody’s parents. That money comes directly from under the mattress sometimes. It goes into building that business and all eight of those people who want to build that business as big as possible,” he explained.
“When that business is big enough, they replicate, scale that business over and over again. And you can look at some of the services that we continue to go to, whether it’s hair shops or nail shops, that methodology is proven effective.”
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, also teaches that in the process of doing for self, Black people should find like-minded individuals to pool resources. He taught the overall principle of Black people doing for self and stated that separation is the best and only solution for Black people in America.
Killer Mike acknowledged that until Black people have their own nation, land, economy and the ability to produce for themselves, they have to find ways to fit within the niche.
“I can’t have you building airplanes tomorrow, but that does not mean you can’t build a part of (what) that plane needs,” he said. His advice is to start small and then scale up over time.
“I would just encourage people to have something for yourself, do something for your own, be purposeful and attentive at where you spend your money, who you spend your money with and how you spend your money and buy some land. Make the grand objective to have our own, even within the system.”
Outside of his business ventures, Killer Mike has created a record titled “Something for Junkies,” where he features a clip by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan telling people that by laughing at their friends or enemies, they are setting themselves up for the same type of failure.
“It’s really giving empathy to the people who have suffered under the cripples of addiction and under this evil and brutal drug war,” Killer Mike said. “It really says to us as Black people, it’s time that we stop treating one another like slaves, it’s time to stop treating each other as less than and it’s time we lift up those that are wretched amongst us.”
He sent his love and respect to Minister Farrakhan and thanked Master Fard Muhammad, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam for initiating and providing discourse on the topic of separation. Follow Killer Mike on Twitter @KillerMike on Instagram @killermike. For more information on Greenwood Bank, visit www.bankgreenwood.com, The Swag Shop at www.theswagshop.com and music updates at www.runthejewels.com.