By Lisa Renee Jenkins
Former National Football League (NFL) running back Matt Forte’s What’s Your Forte? Foundation and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Micro Finance Group (CNIMFG) president Erica King have joined forces to create the Your Forte, Our Finance program. The initiative aims to invest in, grow, and rebuild underserved communities on the South and West Sides through providing $3 million in loans, grants, and other educational resources.
Its mission includes, but extends beyond, providing micro-financing benefits to primarily African American-owned small businesses. The program also empowers entrepreneurs to support economic development within their community, in turn leading the way for a stronger infrastructure. For Your Forte, Our Finance, investing in disinvested and underinvested communities provides long term effects that include access to better education and healthier food options along with implementing higher living standards.
Forte, who played for the Chicago Bears and New York Jets, said he was inspired to create a program to provide financial assistance to existing and future African American business owners. Your Forte, Our Finance will arm entrepreneurs with a greater cash reserve and the opportunity to develop and grow their workforces.
With the program’s assistance and “Through securing business real estate, there is greater potential” for businesses “to own assets within their communities,” Forte said. And by gaining access to systems and technology, organizational operations will be enhanced along with an increase in their ability to spend on effective marketing and promotions.”
Work with youth
Forte also talked about his foundation’s work with youth. As a former football player, he wants to share the importance of stability, structure, and guidance that helped shape him growing up and playing in the NFL.
“Yes, I went on to have a successful career in the NFL, but football is not what defined me,” he said. “Rather, it was the catalyst that helped shape me. I believe if children are given the opportunity to harness their talents and lean into skills that help develop those talents, we can better our tomorrow.”
Forte’s work with youth focuses primarily on the South and West Sides because he feels these areas most need support. In many cases, children come from single-parent homes in those areas, and their parents have to work full time or more to keep up with financial commitments. The foundation offers programs to support these parents, with emphasis on responsibility and respect.
“With CNIMFG, in partnership with my foundation, we pledge to build our Chicago community from the inside out,” Forte said. “This will help recirculate profits, create more job opportunities, and garner financial stability within these communities. By coming together with your support, we can create a blueprint for future Black entrepreneurs.”
CNIMFG is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) community development financial institution located on the South Side, organized to provide financial resources to underserved small businesses.
With more than 20 years of experience in credit underwriting, commercial lending, and business banking, King enjoys advising small businesses and advocating on small business matters.
“To that end, I currently serve on several business committees including the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s small business and agriculture advisory committee, the community advisory board for the C3 Fund, and as a member of the Chicago Urban League small business advisory council,” King said.
Small business focus
King believes small businesses are the economy’s bread and butter yet often are overlooked and underserved. “It takes a real commitment and many sacrifices to start and sustain a small business,” she said. “During my banking days, I saw the struggles and challenges that small businesses faced with trying to access capital and made it my life’s purpose to be a part of the solution.”
CNIMFG’s resources include loan deployment, entrepreneurship training, and financial education. Its products and services provide access to capital to business owners in underserved, economically distressed communities and help revitalize and stabilize communities of color concentrated on the South and West Sides.
Now in its eighth year of operations, CNIMFG has deployed more than $14 million in loans and grants that have created 5,000 jobs. To date, CNIMFG has disbursed 82% of its financial resources to African American borrowers and 71% to low-income borrowers concentrated on the South and West Sides.
King said that, if she were a small business owner seeking financial services, she would want a lender to take the time to get to know her and her business. “I would want a lender that is receptive, asks questions, and explores the possibility of working with me,” she explained. “I would want a lender that will not just rule me out because of a credit score but rather hear the entire picture and allow me to prove my ability to repay.”
Applicants for Your Forte, Our Finance should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forte and his wife, Danielle, founded the What’s Your Forte? Foundation in 2013. For more information or to donate, visit www.whatsyourfortefoundation.org. To learn more about CNIMFG, visit cnifmg.org.