Interview with Ms. Brenda H. Jackson, Chairperson of the FedChoice FCU Supervisory Committee and Board Member

Interview with Ms. Brenda H. Jackson, Chairperson of the FedChoice FCU Supervisory Committee and Board Member

My life story began in Atlanta

All human beings have a life story. My life story began in Atlanta, GA, where I was born and raised in a loving Christian family. I am the eldest of four children (two sisters and one brother). I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws (racial segregation). There were no mixed neighborhoods. Jim Crow laws remained in force until 1965.

I still remember ‘colored’ and ‘whites only’ water fountains. Also, Blacks were not allowed to ride in the front of the buses. We couldn’t even walk down the center aisle of the bus. We had to get on the bus, pay the bus fare (a token), get off the bus, walk to the back door, and find a seat in the back of the bus. Black and white children couldn’t even attend the same schools. Also, Blacks couldn’t eat in the city’s restaurants and couldn’t use public restroom facilities. When we went to the movies, we entered the back door and climbed the steps to sit in the balcony section only. These were hard things to endure as a child growing up in the South.

My parents were my first teachers, and they both loved to read. They instilled a love of reading books in their four children. My mother graduated from high school but couldn’t afford to attend college. Later, in her adult life, she went back to school and became a Nurse’s Aide. My father only attended school until the 8th grade and dropped out to help support his mother and two brothers. When he became an adult, my father attended a trade school and became a brick mason. My father’s favorite subject was mathematics, which led to him becoming a self-employed brick mason.

As a young child, I lived around the corner from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and had a few chance encounters with civil rights activists, including Congressman John Lewis and Mrs. Naomi Ruth Barber King, a sister-in-law to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and cherished matriarch of the family.

I was the first one in my family to attend college. I earned a bachelor’s degree in “Integrated information, Science, and Technology” from George Washington University (Washington, DC). I began my federal government career while I was in college.

Throughout my career at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), I worked in various Information Technology (IT) positions in Atlanta, GA, and Washington, DC. In 1979, I became the first African American Computer Programmer at the IRS – Atlanta Service Center. Five years later, I relocated to Washington, DC, to work as a Computer Programmer Analyst, Computer Specialist, and Senior Information Technology Specialist.

After joining the Internal Revenue Federal Credit Union (IRFCU), I began volunteering on various IRFCU committees in 1988. I became the first Black woman appointed to the Board of Directors at IRFCU/FedChoice in 2001. Four years later, IRFCU’s name was changed to FedChoice FCU. Originally, the field of membership comprised IRS employees only. The credit union’s charter and name change provided an opportunity for FedChoice to grow. The field of membership was opened to all federal employees at all agencies including contractors.

I was the Board Secretary for over 20 years. As a Board Director, I still serve on various committees. Currently, I’m the Chairperson of the Supervisory Committee.

 

I was the first in my family to attend college

As a young child growing up during segregation, I never attended public schools with white children until I went to college. The Atlanta Public Schools for colored children (Blacks) never received new textbooks. My textbooks were raggedy used books from the white schools when they received new textbooks. Some books had missing pages and incorrect answers were written in the books deliberately.

Through many hardships and trials, I continued to excel in getting an excellent education. After graduating from high school with honors, I decided that I would attend college, because my parents insisted that my siblings and I continue our education. The main three things that were important to my parents were: church attendance, pursuing an excellent education, and taking care of each other.

I was offered several scholarships. One scholarship that stands out the most in my memory is the full scholarship from Yankton College in South Dakota. After researching South Dakota’s weather, I knew that I didn’t want to leave Atlanta, because South Dakota had very cold and snowy weather.

Therefore, I accepted a scholarship to Marsh Draughon Business College, Atlanta, GA, where I majored in Automated Data Processing – now called Information Technology. After relocating to Washington, DC, I attended Trinity College and then transferred to George Washington University (Washington, DC) and earned my bachelor’s degree in Integrated Information Science and Technology.

I was the first in my family to attend college.

Inspired by Congressman John Lewis and Mrs. Naomi Ruth Barber King

When I was flying back to Atlanta, GA, after attending the FedChoice Federal Credit Union Annual Membership and Board meetings in Lanham, MD (February 2019), I had the honor of meeting and taking a picture with the late Congressman John Lewis at the Ronald Reagan – National Airport (Washington, DC). We were on the same flight to Atlanta. He was flying there before the Superbowl 2019 for the coin toss with Rev. Bernice King and Former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young.

I said, “Thanks, Congressman Lewis, for being brave and for all the service that you provided during the Civil Rights Movement plus your lifetime achievements.”  As one of Atlanta’s Civil Rights Activists, he dedicated his life to the non-violent struggle for social change since his days as a seminary student in Tennessee. John Lewis marched with Dr. King and was committed to the goals of excellent education, voting rights, and justice for all people. He lived an extraordinary life of service.

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2023 for the proposed voting rights legislation is named in his honor.

My meeting with Mrs. Naomi Ruth Barber King

In 2022, I went to South-View Cemetery to place flowers on my father’s gravesite. While I was there, I met Mrs. Naomi Ruth Barber King, who was placing flowers on her late husband, Rev. AD King (Dr. ML King’s brother), and her son’s gravesites. At first, I didn’t know her until I shared my story about living around the corner from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We struck up a conversation about growing up in Atlanta during the Civil Rights Movement. On that day, she asked me to become her pen pal. We mailed letters and gifts to each other for over two years. I will always cherish the many pen pal letters and gifts that she sent to me.

On March 7, 2024, my beautiful friend and pen pal, Dr. Naomi King passed away at the age of 92.  I attended
Dr. Naomi Ruth Barber King’s wonderful life celebration at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. She loved and collected many types of butterflies, such as pictures, crafts, hair accessories, and jewelry. After her service (on March 16th), everyone helped the King family release 100 live butterflies.

Here’s a little history about South-View Cemetery. 
Due to segregation, Blacks and Whites could not be buried in the same cemetery. Blacks had grown tired of the disrespect they were forced to endure to bury their family members and friends. They had to enter cemeteries through back gates, and even wade through swamps to conduct funeral services. They were told, “If you don’t like it, start your own cemetery.” And so, they did in 1886, nine courageous Black businessmen petitioned the State of Georgia for a charter to establish a cemetery for Blacks. The charter was granted. The South-View Cemetery, Atlanta’s Blacks-only graveyard, is the final resting place for my family members, Congressman John Lewis and his wife, Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, Daddy King, Momma King (Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s father and mother), and other black dignitaries. Over 80,000 Blacks are buried at the South-View Cemetery.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s body and that of his wife, Coretta Scott King were moved to the historic landmark, The King Center, Atlanta, GA.

How did You become a Member of the Credit Union?

 

As a federal employee working at the IRS – Atlanta Service Center, I joined my first credit union while pursuing my college degree. Later, I applied for a car loan and bought my first car. I was so excited about not having to ride public transportation.

This is the reason why I fell in love with the Credit Union Movement, whose mission is “People Helping People.”

I was selected to fill a new position as a Computer Programmer Analyst at the IRS Headquarters in Washington, DC. After relocating to the Nation’s Capital, I became a member of the FedChoice FCU in 1979 (formerly IRFCU). In 1988, I was approached by one of the credit union’s volunteers, who asked me if I was interested in serving as a volunteer (non-paid) with the credit union (CU) on the Appeals Committee. I gladly responded, “Yes.”   This committee served as a review board for any member whose loan was denied. Members who desired to appeal the denial of their loan had an opportunity to request reconsideration of approval by the Appeals Committee.  After the review process was completed, a decision was made to either approve the member’s loan or leave it as denied. Being a volunteer helped me learn more about the credit union, and I enjoyed helping people.

In 1990, the credit union members voted for the first African American man to serve on the Board. He was very instrumental in getting minorities involved in the Credit Union Movement. Since 1988, I served as a volunteer on a variety of committees before being appointed to the FedChoice FCU Board of Directors. I became the first African American woman to serve on the Board in 2001. The Board of Directors are volunteers, too (non-paid).

For over 20 years, I was the Board Secretary. Currently, I serve on the Supervisory Committee (Chairperson) and Member Loans Committee.

I served in the Federal Government for 38 years

During my career with the federal government, I worked in numerous positions in the Automated Data Processing field before it was called Information Technology. I started when there were keypunch machines, keypunch cards, large computers (called mainframes), and nine-track tapes. Some of the positions that I held included: Computer Operator, Computer Tape Librarian, Supervisory Computer Tape Librarian, Resident Programmer Analyst (RPA), Computer Programmer Analyst (Team Lead), Computer Specialist, and Senior IT Specialist—just to name a few.

I worked my way up the career ladder to becoming the first African American Computer Programmer for the IRS Atlanta Service Center. In the 70s, there were very few women working in the Atlanta IRS Computer Branch. All employees were required to rotate shifts every two weeks (day, evening, and graveyard shifts).  I had to write my computer programs using IBM keypunch card machines. As a computer programmer, I prayed every day that the computer operators wouldn’t drop the card trays. All the computers were called mainframes because they were very large and loud.

Today, young adults wear headsets to listen to music, but we wore headsets to protect our hearing in the loud, noisy and cold computer rooms which included 4 to 5 large mainframes. It amazes me that computers are now small enough to fit on a desk at work or home and people who aren’t professional programmers can use them in their everyday life.

Throughout my career, I worked on some interesting projects, including: the Year 2000 (Y2K). In 1996, I was the first Computer Programmer Specialist selected by my branch chief to work in the Y2K Project Office to provide oversight and technical advice to the IRS programmers who were responsible for changing their programs to utilize the standard date = MM-DD-YYYY.

I retired from the Internal Revenue Service Center (IRS) after completing over 38 years of service. At the time of my retirement, I was a Senior Information Technology (IT) Specialist and Project Team Leader in the Modernization Information Technology Systems (MITS) Division. I enjoyed my career and the people that I worked with.

What do you think is the secret for its success?

 

I have been a member of FedChoice FCU for 45 years.  I think the secret for its success is based on FedChoice’s strengths.

The STRENGTHS of our credit union that I have observed are as follows:

  1. Proactively engaging with members virtually, by phone, and in person, to meet their needs.
  2. Its commitment to making a positive and sustainable impact in the areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) by promoting fair treatment, full participation of all people, awareness, and understanding that all voices should be heard.
  3. Offering financial educational seminars and GreenPath Financial Wellness webinars, such as Steps to Financial Freedom to members.
  4. FedChoice FCU has done well in building trusting relationships with our members by helping them meet their financial goals and needs.
  5. Partnering with Government Affinity Groups such as Blacks in Government (BIG), and Federally Employed Women (FEW).
  6. FedChoice’s Charitable Foundation is improving lives through financial education and philanthropy.
  7. FedChoice stays abreast of new technology and trends mitigating risk and fraud.

Why is community engagement important to you?

Community engagement is very important to me, because it helps me feel included and connected to others. It gives me opportunities to build relationships, make new friends and network. Social and community engagement has a great impact on human beings, because it provides a sense of belonging and a purpose. Also, I love giving back.

I love how the FedChoice’s Charitable Foundation has strengthened the credit union’s ties to various communities. It has exposed educators, children, and their parents to the vast number of financial resources available. I love how the younger children are learning how to be financially savvy at an early age by enjoying fun and fulfilling activities.  This makes me feel proud to be a member of FedChoice FCU. I wish I could have been exposed to these opportunities when I was growing up.

I love volunteering and supporting several volunteer causes. I enjoy my volunteer opportunities at FedChoice FCU, the Kiwanis Club of Shepherd Park (Washington, DC), and the African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC). I’m a Life Member of the Blacks in Government (BIG), Federally Employed Women, and I support other non-profit organizations. Plus, I volunteer at church.

I enjoy volunteering with organizations that help children locally and globally. Currently, I hold the position of President-Elect at my Kiwanis Club. We provide scholarships to students just like the FedChoice Charitable Foundation. The Kiwanians educate children on living life skills and provide medical services, clothing, food, and water to children locally and globally.

What is your life’s motto and why?

I have two life mottos.

First Motto = Gandhi’s Quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Second Motto = The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

The above two mottos are derived from some of the lessons I learned since childhood and beyond that have shaped my way of thinking.

Also, as a member of the Kiwanis International organization, we have “Six Objects of Kiwanis”. They are the core guiding principles of the organization. These six objects were adopted in 1924 and have never changed.

On January 23, 2024, I gave a presentation to my club members (via Zoom) on all six objects—

Here’s Object # 2:

To encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships.

  • Kiwanis members believe in treating others the way we would want to be treated.
  • The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would want to be treated by them.

What do you do in your spare time or free time?

 

I wish I had more spare time. Since I retired,  I find that I am busier than ever.  I love to read, travel, and enjoy spending time with my family. Recently, we went roller skating and I was happy that I still knew how to roller skate.

I love visiting museums, such as the Federal Reserve Bank Museum, Atlanta History Center, Coca-Cola Museum, High Museum of Art, and The King Center, etc.

Sometimes I miss living in Washington, DC, because of the many museums.  Here in Atlanta, most of the museums charge an entrance fee or membership. A fee is required to go to the zoo and the Georgia National Aquarium. No fee was charged to visit the Federal Reserve Bank – Atlanta Museum.

There are many interesting places that I have not explored here in the Atlanta surrounding areas.

Both of the portraits below were on display at the High Museum of Art-Atlanta. I made time to visit and join this museum.

Do you have a special message for our members?

“THANK YOU” for choosing FedChoice Federal Credit Union (FCU) to serve your financial goals and needs. FedChoice is always ready to help you through tough times. You are not just a member, but you are an “owner” of FedChoice FCU.

I realize that you had other options to choose from, but you chose FedChoice FCU and for that, I am highly appreciative. FedChoice is a safe and financially sound institution where your money is always protected.

Always remember you are a Very Important Person (VIP) at FedChoice. We always strive for YOU and Your family to have an “All Together Better Banking” experience at FedChoice FCU!

APPENDIX – PHOTOS:

SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER / VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL (VBS)

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