The UPI Loan Fund Provides a Lifeline for Communities of Color

By: Rick Galen

What are the two primary economic inequities facing people of color? We know the list is long, but two things stand out above the rest: access to bank capital and high interest rates on personal loans.

Three years ago, long-time activist Frank Crump brought together a group of like-minded community leaders in Phoenix, Arizona, to address these economic issues at the grassroots level. The group was named the “UPI Constellation,” and key members from its finance team joined Frank in meeting with Tina Sheinbein, Executive Director of Jewish Free Loan (JFL) of Phoenix, to discuss a possible economic solution. JFL has been making interest-free business and personal loans to members of its Jewish community since the early 1950’s, and they have developed a very successful money-lending model. 

An Alternative to Predatory Lenders

The UPI Constellation group’s banking research uncovered some alarming practices by so-called “payday lenders” and other predatory lenders. In many cases, these predatory lenders are charging interest rates as high as 300% for personal loans, which maintains a cycle of debt, poverty and hopelessness within marginalized communities. The research also shows that people of color have been intentionally denied the ability to create generational wealth as a result of “redlining” by banks and other forms of economic and financial discrimination. 

As an alternative to these predatory lenders, Frank Crump, Kerwin Brown, and D.G. Safeer Hopton, with assistance from JFL, formed the UPI Loan Fund (UPILF) to offer personal loans with low interest rates. According to Frank, Founder/CEO, “we’re done waiting for solutions to appear. We’re building the solutions ourselves.” 

The UPILF provides personal loans to individuals and families with low to moderate incomes with an emphasis on people of color. For most low- to moderate-income, unbanked, and under-banked individuals, the lack of access to capital prevents them from taking advantage of opportunities that could make a positive impact in their lives. The UPILF provides personal loans that help by serving as a financial buffer during times of need. 

In addition to low-interest personal loans, UPILF’s Charitable Arm provides several interest-free loans per year to the very needy. There are 3 types of UPI Loans depending on a client’s qualifications: 

  1. The UPI Spark Loan: Charitable, No Interest 
  2. The UPI Ignite Loan: Competitive Interest Rate 
  3. The UPI Fire Loan: Lower Interest Rate 

Building Coalitions

The UPI Loan Fund understands that along with altruistic goals and objectives, sound fiscal principles are critical for the sustainability of any successful lender. That’s why the UPILF has partnered with Marisol Federal Credit Union. MariSol CEO Robin Romano has been a strong supporter of the UPILF from the beginning. According to Ms. Romano, “it is extremely important for the UPI Loan Fund program to provide both interest-free and low-interest loans to people of color. It provides a much needed alternative to predatory loans, but it also facilitates that first step in establishing a positive financial footprint. Financial inclusion and empowerment are key cornerstones for MariSol, and we know that the UPILF also believes in these cornerstones.” 

Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr., Chairperson of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition, emphasizes that “more than ever, communities of color must have access to financial institutions that are sensitive to their needs. In other words, it is an economic imperative that we have financial institutions that we can support and who will support our need for individual and community prosperity in the 21st century.” 

Kerwin Brown, Executive Director of the UPILF, says, “None of us walk alone, and the success of our mission is a testament to the efforts and contributions from our friends near and far. We wouldn’t be here without community support from Vitalyst Health Foundation, APS, Arizona Community Foundation and former Congressman Frank Riggs. Reaching our goals doesn’t happen overnight. Each and every day we take steps forward and are grateful to those who join us.” 

Solutions for the Whole Community

Since Arizona is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state, promoting diversity and inclusion is a key component to ensuring that no person or community feels excluded from the UPI Loan Fund. 

Monica S. Villalobos, President/CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says it best: “We are very excited to be working with the UPILF to serve people of color. It is my understanding from talking with my colleagues across the country that this may be the first interest-free and/or low-interest loan program that provides much-needed financial services to a broader cross- section of communities in Arizona.” 

Beyond Personal Loans

Approved UPILF personal loans offer additional benefits to borrowers, including: 

  • Debt Consolidation 
  • Behavioral Financial Wellness/Life Skills SolutionsTM Training 
  • Free Credit Union Membership via MariSol Federal Credit Union 

David H. Richardson, CEO of Take Charge America, stated, “I believe strongly in the UPILF program and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to assist by offering budget and debt counseling to each loan recipient to help them establish a workable budget, find resources in their community, and prepare a plan to improve their financial wellbeing.” 

The vision of the UPI Loan Fund is to aid in the financial support and wellbeing of low- to moderate-income people of color while providing a helping hand to the greater community. According to Frank, “UPILF looks to adapt capitalism with humanism by providing a unique lending approach and financial wellness services to underserved communities. We have landed in Arizona, and our intention is to expand across America. Our mission is to help individuals and families to continue their education, pay for travel, medical/dental costs, and other expenses that may unexpectedly arise. As our funding grows, so will our reach in supporting small businesses.” 

Contact the UPI Loan Fund

For additional information on how you can help, to make a donation, or to apply for a loan, go to: or call UPILF Executive Director Kerwin Brown at 602-888-1370. 

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