Lives guided by a legacy of love, service, concern, peace, and commitment
How Wells Fargo employees, in their lives and work, demonstrate values central to Martin Luther King Jr.’s messages.
Just weeks before his death, in February of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his last sermons at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church and talked about how he’d like to be remembered one day. He told his congregation: “I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others … And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Say that I was a drum major for justice ... righteousness ... say that I was a drum major for peace ... But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”
“At the heart of King’s messages are tenets of love and respect,” said Bill Daley, vice chairman of Public Affairs. “He really was the force that made America begin to look at itself as far as how we dealt with our fellow human beings and pushed the system to change. But changing a system only works if people themselves change.
“At the heart of King’s messages are tenets of love and respect. He really was the force that made America begin to look at itself as far as how we dealt with our fellow human beings and pushed the system to change. But changing a system only works if people themselves change." — Bill Daley
“I think probably one of the most impactful things that we’re on a road to do as Wells Fargo involves what we do both inside the company and as a business. As far as what success looks like, maybe you’re not going to find perfection. But you’re going to find hopefully a better company than when we all joined it, whether it was a year ago or 25 years ago.”
Meet some employees from a range of backgrounds, career levels, and geographies who are working for change in their lives and work, in line with aspects of King’s legacy.
“I grew up understanding principles he stood for and lived by — honesty, equality, fairness, and love. I feel we need to look out for each other, and be our brothers’ keepers, just as King did.” — David Miree
David Miree grew up listening to tapes of King’s speeches with his father and family in his Ohio household.
“Dr. King was always a beacon of light for Black families like mine in the 1960s and '70s,” Miree recalls. “I grew up understanding principles he stood for and lived by — honesty, equality, fairness, and love. I feel we need to look out for each other, and be our brothers’ keepers, just as King did.”
Moving around the country during his career gave Miree a chance to connect with people from a variety of backgrounds. Currently based in the Philadelphia area as a Diverse Customer Segments leader, he looks at how the Consumer & Small Business Banking division of Wells Fargo can best serve various communities. He is also a member of a group of African American executives who have been meeting regularly with CEO Charlie Scharf to discuss progress on equity. His interest in the bank’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DE&I, in its business offerings stem from his King-inspired beliefs, which in turn fuel his enthusiasm for the work, Miree said.
“The bank is taking a broad-based approach to finding ways to accomplish financial security for communities, and that is the reason I sit here today, because I so appreciate that mission.”
“We basically all want the same things in life: We want to take care of our families, be safe, have a good life, and sense of belonging. Look back on what his teachings were, and focus on that love and peace and kindness. It would be a great way to make change for future generations.” — Syndy Deese
As a young girl growing up near Lexington, Kentucky, Syndy Deese often walked past the bronze historical marker at the courthouse in the middle of town that marked where enslaved people were once sold.
Upon returning to the area as an adult with her wife, Deese was struck more deeply by the plaque’s presence. So when a client, artist Marjorie Guyon, approached her about a project that brought more context to the county courthouse plaque, Deese was all in.
Wells Fargo Advisors and the Wells Fargo Foundation provided grants to support Guyon’s “I was here” art installation, which seeks to draw connections between portraits of former slaves — known as “ancestor spirit” portraits — and the foundations of the American experience.
Deese said the installation helps people understand the bigger picture about “how the wealth of our country was built off of those who didn’t benefit from it.”
“Our world today is so divisive — if we can stop and remember the teachings of Dr. King — I think we can make great progress in our communities,” Deese said. “We basically all want the same things in life: We want to take care of our families, be safe, have a good life, and sense of belonging. Look back on what his teachings were, and focus on that love and peace and kindness. It would be a great way to make change for future generations.”
“I continually think: What kind of world would we have if we always operated with that framework, with love and service at the center of what we do?” — Patty Juarez
Born and raised in Mexico, Patty Juarez moved to the United States in high school, where she first came to really understand and appreciate the work and teachings of King.
“I continually think: What kind of world would we have if we always operated with that framework, with love and service at the center of what we do?”
As part of her job within Commercial Banking, Juarez helps provide banking services to minority-owned businesses. “This is something I love,” Juarez said. ”By being a strong partner to our diverse communities, you are helping make them stronger, which in turn sets people up for greater success and wealth creation — an important goal for all of us.”
She also mentors students and young professionals inside and outside Wells Fargo. This is her way of giving back and being of service, as she benefited from having mentors that helped her find her way as an immigrant and a young professional.
“There isn’t a level playing field. There really isn’t. So I try to coach a lot of students to take advantage of opportunities and encourage them to pursue higher education, which for me was a key element in my ability to succeed,” Juarez said.
“We can all be a part of the change.” — Stephanie Ahenkora
Stephanie Ahenkora identified as Afro-European until moving to America in her teens. “Having grown up as an African in Europe, my experience was different from many Black Americans,” she said. “Moving to America sort of opened my eyes as to what it means to be Black in America. What I’ve learned is that the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its adverse consequences are felt in today’s society — no matter where you live in the world.
“I’ve learned that my experiences growing up in Germany were not completely disconnected from my brothers and sisters here in America. I now live in a predominately Black neighborhood (in New Jersey), and I am taking the experiences and education I have gained since moving to this country and seeking out actionable ways that I can help advance the Black community,” Ahenkora said.
In her community, she and some of her nearby relatives have decided to take on regular community service projects in support of women and children impacted by poverty and systemic racism.
“This unites us, even as neighbors,” Ahenkora said. “We can all be a part of the change we want to see.”
“You can never get complacent on progress. You can never declare victory. You always have to keep working and working and working to make a more perfect union.” — Kleber Santos
Even growing up far from the world where King lived, worked, and died, Kleber Santos felt the profound international impact of what he stood for.
Santos is from Salvador, originally the capital of Brazil, known for its stunning beaches and economic importance. Historically a key entry point for enslaved people, it remains a center of Afro-Brazilian culture. Since childhood, he said, he has recognized the importance of the civil rights movement that he learned about in school. When he immigrated to the U.S. as an adult, he said he felt like a “kid who was visiting Disneyland for the first time, or a sea turtle the first time it touched water, because (America) had such a rich history of civil rights.”
“Dr. King was somebody we always felt changed American society through love,” Santos said. “He had so many reasons to choose hate, being a victim of so much racism, systemic oppression … and yet he chose love. Here is a guy who was arrested, beaten down, was a victim of a knife attack, had his house bombed, had government officials target him, and yet he stayed on the mission. He kept going. And look at how much he accomplished! A lot of us would have given up much sooner.”
Santos said he seeks to emulate that resilience and teach his children about it.
“You can never get complacent on progress,” Santos said. “You can never declare victory. You always have to keep working and working and working to make a more perfect union.”
In his new role as the head of Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion, he said he keeps this in mind and knows that isn’t easy work, but that “the opportunity is too great, the impact is enormous, and the possibilities are huge.”
"The projects we finance generate profits that go into supporting tribal governmental programs, like language, elder care, and everything that a state or local government would provide." — Dawson Her Many Horses
Dawson Her Many Horses took part in the 55th anniversary event commemorating the Selma March and Bloody Sunday, immersing himself in a culture that he recognizes has had similar struggles to his own.
Her Many Horses grew up on a Native American reservation in South Dakota, and in college took interest in the shared history of Native Americans and African Americans.
“When you look at the Southeastern U.S., we all know about the Trail of Tears and how tribes were forcibly removed from their land in the southeastern U.S. But a lot of people don’t necessarily understand that not only was this land taken from the tribes very rich in resources, but once settlers got this land, this land generated a demand for more slaves to work it,” Her Many Horses said.
The interconnected events resulted in generational wealth gaps for both Native Americans and enslaved people, Her Many Horses said, noting they also have a shared history of voter suppression.
Her Many Horses honored these shared histories as he witnessed the anniversary of Selma, and then visited the church that King preached at in Montgomery, Alabama, and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
His actions weren’t directly connected to his job — he leads our Native American Banking efforts — but was more indicative of his genuine interest and concern for others.
“Working with tribal governments provides more than things like credit. The projects we finance generate profits that go into supporting tribal governmental programs, like language, elder care, and everything that a state or local government would provide,” Her Many Horses said. “We work to help tribal communities in a way that we hope is impactful and makes a difference.”
“Allies like me need to be better learners, listeners, and better allies. King certainly wanted the movement to begin within his community, but he also valued allies.” — Jim Foley
One of Jim Foley’s first encounters with the teachings of King was in his teenage years. His father, an economics teacher, handed him a book of King’s writings, including the letter from Birmingham jail.
“I was about 16, and my first reaction was ‘What did he do wrong that he was in jail?’” Foley remembers. “Even though I was in a fairly diverse part of the country (Miami), I didn’t have an awareness or understanding of my privilege. So my father liked to give me things to read and discuss.”
Through exercises like that, Foley started to understand the sacrifices King made, even under tremendous circumstances.
Foley is now the executive sponsor for the Black/African Connection Team Member Network on the West Coast. He participates in regular meetings, and said he appreciates how his involvement continues to challenge him to progress in his thinking.
“What we have discussed is that allies like me need to be better learners, listeners, and better allies,” Foley said. “King certainly wanted the movement to begin within his community, but he also valued allies.”
“When we think of the DE&I work underway at Wells Fargo, we need to make sure it is not left exclusively to the communities directly impacted,” Foley said. “I think DE&I work, executed well, can become one of the levers for increased employee engagement.”
“The young people, they realize there are different issues now, but I am glad a lot of them see this history of King and are seeing that there is a way to peacefully try to get things accomplished.” — Latanya McLain
Latanya McLain need only visit a bank branch in Salisbury, North Carolina, to be reminded of the complexity of Black history within the nation and the banking industry. Her grandfather was one of the first Black people employed as a Wachovia banker in that town, and he is memorialized in a mural that is displayed at the bank where he worked.
“I would love to know how he happened to make the decision to work at the bank, what he had to go through to get that job and show himself to be someone worthy of that job. A lot of that resonates with me,” she said.
In her own career, McClain said she has experienced bias while working with customers over the phone who would react to her much differently when they met her in person and realized she was Black.
“I could tell by way I was treated,” McLain recalls. “I felt I had to prove myself again. It was sometimes obvious to the point they would not even shake my hand.”
Now with the bank for over 20 years, she said the experiences of her early career still give her pause, especially when she thinks about her grandfather and what he may have experienced. Now she sees her granddaughter getting involved in protests of racial injustice in recent months.
“It seems like King just started this progress. His life’s work was looking for equality, with nonviolence,” McLain said. “The young people, they realize there are different issues now, but I am glad a lot of them see this history of King and are seeing that there is a way to peacefully try to get things accomplished.”
“I just reminded myself that I am here for a purpose." — Issakha Dia
Issakha Dia was studying outside of his home country, walking through the streets on the way to the university, when a rock flew past his head. He looked up and realized that children were taunting him because he was different from them. In that moment, he thought about King’s message of nonviolence, of facing adversity with dignity, and of focusing on larger goals. His response was to just keep going.
“I just reminded myself that I am here for a purpose,” Dia said.
As a child in Senegal, Dia had learned about King, the civil rights movement, and figures such as Nelson Mandela. He went on to live and learn in Morocco and now lives in Canada.
He said the powerful teachings of King remain globally relevant, even when he is confronted with less obvious incidents that feel hate-fueled, or when he thinks about what happens to others who look like him.
“I may not have the same experiences as someone who is Black in the U.S., but everything that happens elsewhere that touches our skin, it feels like it is us,” Dia said.
Dia appreciates the focus on DE&I at Wells Fargo, where he has now worked and been repeatedly promoted since 2017.
“There are some mistakes, but the intent is important, and that is why I am still here.”
”I hope one of the things I can teach my children is that difference is good, and difference makes us strong." — David Kowach
One of the books that David Kowach likes to read to his two small children is The Family Book, a simply drawn and worded paperback that talks about the many ways families can be different. At the end of the colorfully illustrated descriptors, the book lands on a singular similarity, that “All families can help each other be strong.”
Kowach enjoys the book because it helps his girls, who are adopted, celebrate difference. Being committed to respect for difference is how he perpetuates King’s teachings about love and acceptance.
“That is what King was all about,” Kowach said. “How do you civilly, consciously change the conversation by getting people to come together and embrace difference?”
Kowach has appreciated the diversity trainings, workshops, and team-building exercises at Wells Fargo that have helped him learn about others’ lives, and more deeply appreciate difference, as a means to building stronger teams, in all facets of his life.
”To me, as a parent and as a person, I hope one of the things I can teach my children is that difference is good, and difference makes us strong,” Kowach said.
“King’s message was all about having equality. I see myself as continuing King’s legacy and helping the dream become a reality. Slowly but surely the dream is manifesting, and I am that dream.” — Grace Elebute
After a 15-year active duty and six-year reserve career in finance and administration in the U.S. Navy, Grace Elebute took time off from working to focus on her family. She rejoined the workforce last November as part of the Glide-Relaunch program, which offers internships to people returning to the workforce after a career break of two or more years, as a means of equalizing access to the workforce.
Elebute said that when she was ready to return to work she kept hitting dead ends, until she found the Glide program at Wells Fargo. In her current role on the Finance Business Management team at Wells Fargo, she is reconnecting with the industry and updating her skill set.
“King’s message was all about having equality,” Elebute said. “I see myself as continuing King’s legacy and helping the dream become a reality. Slowly but surely the dream is manifesting, and I am that dream.”
“I am committed to a constant push for progress, not only for myself but for others.” — Amanda Wiltshire-Craine
As a child adopted from Seoul, South Korea, into a South Florida family, Amanda Wiltshire-Craine remembers the many times people stopped her and her mother in the supermarket, and only addressed her mother, assuming an Asian child could not speak English.
To this day, she feels it is important to speak out about assumptions made based on the color of people’s skin, rather than the content of their character.
Now married to a man from Barbados, she said even in her household, discussions about race and equitable treatment continue to inform her and activate her to speak out whenever she sees inequity.
“One of the things my husband and I have talked about at times is how he is so very tired, as a Black man, of trying to make his dreams come alive in a country he loves, and that sometimes he feels does not love him back.
“In those moments, we have to remind ourselves that we need to find the energy to continue to fight for progress. I think about that as a woman and as a person of color in the banking industry, and in a function like Operations where we have clear progress to be made in diversity, especially in senior leadership roles,” Wiltshire-Craine said. “I am committed to a constant push for progress, not only for myself but for others.”
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