Rick Banks attributes his passion for working to improve his community to his background and parents. “My mother has worked extremely hard as a housekeeper for over 30 years. A lot of my drive in my early years was just to work hard so I could afford to do something like buy her a house or a car one day.”
Rick recalls a specific quote during high school that really sparked his appreciation for Black people and culture. “My karate teacher said to us: Know your history, and you will know your greatness. This really stuck with me and from there I went on to study as much Black history as I could. It was eye opening. Learning about so much more than slavery and the Civil Rights movement instilled so much pride.”
As a teen/young man Rick struggled with accepting his sexuality until finally coming out in his college years. “My college experience had a great influence on me finally accepting myself wholly. Being around so many different people, including people who proudly identified as LGBT, showed me that it really was going to be okay.”
After college Rick worked as a community organizer, but has always had projects going on the side, including working with others to attempt to start a credit union and a community land trust and serving on several non-profit boards. It was then that he defined his personal mission as the political and economic development of Black people.
In pursuit of this, Rick co-founded MKE Black Inc., a non-profit dedicated to promoting Black culture and Black-owned businesses in the city of Milwaukee, in 2019. “We noticed a gap in that there really wasn’t one spot to go to learn about the great things happening in Black Milwaukee, so we created it.”
Starting on social media, MKE Black’s Instagram and Facebook pages shared local news relative to Black-owned businesses and Black neighborhoods. In 2020, they launched the MKE Black Mobile app as a database of Black-owned businesses and community events. Since then the group has grown to plan events, provide connections to resources, and launch an internship program.
“I just want to give back to the community that made me and make it a great place for those that come after me, so that they don’t have the same struggles that we did,” he said.
2021 Pride in Color Leadership Features
The Influencer: Ladi London is a brown-skinned, femme trans Milwaukee native who produces videos and other content to effect change and cultivate community.
The Artist: nibiiwakamigkwe is a two-spirit Indigenous artist, activist, and organizer interested in healing and visibility.
The Table Shaker: Yanté Turner is an openly trans and queer Black change agent working as an Inclusion and Equity Coordinator as well as a doula.
The First: Ankita Bharadwaj is a lawyer, advocate, and trail blazer who knows the journey upward is often isolating, but that it is worth it.
The Founder: Rick Banks is co-founder of MKE Black, Inc. which connects Black Milwaukeeans to Black culture, events, and Black-owned businesses.
The Scholar: James McMaster is a queer Asian-American educator, and activist who lives by example in the classroom and out in community.
The Professor: Víctor M. Macías-González is Professor of History and Race, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UW-La Crosse.