Federal Reserve VP works to increase economic growth for marginalized communities
Dorothy Bridges, senior vice president responsible for community development and outreach at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, thought life was good in New Orleans in the 1950s and ’60s. She doesn’t recall noticing what others clearly saw as the poverty that existed inside and outside of the walls of her childhood home, a dwelling partitioned into apartments that housed her parents, siblings, extended family and others.
Bridges grew up feeling safe and loved, surrounded by a caring family and protective neighbors. She was born in rural Mississippi where her parents, grandparents and other relatives worked as sharecroppers. At age two, her family moved to New Orleans where her parents started out as laborers in a poultry processing plant. While work days were long and hard for the adults, Bridges remembers much laughter and enough food and clothes to go around in her home.
Bridges’ parents weren’t able to finish their secondary schooling and often dreamed out loud about sending their own children through high school and on to college. Her mother felt strongly that the key to success was an education. Bridges grew up with this warm expectation, hungering to learn and planning to go to college. All eight children in her family graduated from high school.
The oldest of eight, Bridges had many responsibilities in the home while her parents labored long days. It was a sacrifice for her parents to let her move away and go to college, but when the time came and the University of Montana accepted her application, she left for college with the support of her family and community.
Bridges credits her high school math teacher, Mr. Harris, with being the catalyst that turned her college dreams into a reality. He was verbal in his support of her and his best advice was, “You can move mountains, Dorothy. Why would you settle for molehills?”
“Mr. Harris believed in me and told me often that I had a bright future. He helped me think more broadly and his words gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone,” Bridges said.
Bridges took school loans, worked multiple jobs and studied hard to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree. The years in Montana proved to be educational in other ways as well.
“While the University of Montana was very progressive and was one of the first to offer a Black studies program, I still had to overcome stereotypes and often, upon meeting new people, felt I had to prove I wasn’t a criminal and deserved more than welfare,” said Bridges.
“It was quite an adjustment after living in an all-Black community down South,” Bridges shared. “At first I felt angry to be misjudged, but soon the anger disappeared and I was left with a sense of determination and passion.” Bridges credits this passion and determination as the key to her career success.
By the time Bridges left college, she was a single mother of two children and more determined than ever to make a good living. It was the 1980s and the country was mired in a recession, yet she saw others who held good jobs and told herself, “I can do that, too!”
Bridges’ first job out of college was in the industry she had already been considering: banking. She worked hard in her internship and impressed the right people during that first year. The president of the bank, George Leland, originally from Austin, Minnesota, helped her land her next job as a retail banker with First Bank Robbinsdale.
Bridges continued to move up in the banking industry, eventually being hired as the president of the US Bank on Lake Street in south Minneapolis. As president of the bank, she became firmly entrenched in the Minneapolis community. Her passion to improve the lives of the marginalized, as well as the positive relationships she garnered often, brought peaceful solutions to heated issues.
Bridges recalls friend and mentor Gary Reierson, president and CEO of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, as an important supporter during those politically-charged days.
“Gary was one of those people who always believed in me and was optimistic from day one,” said Bridges. “His support helped me work through some difficult decisions and eventually led me to become a member of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches Board of Directors.”
Reierson recalls being impressed with Bridges from the moment he met her.
“I was impressed immediately with Dorothy’s commitment to the community and her sense of passion toward serving people who were hardest hit in life,” says Reierson.
“Dorothy came to our board at a time when the board was weak in financial acumen. As treasurer and eventual chair of the board, she helped us plan and celebrate our centennial with a capital campaign that launched us into our second century of service. She was a visible leader in the effort and made a great impact in the community,” Reierson added.
Bridges, most recently president and CEO of City First Bank in Washington, D.C., served in the same role at Franklin National Bank in Minneapolis from 1999 to 2008. While serving as president and CEO of Franklin National Bank in Minneapolis, she received the Women of Achievement Award from the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce in 2000 and was recognized as one of the most influential women in business and finance by local business publications.
As he welcomed Bridges back to the Twin Cities in July of 2011, Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said, “She is well known in the Twin Cities as a successful community leader with a strong track record of building alliances at the local level. This experience fits nicely with our role at the bank, which is to facilitate interaction and provide analytical support on issues ranging from the inner city to rural areas and to American Indian reservations. With Dorothy’s leadership, we look to enhance those efforts.”
The mission of community development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is to support the Federal Reserve System’s economic growth objectives by promoting community development through fair, impartial and efficient access to credit and related financial services.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career,” said Bridges. “It has been easy to bring myself into jobs that have been focused on improving lives in the community.”
Reierson summed it up nicely: “Dorothy is an extraordinary role model and our community is fortunate to have her.”
Nancy Torrison is director of community relations for Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. To learn more about mentoring or volunteering in the community, email ntorri [email protected]