JACOBY DICKENS was the Chairman of Seaway Bank serving the South Side of Chicago. Mr. Dickens lived from 1931 – 2013. Upon retirement he moved to Fisherman Island in Florida with his wife Veranda and lived marvelous life mixed with leisure and business.
He was memorialized Saturday, April 20 appropriately at the Emil and Pat Jones Convocation Center at Chicago State University. It was a great service anchored by Robin Robinson and Darlene Hill from Fox TV. They were good friends to the Dickens. The service was appropriately at Chicago State University, his adopted school. The athletic building bears his name and after the service it was where friends and family gathered. We dined in the building he was responsible for. Jacoby Dickens was responsible for over 1200 scholarships for Chicago State University students. He gave the school $1.7 million in his lifetime.
Jacoby Dickens was a serial entrepreneur. He was a serious, jovial happy man. People attending the funeral were mostly African American corporate types and entrepreneurs. It was amazing to see how many people he touched.
Seaway Bank was the brainchild of the late businessman Ernest “Stu” Collins. He realized Black business people had nowhere to go and get loans. He knocked on doors in the Chatham community to get the $1 million for the Seaway Bank Charter. Jacoby Dickens was mentored by Mr. Collins and eventually bought the bank and became Chairman of the Board. He took on Collins common sense, hands on business approach. The bank president of Seaway today is Walter Grady who continues the Seaway mission.
Jacoby and the late Daddy O Dailey opened bowling alleys in Chicago with a loan from Continental Bank. The loan officer was then banker Rolland Burris. This loan was for $170,000. They were on their way to riches. Jacoby bought real estate and had held two jobs as an engineer in the Chicago Public School system.
Jacoby was a business pillar.
Mr. Dickens understood capital. He knew from his own experience what a “loan” meant to a business. In some way he helped build Chicago’s strong African American business community. The street 87th street strived and thrived - Johnson Products off the Dan Ryan, Soft Sheen, Citizen Newspaper, Kahn and Nate Shoes, insurances companies, and eventually shopping centers, all nestled in a middle class home owners community with beautiful green mowed lawns. Seaway Bank under Dickens hands became America’s largest Black Bank. He was a business nurturer who understood the economic and the many stages and phases of small businesses from start to finish. He knew the business challenge.
Mutual friends, Wanda Wright and Josie Childs, introduced me to Mr. Dickens in 1989. I was contemplating leaving my job for entrepreneurship and they both thought I should chat with Jacoby. I bent his ear on what such a career move this would mean and how it would impact my life. He listened and gave me good solid advice. He liked the idea that I was going to work one job for living expenses and build a business at the same time. He told me his business story and it had similarities. I would later learn that he was a friend with my father and uncle.
I took the plunge to start a monthly newspaper, N’DIGO in 1989. With business plan in hand, I met with Jacoby for a $300,000 loan. He read the business plan carefully and questioned me and declined the loan. I cried. With his firm strong voice, he said, when you stop crying I will talk to you. I stopped. He said, “You don’t need money, you need to roll up your sleeves, and go to work. Welcome to the world of working for yourself.” His advice was heartfelt. My father had told me the same.
In the same meeting, Jacoby said, you are selling ads, right. Yes. He said Seaway Bank would like to take out ads with this new paper. He ordered a full year’s worth of advertising and said I will pay you in advance. Then he asked, where is your bank. I deposited his check in his bank after opening an account. He called the next week, to say I would like for you to consider writing speeches for me and preparing our annual report. He gave me a public relations contract. I was on my way. He showed me the way. He demonstrated with money and deed how to function as a bootstrap business.
He called me at the first of every month to discuss business. What are your receivables? What is your debt? How many ads did you sell this month? What is your revenue? He was my one-man self-appointed board. Whenever I had an idea I bounced it off of him. He weighed in. His advice was more valuable than his loan. I had open access. He then started inviting me to his office, to meet someone. The someone would always need ads. I would sign them up for multiple ads with prepayments. He was more than a role model, he was a business example. I was invited into business organizations. I sat next to Jacoby he always had someone for me to meet. He was opening doors teaching the value of networking. Business he taught is about relationships. It’s important who introduces you. He was always kind yet firm. He knew the business rhythm. He knew the challenges, no matter the business. He kept his eye on the bottom line. Keep the bottom line black.
He had his very own plan with me and he strategically implemented it. He was like that. He loved business people. He loved start-ups. He had great advice. He pushed you forward. He presented opportunities. He didn’t lecture, he taught and demonstrated.
We did a cover story on Jacoby in our first year of publishing. He took that issue everywhere. He told me to bring more copies to the bank. He then understood the real purpose and meaning of NDIGO. The main papers had not written about this giant in the Black community and probably wouldn’t. People were bringing the paper to the bank asking for his autograph. I loved it. In a promotional mode, I went to Ralph Hughes, who was then Executive Director at Marshall Field’s; asking if I could put NDIGO covers in the store windows for February, Black History month. The answer was yes and we celebrated local personalities on the cover of NDIGO in the various windows of the store. The covers were blown on poster size.
A gift to Jacoby
The first day the new windows were completed I called Jacoby. His picture was one of the first in the window on the corner of State and Randolph. I wanted to surprise him. I called him to see if he could have dinner that night. He said no, because he and the guys were going to the Bulls game. I told him when the game was over, to go by Marshall Fields and look in the window to see something wonderful.
He and his bull buddies went by and what a surprise he had. He called later that night laughing and beaming. He said, I couldn’t buy that. For the full month of February, every evening, Jacoby took somebody to window shop at Marshall Fields.
He was a serious guy. He was not Harvard trained. He knew his community, he understood business dynamics, and he had a high regard for family, and he knew Chicago politics. We even had conversations on marriage. Often we talked about how difficult it was for an entpreneur to be married, because you were clearly married to your business. The mate had to be special. He said, I know it must be extra hard on a woman. We had several lengthy conversations on the subject.
He was getting married. He told me she was the one who could handle all aspects of what could be a challenging life. Her name was Veranda. He told me she was a banker. I smiled. He said, “I guess it takes one to know one, is right.” I was happy he had found his soul mate. And he did. She adored him and he beamed as he talked about her. They were a magic power couple. He told me, it pays to wait. You have to have the right person by your side. She’s right for me. And they lived happily ever after for the next 15 years.
Chicago has lost a real friend. He lived and died as an entpreneur. He was the best business advocate. He was a marvelous man.