John Lewis is the CEO and president of Harbor Bank. The financial institution has served the Greater Baltimore area for 40 years. (Photo courtesy of Camera Ready)

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

The Harbor Bank of Maryland (Harbor Bank), headquartered in Baltimore, opened its doors back in 1982 with $2.1 million in assets. After more than 40 years, the institution stands today as a pillar in the Greater Baltimore Black community with nearly $321 million in assets. 

The institution was created to combat the inequalities that African Americans were experiencing in the mainstream banking system, some of which still exist today. 

“One of the great things about Harbor Bank is it was born out of a need. The work that we’ve always done has resulted from our clients and the communities who we serve literally asking for us to be there to provide products and services that they couldn’t readily access,” said John Lewis, president and CEO of Harbor Bank. “At the time of Harbor Bank’s establishment, [African Americans] did not have broader participation and access into mainstream financial services.” 

As it’s grown, Harbor Bank has expanded its branch footprint across Greater Baltimore and even opened a loan office in Silver Spring.

Although capital access has historically been a challenge to the bank, it’s raised nearly $80 million in capital over the last two years, a feat Lewis attributed to further investment in Baltimore and greater understanding of the importance of minority depository institutions.

More recently, the firm opened a new branch in the newly renovated Northwood Commons shopping center. Harbor Bank also provided $20 million in tax credits for the redevelopment of the plaza. 

“I think it’s very important that we work with children on the foundations of financial literacy. Even the smallest children can start to understand. Building healthy habits throughout their lives is very important.”

Aside from expanding its reach, Harbor Bank has used its Community Development Corporation (CDC) to strengthen financial education in entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as in Baltimore youth. 

“You’ll see our bankers appearing at local schools and talking about financial literacy to children. We often have youth groups that come into the building, and we will talk to them about banking, savings, investments and, ultimately, what wealth creation looks like in our communities,” said Lewis. 

The bank earned its spot in the hearts of Black Baltimoreans long ago, with co-founder Joseph Haskins Jr. in the role of chairman of the board and chief executive officer. Haskins stepped down on April 3 as the longest serving bank CEO in Maryland, with more than four decades of service. Under his leadership, the company became known for youth essay contests and initiatives within the Black Church community, outside of their regular financial offerings and services.

For rising real estate professionals, Harbor Bank CDC runs the Emerging Developer Program, helping small developers address capacity challenges and master the fundamentals of real estate development. 

The Joseph Haskins Jr. Center for Community Economic Development provides a hub for business speaker series, financial literacy workshops and co-working space for local entrepreneurs. 

According to Lewis, banking at its core is simply about relationships. If communities don’t feel connected and comfortable with their bankers, they are unable to truly benefit from working with them.  

“It’s the relationships that unlock the potential to do amazing things, and if you think about the historical experience of African Americans and banks with redlining and discrimination, those things challenge trust and the depth of those relationships,” said Lewis. “When somebody walks in our door, I know that they are expressing their hopes and dreams to me— whether we’re talking about buying a house, buying a commercial property or starting a business. It’s incredibly meaningful to them and what they’ll do in the rest of their lives.”

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.